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”
This recipe is as much a requiem as a celebration.
Frijoles negros, black beans, are at the center of the Antillean Hispanic culinary constellation. Any group meal will have them, any celebration platter will center them, and any rotation of different dishes will find them eventually. One does not experience the food of Puerto Rico, Cuba, or the Dominican Republic without dining on black beans and rice. I made this meal the center of numerous efforts to impress non-Hispanic paramours, and I kept it in my repertoire because of how constant, and powerful, its memories are.
The papa rellena, or “filled potato,” is some of Latin America’s finest party food. A papa rellena is mashed potato made into a meat-filled dumpling/fritter, breaded, and deep-fried. They emerge from the fryer looking like small loaves of golden-brown joy, and provide a deeply engaging combination of textures when bitten. I’m a big fan, and I challenged myself recently with learning how to make them, as part of a foray into more technically challenging Hispanic recipes.
Where there are Puerto Ricans celebrating something in the latter half of the year, there is coquito. My people’s answer to eggnog, coquito is much stronger and creamier than its American cousin, almost a dessert in beverage form. The family coquito recipe is a closely-held treasure, differing from those of other families and passed down by grandmothers. She will make the batch in semi-secrecy, usually without assistance, to maintain this mystique. To receive it in her practiced script is an honor, accorded to trusted daughters and daughters-in-law to keep the knowledge alive.
I had a very special experience last night. I cooked for Ania’s parents for the first time, as part of her father’s birthday festivities. I made a point not to cook something elaborate and time-consuming, though, as one might expect of a holiday meal. Instead, I went with something simple that shows off Puerto Rican cooking techniques that is also very special to me: arroz con salchichas. I look forward to arroz con salchichas every time a visit to Miami is in the offing, and after long, tense absence, I missed it profoundly. As tensions with my parents continue to rise and fall like so many narcissist tides, bringing this dish to a family that accepts me with enthusiasm is an emotional coup. As I come to recognize my belated mastery of this dish, that I had tried to learn how to make intermittently since I moved to Ottawa, I am ebullient.
This one’s a little different.
I grew up in northern New Jersey, the oft-maligned region of an oft-maligned state that has, more-or-less, New York City’s demographics. Centuries of immigration have pressed people from all over the world into this tiny piece of America, and with long shoulder-rubbing comes culinary interchange. When Puerto Ricans, Italians, and Polish people meet, magic happens, and some of that magic is spaghetti with kiełbasa, Alyssa style.
After presenting a Cuban dish whose origins are primarily Spanish and another of West African extraction, it is only fitting that I present an unambiguous Taíno contribution to Antillean Hispanic cuisine: yuca.
We return to the subject of Latin American cooking with Alyssa. This time, we visit my grandmother’s signature meal, arroz con gandules. Puerto Rican Spanish for “rice with pigeon peas,” this is a hearty meal on its own or accompanied with meat or a salad. It follows the Puerto Rican tradition of “one-pot meals,” making it relatively simple to learn and a staple when my grandmother entertains guests or contributes to holiday platters. I look forward to tasting hers again…if I am again welcome there.