Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Week Twenty-Seven: A Journey to the Dominican Republic

As I approached this week’s foray into the cuisine of the Dominican Republic, I knew my greatest challenge would be finding the nuances that set it apart from Cuban, Puerto Rican, and other South American cuisines.  Because most of these countries share influences from Spanish cuisine, the ideas relate, but their interpretations through the native populations who survived the Spanish takeovers and the immigrants from other countries result in distinctive dishes.  Interestingly, a number of dishes in the Dominican Republic share the same names as others from these countries, such as Mofongo, Sancocho, and Majarete, but the dishes are not the same.  Similar, but with different seasonings, techniques, or even ingredients.  In addition to Spanish influence, the cuisine of the Dominican Republic is inspired by its native Taino people, African slaves who began arriving in the sixteenth century, and Middle Eastern immigrants who arrived in the nineteenth century.  Keeping in mind these influences and the country’s native ingredients, I set out to discover the cuisine of the Dominican Republic.  In addition to perusing cookbooks and online recipes, I sought the advice and recommendations of my friend, Carlos, who lived in the Dominican Republic until he was eight years old and more importantly, learned to cook the country’s dishes alongside his grandmother.  I am so grateful to him for his enthusiasm and assistance with this week’s project.  Not only did he provide me a list of his favorite dishes, he joined us for dinner on Sunday night and shared a few of his grandmother’s recipes.  What a treat!

Saturday Night:  Quipes and Locrio de Pollo

Quipes reflect the influence of Middle Eastern immigrants as they are basically traditional kibbeh updated with the ingredients and spices more commonly found in the Dominican Republic.  Whereas kibbeh generally consist of ground lamb and bulgur wheat seasoned with onion, mint, cinnamon, allspice, and cumin, I found most recipes for Dominican quipes used ground beef, instead of lamb, and included raisins in the filling.  For the most part, quipe recipes included either basil or cilantro, instead of mint.  The recipe I used also included tomato paste in the filling.  The only issue with this dish was my poor chopping skills as the onion and red bell pepper should have been chopped much more finely.  Nonetheless, the final product was delicious.

Locrio de Pollo
As with all Latin American countries, chicken and rice is a beloved dish.  In the Dominican Republic, the dish is referred to as Locrio de Pollo.  In search of a recipe that would provide me with something a little different than the norm, I happened upon one that included pumpkin as an ingredient, so I tried it out.  I must say that the pumpkin provided a nice, sweet flavor balance to the salty olives.  All in all, the dish had great flavor.  Nothing that wowed me, but then again, I don’t tend to be someone who is easily excited about chicken and rice.

Sunday Night Feast:  Yucca Fritters, Pescado con Coco, Pernil, Pastelon de Platanos Maduros, Majarete, and Habichuelas con Dulce
On Sunday night, we didn’t hold back anything!  Five food-loving, giddy people sharing some incredible dishes made for a night to remember.  Honestly, I didn’t think we could eat it all, but we came very close.  Every dish on the table sparked a new conversation, and none disappointed.
Yucca Fritters
Photo by Stephanie Glass

For starters, Carlos filled my cast iron skillet with some vegetable oil and fried the most delicious Yucca Fritters I have ever tasted.  I fell in love with yucca when I moved to Miami, and his fritters now serve as top billing on my list of best yucca dishes.  Just as he learned from his grandmother, he made the fritters with grated yucca, milk, eggs, and aniseed.  That’s right, aniseed.  What a brilliant addition to a simple dish!

Pecado con Coco
Photo by Stephanie Glass
Pescado con coco is a popular preparation for fresh fish in villages located near the ocean.  While most online recipes include fish fillets poached in coconut milk with peppers and onions, I confirmed with Carlos that a cook in the Dominican Republic would be much more likely cook a whole fish caught fresh from the water.  The preparation is really quite simple and absolutely delicious.  I scored the fish with diagonal cuts and seasoned them with a combination of freshly crushed garlic, ground annatto seed, and kosher salt (a combination I found on  I dredge the seasoned fish in flour, browned it on both sides, and set it aside.  In the same oil and pan, I sautéed strips of bell peppers and onions.  I added two cans of coconut milk, chopped cilantro, salt and pepper to the sautéed vegetables.  Then, I laid the fish back in the pan on top of the vegetables, tightly covered the pan with aluminum foil, and let the fish braise for about fifteen minutes.  The fish was perfect!  It slipped right off the bone, and the complement of peppers and onions in the coconut milk heightened the sweetness of its flavor.

