A meal is like a small vignette of a country, its agriculture, its economy and its people. Putting an international recipe on your table is inviting another country’s scents, tastes and textures into your home. The meal won’t be exactly the same when it’s cooked thousands of miles from its origin, but it’s still an excellent way to take a moment to appreciate another culture. And coming from a country where fruit seems to grow to huge sizes on every tree, and where the ground itself springs to life, this traditional Dominican meal is delicious and fresh even when imported.
I learned this recipe several years ago, when I spent a week volunteering in the Dominican Republic and we cooked lunch in an open-air, dirt-floor kitchen for a small rural school. I’ve cooked it at home since and it tastes almost just as good. I don’t have any pictures of the dishes, but have linked them for the more visual learners out there. (By the way, beans are a very popular dish as well, we just didn’t happen to serve any. Here’s a recipe for those who want to add beans.)
Pollo Guisado (braised chicken):
Dominicans use the entire chicken—feet and all. I didn’t try the feet, but I love that they don’t waste anything. (Here is a slightly different recipe for this same dish.)
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon garlic
2 tablespoons cooking oil (canola, peanut, or corn)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon chicken seasoning (like Landry’s or Chachere’s)
Small bunch of cilantro and/or basil
1. Cut the chicken into small pieces, removing the fat.
2. Mash the salt, oregano and garlic together. (We used a small wooden mortar and pestle for this.)
3. Put the sugar and oil in a pot over medium heat and let it caramelize.
4. Put the chicken in the pan and pour seasoning mixture over it. Add a sprinkle of chicken seasoning.
5. Add water slowly and simmer
6. Add cilantro and/or basil
7. Cook until chicken is done
Boiled Yuca Root:
Think of boiling potatoes to make mashed potatoes—it’s almost the same, but you won’t mash them when they’re done.
2-3 Yuca roots (this may be a little harder to find, but it’s usually in the produce section either near potatoes or in the “exotic” produce area).
1. Cut the ends off of the yuca root and slice a knife lengthwise through the outer layer. Hand peel the skin off of the root. (Here are some photos and tips on peeling and cooking yuca root.)
2. Cut the yuca into large chunks and put into a large pot of boiling water. Add a sprinkle of salt if desired.
3. Boil until the yuca is soft and you can pierce it with a fork.
These are delicious! It’s a bit like french fries or hash browns (but I tell myself they’re healthier since they’re made of fruit).
2-3 Plantains (again, it may be a bit hard to find, check near the bananas or exotic produce.)
1/2 cup of cooking oil
1 tablespoon salt
1. Peel the plantains and cut into 1” thick slices
2. Heat the oil over medium heat in the pan. Place the plantain slices in the oil.
3. When they first begin to lightly brown, remove the slices and mash them with the bottom of a cup.
4.Place back in the oil and fry until browned.
We made a basic white rice but added 2 tablespoons of Crisco oil at the end, which added a little extra texture and flavor to the rice. Here’s a webpage with a lot of information about making the perfect Dominican rice.
Morir Soñando (Drink)
Literally translated, it means “to die dreaming.” This is one some people might be tempted to skip; in theory, a milk-and-orange drink doesn’t sound very good. But this creamy drink is amazing, and the perfect sweet complement to a Dominican dish.
3 cups of milk
1/2 cup of sugar
2 cups of ice
2 cups of orange juice
1. Mix the milk and sugar to taste, stir until dissolved.
2. Add the ice cubes and stir
3. Slowly pour in orange juice while stirring constantly. Serve immediately.
Oh man, now I’m starving and particularly want some mashed plantains…Of course, nothing can quite replace seeing chickens and plantains in the yard right outside of the kitchen, but it’s still a wonderful taste of Republica Dominicana, wherever you are!