January 31st, 2008
I recently returned from a two-week vacation to the Dominican Republic (D.R.). My wife and I have friends there we visited and stayed with during out trip. This was my second time visiting but my first time really visiting with the people and learning a little more about the culture.
Of course, this being a food blog and all, I have to talk about my food experiences. Over the next couple of weeks I am going to be sharing about some cooking I did while I was there and also cooking I experienced! I can’t wait to share it all and hope that you enjoy reading it!
I want to start with some typical meals that you might experience in some poorer parts of the D.R. I’ve got some photos of the market in La Vega below so that might give you an idea of some of the foods they get to eat (rice, beans, chicken).
The Meal line-up looks like this:
- For breakfast: Hot Chocolate with some really dry bread. The bread is a lot like a hot-dog bun and is commonly found around the country. They have three basic types, large hot-dog bun, regular hot-dog bun, and small. To them, it’s just “pan” (in Spanish) or “bread” (in English). The hot chocolate was really rich and really sweet. Just what you need to kick-start your day!
- Of course, as with every meal, you need some coffee! Coffee is absolutely a part of every day life in the D.R. The coffee is not quite like Starbucks, which is fine by me. They use the italian-espresso making device that they call a “greca.” It looks like you can buy them online. The coffee turns out really strong (like an espresso shot) but you wouldn’t find a Dominican drinking a cup without at least 1/8 cup of sugar in each shot! It tastes SO good with all that sugar, but you just know it can’t be good for you.
- For lunch, which is the most important — and largest — meal of the day, I ate well. Most of the time I had a plate full of rice and beans. They use a red pinto-like bean there and white rice. The rice is steamed (often with a plastic bag over the pan instead of a solid lid) in a ton of oil and a ton of salt. The beans are pressure cooked and then boiled for a bit with seasonings including (but not limited to): a ton of salt, oil, cilantro, garlic cloves, a type of squash and more salt! This meal is full of salt but that’s probably what makes it soooo good! YUM!Often I would have chicken (sometimes scrambled eggs) with this meal which is cooked in all the same seasonings as the beans plus sugar (for color — they say) and soy sauce (or in Spanish “salsa China”).
- Dinner is light, but full of starch. I ate with a few families in their homes while I was there and typically I had one (or more) of the following three boiled: Yuka, Plantains (Platinos), and bananas. Plantains are a very starchy — almost potato like — version of a banana. These are surprisingly good boiled! Along with the starch you had to have a protein which was one of the following: fried salami (again more oil), fried egg, or we even had freshly butchered pork one night.
I hope this gives you some insight into typical Dominican meals. In the coming week or so I will share some recipes (new and old) along with photos of me preparing food in some interesting places! Stay tuned…
January 5th, 2008
Now that the business of the Christmas season is winding down I have found more time for the things I enjoy like: running/jogging, baking, spending quality time with my wife, and most importantly to you, writing on my blog! I’ve just finished baking some cupcakes [I’ll post about this later] but first I want to tell you about my tamales I cooked up just before Christmas.
My work has a potluck once a year right before we head off on our Christmas vacation. Last year I brought some cookies (I think?) but I had remembered that there were way too many sweets. I did some thinking and after attending an authentic Mexican Christmas party at my friend’s place and eating Tamales there I decided that would be the thing to do.
So I was off, determined to find the best recipe on the web and make my first-ever batch of home-made hot tamales! WOW were they good!!!! I found the recipe online and followed the advice to spread this out over a few days. Here’s what I did:
- Day 1: Make the Meat
- Day 2: Make the masa, prepare corn husks, and fill with meat
- Day 3: Steam the tamales
Now, you can do all of this in one day, but you’ll probably have to start in the morning or early afternoon to finish all the steps. Be advised.
- 1 whole chicken
- 1/4 cup Corn oil [ I used olive oil for less fat ]
- 3 tablespoons chili powder
- 1.5 tablespoons ground cumin
- 1/2 tablespoon ground pepper
- Salt to your preference (I used about 1 or 2 teaspoons)
Before we start cooking I’m going to remind you to save the chicken broth when you are done!
- Insert whole chicken (rinsed in cold water and fat cut off) into a pot large enough to hold the whole chicken and cover with water.
- Fill pot with cold water to an inch or two above the chicken [although the original recipe didn’t call for it I added some (no more than 1 tablespoon each) pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and chili powder to the water for extra flavor]
- Bring water to boil then reduce to simmering for 2 hours.
- Prepare an ice bath to cool chicken when done cooking
- Cool the chicken in the ice bath when it is done (saving the broth for day 2)
- When the chicken is cool, using an immaculately clean work area and hands, remove all meat from the chicken with your hands and discard the bones (or make weapons from them 😉 ).
- Heat up a pan and the corn oil with enough room to hold the chicken meat.
- Add the seasonings and mix well for about a minute over medium heat
- Pull the chicken meat apart with your hands and add it to the pan.
- Cook it all together until it combines and gets heated through again.
- Taste it and add more seasoning as you see fit.
- Put it in a container and save for Day 2.
- 2 lbs “Ma Se Ca” Instant Corn Masa Mix (1/2 of the 4 lb bag)
- 3 Tablespoons paprika (weird — at least to me –, I know, but it’s good)
- 1.5 Tablespoons of salt (less or more to your taste)
- 1 Tablespoon of ground cumin
- 3 Tablespoons of chili powder
- 3 Tablespoons of garlic powder
- 2 cups of corn oil [ again I used olive oil for less fat ]
- 2 quarts Chicken Broth from Day 1 [ reheated on the stove ]
- Chicken mix from Day 1 [ reheat on the stove for easier spreading ]
- About 30 dried corn shucks (I found mine near the masa mix in the grocery store)
- Place the corn shucks in a large bowl full of scalding hot water to soften.
- Mix all the spices and masa together until combined
- Add the oil and mix
- Slowly mix and add the chicken broth 1 cup at a time working it in with your hands.
- Add more masa if too thin or more chicken broth if too thick.
- Work the dough to a peanut butter consistency.
- After the corn shucks are softened peel them apart one by one
- Hold one in your hand and spread a thin layer of masa over the shuck leaving 1/3 masa free on one side and the bottom of the shuck.
- Add a little bit (1 tablespoon or so) of spicy chicken to the top of the spread masa
- Now roll up from side to side and then fold the bottom up and place in the steaming basket.
- Keep doing this until you run out of either the chicken, masa or both. I had to make more masa, but I also used more than I should have and they were really thick.
Wow, now you have a steam pot full of tamales. You can steam them now or wait till the morning like I did. Refrigerate them if you decide to wait until day 3.
- Your steam pot full of tamales
- Fill the bottom of the steam pot full of water — do not let the water touch the tamales.
- Heat the water to boiling, then reduce it to simmer so it steams the tamales.
- Cover the tamales and let them steam.
- Check the water — OR ELSE your house will seriously burn down, trust me on this one I had smoke detectors going off!
- After about 2 hours take one tamale out and unwrap it to see if it’s done. The masa should be cooked thoroughly.
Now, enjoy a tamale FRESH and DELICIOUS! Let me know what you think in the comments!
I hope you enjoy!