One does not go far in Miami without encountering croquetas de jamón, or ham croquettes. These fried morsels are ubiquitous on catering trays and party platters, a hit on breakfast menus, and surprisingly absent from most home kitchens. I have encountered platters of croquetas at funeral receptions, at house parties, as treats for school classes in lieu of pizza parties, and more. To visit Miami without having at least one croqueta de jamón (alongside pastelitos de guayaba, the other party-platter staple) is to misunderstand the nature of this place and the culinary influences that define it.
Some memories demand to be remade.
One of the few culinary memories I have been completely unable to experience outside of a home kitchen is alcapurrias. This classic Puerto Rican fritter features prominently in my childhood as an occasional treat, especially around holidays, and made for exciting lunches because of their rarity. On occasion, the whole family would get together to make an especially large batch, a rustic experience wonderfully out of place in our big-city home. Posted recipes posit that the alcapurria is a variety of croquette and usually recommend the familiar croquette log or cigar shape, but the ones I knew were round, more like hand-pies or empanadas in size and presentation. Once I left Miami, those memories became more and more distant, and more and more treasured. As a matter of my Puerto Rican pride, I needed to take control of those memories and make them more firmly mine, and that meant learning how to make alcapurrias. And today, I succeeded.
This one is a little different.
If the foodways of the coastal tropics have a unifying feature, it is the coconut. Spread by its own maritime machinations as well as human effort, Cocos nucifera is a large, flavorful, energy-dense addition to numerous cuisines and if there is anything about my people’s cooking that frustrates me, it is that it does not use enough coconut. Coconut has been my gateway into so many other delights and into so many different cultures’ recipes, and today, it serves that role again.
Enter beef rendang, or rendang daging in Bahasa Indonesia.
Canadian coffee shops hold little allure for me, as a tea drinker who is well aware that her tastes are an afterthought in this space. I have spent a great deal more time in them than I ever wanted to, but I do appreciate one thing that happened in Canada’s coffee shops: me getting introduced to date squares. Invented in Newfoundland, this distinctively Canadian pastry is two layers of oat and flour crust around a filling of date paste, and it mingles crunch, sweetness, sourness, and general heft to satisfying effect. There is a strange irony to encountering dates more often living in Canada than I did in Miami, given that I come from a culture strongly influenced by Mediterranean cooking, but life has a way of surprising us.
Cuisine is a conversation. Foodways are not static and nothing traditional is the age people think it is. For a culinary tradition as circumstantial and inventive as Puerto Rican food, this is especially true, as new low-cost ingredients get incorporated into old patterns. That’s where this entry in our journey appears: pasta in tomato sauce, but make it Puerto Rican.
Baking is, famously, a different beast entirely from other kinds of cooking. Particularly for bread, it depends on careful ratios and a fair bit of luck and isn’t as amenable to mid-stream course corrections as most other techniques. It’s easy to end up with loaf after loaf of grimly tolerable bread or overly dry cake and not know what to do with it. I decided to challenge myself recently with a foray into one of the easier kinds of baking, with a twist to make it fit within my dietary restrictions.
One of the subtler lessons of food blogging is that everything is connected. Influences range far and wide, ingredients travel the globe, and especially in mixing places like North America, our foodways inevitably coalesce out of a mix of origins and practices. So, today I’m going to tell you about how I made gluten-free johnnycakes.
Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean, and with that size comes more regional variety than outsiders realize. In particular, the Oriente region of Cuba, facing Haiti and closer to the equator than the rest of this already-tropical island, are known for spicier fare than parts farther north. Bayamo, one of the oldest cities in Cuba, is at the heart of this region, and gives its name to this curious casserole.
A quick survey of the dishes I’ve presented so far might present the impression that Puerto Rico’s and Cuba’s primary proteins are sausage, beans, and beef. Beef certainly has a prominent place in Cuban cuisine, but in Puerto Rico, the place of honor goes to the pig. (And we haven’t even started exploring the chicken possibilities that these gastronomies offer.) Like everything else about Puerto Rican cooking, the pig became the fixture it is today because pigs are easier to raise in Puerto Rico’s difficult terrain than cattle, and less expensive for an island with a long history of poverty and neglect from is colonial masters. I’ve neglected my way into a nostalgic fixation with the pork dishes of my youth, so, here are chuletas a la jardinera, or, “garden pork chops.”
Today’s dish holds a special place in my memories, even if it isn’t something my family ever made. Continue reading “Salmon Almondine, Alyssa Style”