Photo by Stephanie Glass
Pernil is roasted pork shoulder served on holidays and for celebrations, and this meal definitely fit the bill for a celebration!  For this dish, I turned to the blog a chica bakes for Eliana’s recipe.  It’s really quite simple.  Time is the most essential ingredient in this dish.  I began by making her sofrito of onion, scotch bonnets, garlic, salt, pepper, oregano, vinegar, tomatoes, bell peppers, cilantro, scallions, and celery.  Then, I started the process of seasoning the pork.  I rubbed a four-pound bone-in pork shoulder with fresh lime juice and salt on all sides.  I washed off the salt and lime, and I covered it in the sofrito to marinate for a little over twenty-four hours.  On Sunday, I simmered it in a covered pot over low heat for three hours on the stovetop.  Then, I moved it to a 350°F oven for another three hours uncovered.  Our house smelled intoxicating all afternoon!  The pork was delicious.  The interior meat was moist and flavorful, and the bark had a fantastic bite of flavor and texture.

Pastelon de Platanos Maduros
Photo by Stephanie Glass
When Carlos sent me a list of his favorite dishes from the Dominican Republic, it only took a few seconds for me to recognize that pastelon de platanos maduros would be a must-try dish for me, and it tasted even better than I expected.  This is comfort food at its finest.  The dish begins with a layer of sweet plantains mashed with evaporated milk and butter.  Then, a mixture of ground beef sautéed with garlic, oregano, cubanelle peppers, onion, bell peppers, tomatoes, and raisins is layered on top of that.  Finally, a second layer of the mashed plantains is added and topped off with a thick layer of mild cheddar cheese.  I intended to take a photo of the layers in this dish, but in full disclosure, I got so excited about eating it that I completely forgot.  This dish is the ultimate comfort food.  Imagine shepherd’s pie with Latin flair.  Heaven!

Majarete and
Habichuelas con Dulce
We indulged in two desserts:  majarete and habichuelas con dulce.  Majarete is one of those dishes that exists by name in Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic, but each country’s version is different.  In the Dominican Republic, the dish is a corn pudding and the only real variance I found is in the use of coconut milk for some recipes.  I consulted with Carlos who told me that his family did not use coconut milk…only whole milk, so that’s how I made it.  It was really simple.  I cut fresh kernels from sweet corn and put them in the food processor with whole milk, sugar, cornstarch, and ground cinnamon.  Then, I strained the mixture and cooked the liquid with cinnamon sticks on the stove top just like any other pudding.  (The recipe I’ve linked here has the correct ratio of ingredients, but the directions for cooking the custard do not work.  Just bring it to a boil and cook for about five minutes, stirring constantly, to achieve the correct texture.)  I served it chilled with a sprinkle of ground cinnamon on top.  We were amazed at the flavor of this dessert, and all commented on how the corn flavor was so subtle.  Carlos treated us to habicuelas con dulce, or Sweet Beans, just as his grandmother made it.  Prior to this dinner, I had never encountered the use of red beans in desserts outside Asian cuisine, so when he told me about this dessert, I was excited to try it.  In essence, the recipe is a chilled soup of pureed (and strained) kidney beans, sugar, milk, and coconut milk seasoned with cinnamon and cloves.  In Carlos’s version, he included aniseed for flavoring, as well.  Boiled cubes of sweet potato and raisins are added to the soup, and it is served with milk cookies.  This unusual combination of flavors actually works, and I must say that this is a dish that really sets itself apart as a true Dominican tradition.

All in all, I really enjoyed the Dominican Republic dishes this week, and I am so grateful to Carlos for his participation.  My only regret is that I never made Mangu.  Sometimes, life happens, and I just can’t seem to make everything I plan, but I have the queso de freir and salami waiting in my refrigerator for one morning this weekend.  Hopefully, it will happen then.  In the meantime, I definitely have to buy more green plantains, because I’ve waited so long that the ones I purchased are ripe now.  That’s okay though.  It just gives me another reason to look forward to the weekend.

1 comment:

  1. I have to say, I knew very little about the cuisine of the Dominican Republic before, but it is delicious!