by Erisbelia Garriga
Puerto Ricans have their roots in three ethnic groups: the Taino Indians (the original inhabitants of Puerto Rico), the Spanish who colonized the island in 1493, and the Africans who were brought to work on plantations as slaves. Over time Puerto Rico has also had the influence of others, such as French, Italian, and American.
This family cookbook will introduce the reader to our treasured classic Puerto Rican recipes as well as new ones. It is a collection of family recipes and the result of my experimentation with them. It is about innovation, taking simple ingredients and playing them off each other. The majority of the recipes are from my parents, others are personal and a few others from family members and friends. There are variations and familiar dishes were recreated, sometimes using substitute ingredients. Though family members, using the same ingredients, will prepare similar dishes in a different way, the end result is, nonetheless, a delicious, enjoyable dish.
Many of the recipes contain a number of ingredients, which can be substituted or omitted. I suggest trying the recipe with all the ingredients it calls for the first time, even a second time, and thereafter add/reduce/omit those that you do not like or do not have, or cannot find in your grocery store. Before eliminating an ingredient, make sure you taste what you are cooking for that Spanish flavor. Sugar and salt are left to you to vary them according to taste. Most supermarkets, grocery stores or bodegas carry the ingredients found in this book. Look for the sign post that says Spanish products. With modern technology, anyone can order virtually any ingredient needed to prepare a special recipe using the internet. Page 37 of the book provides some sources where you can order special ingredients that cannot be found in supermarkets close to home.
Many varieties of tropical foods are associated with Puerto Rico. However, most of them were brought from other parts of the world. Some of our vegetables have different names, depending on the supermarket, the region or country you visit. Cooks may find that the same food item has a different name in another Spanish country. On page 168 there is a list with photos of the various root vegetables (tubers) that are used in the Puerto Rican cuisine. For those who are vegetarian, most of our Puerto Rican dishes will fit into their diets. Be creative by buying those products that are in season. They are fresher and will cost less than when bought off-season.
Generally, Puerto Ricans do not go to a restaurant to enjoy a good meal.
Puerto Ricans tend to cook for their immediate family and for "just in case" somebody else shows up for visiting. Here, we have tried to keep measurements of recipes for a minimum number of people: 4, 6 to 8 persons. For most Puerto Ricans almost any occasion (e.g., wedding, graduation, a birthday, baptism and so on) is a reason to celebrate it with food and music. The kind of food served nowadays has changed during the last decade due to various factors: the economic situation, scarcity of some products, lack of cooking skills in the new generation, American fast food influence, and for some people cooking can be a chore rather than a pleasure.
When we visited another town or go to the beach, my mother would prepare arroz con pollo and red beans with a salad. She would get up at 4 or 5 in the morning to cook food that we would eat for lunch or as soon as we felt hungry. We would stop along the road, under a shady tree to have our picnic lunch.
I remember the days when the whole family used to go to the country to celebrate the Christmas season with parrandas, in which a group of friends and relatives who would "crash" into your home with music and singing Puerto Rican Christmas carols (aguinaldos, villancicos) without announcing themselves. They would go from house to house for an hour or two, and would always be welcome at any household. The only thing that the host had to do was to provide food and drinks: pasteles, arroz con gandules, asopao de gandules or polio, cuchifritos, lechón asado, pernil, morcillas, longanizas, almojàbanas, dulce de coco, arroz con coco, coquito, cerveza fria, ron. Some houses used to have a clandestine rum called cañita. Since many in the parrandas would go over the top drinking, coffee or hot chocolate would be served with soda crackers, queso de bola holandés (cheese), and the asopao (a thick rice soup) to lessen the effects of alcohol.
The music and food would make people feel festive, have a good time and enjoy the chance to wish everyone a merry Christmas and a happy new year. Today, things have changed somewhat. However, the new generation of people who do not know how to prepare traditional dishes, expect others to bring in the pasteles, rice with pigeon peas (arroz con gandules), among other dishes.
With the introduction of the fast food business, they, buy takeout food, and enjoy it at home. Those who know how to cook prepare the meals for all the family at home for all to enjoy and are proud of their cooking skills.
Today with the help of a food processor and other labor-saving helpful kitchen devices, the recipes in this cookbook are very easy to prepare, cutting down on time. Some of these dishes can be prepared a day or two before you plan to serve them, especially the seasoning of meats or marinating fish.
In the past, cooks used to simmer succulent meats and vegetables in a large iron kettle over an open hearth, ready to provide nourishment for the hard-working family. For lunch, Puerto Ricans on the island served vegetables, viandas, soups, aside from rice and beans. That has changed somewhat: nowadays, soups and asopaos (and sandwiches) are served as part of their lunch.
Puerto Ricans have learned to serve their dishes, which were part of a main course, as hors d'oeuvres in various social occasions, from casual to formal. Hors d'oeuvres are served for many to introduce dinner, or evening entertaining, as a complete buffet meal, or at receptions and banquets. Best of all, almost any food—fruits, vegetables, meats, cheese, small salads, and relishes-works as appetizer fare. So today, when going to certain places, empanadillas de yuca, alcapurrias, bacalaítos, cuchifritos, guineos en escabeche, mollejas en escabeche, yuca al mojo, among others, are often served as hors d'oeuvres.
Most people today are conscious about healthy eating habits. Food is planned based on nourishment, appeal, and preventing weight gain. The majority of the recipes here can be prepared using less fat, salt, and sugar. Be cautious with seasonings, herbs and spices, as using too much of them can overwhelm a dish. Puerto Rican food is very tasty and sofrito is the base ingredient for its seasoning. Though it tastes fresher when it is prepared at home, nowadays sofrito is sold at supermarkets.
I have adapted dessert recipes from our diverse cultural heritage, allowed for variety with the aim of recapturing certain traditional sweets: dulce de coco, tembleque, mazamorra, flan, arroz con coco, dulce de papaya, pudines, among others. They are all simple to prepare and can be done ahead of time.
¡Buen provecho! Bon appetit as you try these recipes...
—from the Introduction to Homestyle Puerto Rican Cooking
This page created July 2009
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