Palmas del Mar, Humacao, Puerto Rico

My husband and I have had many great vacations in the Caribbean Islands over the years we have been married. One of our favorite places to visit is Puerto Rico. The island is beautiful and filled with friendly people. While Puerto Rico is very mountainous (covering about 60%), it also offers a diverse landscape of a rainforest, deserts, beaches, caves, oceans and rivers.

While Puerto Rican cuisine is somewhat similar to Spanish, Cuban and Mexican cuisine, it is actually a unique blend of Spanish, African, Taíno and American influences that includes such ingredients as coriander, papaya, cacao, nispero, apio, plantains and yampee. Locals call their cuisine “cocina criolla”. The mingling of flavors and ingredients passed from generation to generation among the different ethnic groups that settled on the island, resulted in the exotic blend of today’s Puerto Rican cuisine.

Below are some of my recreations of dishes we have enjoyed on our visits there.

First Course

Puerto Rican Tostones

A plantain is a very firm banana looking vegetable. It is served as a side dish or as the base of an appetizer.

Ingredients

5 tablespoons oil for frying
1 green plantain
3 cups cold water
Salt to taste

Directions

Peel the plantain and cut it, on the diagonal, into 1-inch chunks.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Place the plantains in the oil and fry on both sides, approximately 3 minutes per side.

Remove the plantains from the pan and flatten the plantains by placing a plate over the fried plantains and pressing down.

Dip the plantains in salted water, then return them to the hot oil and fry 1 minute on each side. Salt to taste and keep warm in the oven while you prepare the topping. Do not remove the oil from the pan.

Shrimp Topping

Chop the vegetables for the topping (the sofrito) before frying the plantains.

1 large yellow onion, finely diced
1 Cubanelle pepper, finely diced
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound medium shrimp (about 20), peeled, deveined and tails removed
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
Lime wedges, for serving

Directions

Reheat the olive oil over medium-high heat in the skillet that was used to cook the plantains.

Add the onion, cubanelle and red bell pepper and cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes.

Add the garlic and the chopped cilantro. Cook, stirring, another 2 minutes. Remove to a bowl.

Add the shrimp and oregano to the skillet and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.

Cook, stirring constantly, until the shrimp turn opaque and are just cooked through, about 2 minutes.

To serve: top each tostone with a portion of the sofrito and a cooked shrimp.

Serve with lime wedges.

Main Course

Serve this chicken entrée with a green salad.

Pollo Fricassee from Puerto Rico

Just like with Italian recipes, there are as many ways to make a recipe as there are Italian grandmas. I have tried several versions of this dish from Puerto Rico and have made a recipe I can call my own and one that is pleasing to my family’s taste.

This dish is best made the day before and refrigerated overnight. Reheat before serving.

Ingredients

2 pounds boneless chicken thighs
1 tablespoon adobo seasoning
1 packet of store-bought sazon seasoning or use the recipe, below
1/2 teaspoon salt
26 oz container of finely chopped tomatoes
2 large bell peppers, seeded and chopped
1 large onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 large dried bay leaf
5 large red potatoes, peeled and quartered
7 oz jar pimento stuffed large green olives, plus 2 tablespoons of the olive juice

Directions

Wash the chicken and pat dry; place into a large bowl.

Combine the adobo seasoning, sazon seasoning and salt. Rub all over the chicken. Cover and refrigerate for 60 minutes.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a Dutch Oven, add the chicken and brown on all sides.

Puree the tomatoes, bell peppers, onion, garlic, cilantro, wine, cumin and oregano in a blender.

Pour over the chicken and add the bay leaf.

Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pan and cook for 2 hours.

Add the potatoes and, stir, spooning the sauce over all the potatoes. Cover the pan and continue cooking for 2 hours.

Uncover and simmer for 15 minutes or until the sauce begins to thicken. Stir in the olives and olive juice.

Refrigerate overnight Reheat before serving until bubbling and very hot.

Homemade Sazon Seasoning

1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground turmeric or achiote (ground annatto seeds)
1 tablespoon granulated garlic (or garlic powder)
1/2 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 tablespoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Dessert Course

Puerto Rican Tembleque

Serves 4

Ingredients

Coconut Flan

2 cups canned full fat coconut milk
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
Cinnamon sugar, for garnish

Fruit Salad

1 Pineapple, peeled and cubed
1 Papaya, peeled and cubed
1 Mango, peeled and cubed
1 lime, quartered

Directions

Grease Four 4-ounce custard cups with cooking spray.

In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the coconut milk, salt and sugar, stirring until sugar is dissolved.

Remove 1/2 cup of the warm coconut milk to a separate bowl and whisk together with the cornstarch to create a smooth slurry. Slowly whisk it back into the pot.

Let cook to a boil, whisking constantly, for about 5 minutes or until thickened and pudding-like.

Remove the pan from the heat, divide the pudding mixture among the prepared custard dishes, and let cool on the counter for 20 minutes before loosely covering with plastic wrap and transferring to the refrigerator.

Chill at least 4 hours.

Combine the cubed fruit and chill.

To serve:

Sprinkle the tops of each flan with cinnamon sugar and top with some fruit salad and a squeeze of lime juice.

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