My Favorite Puerto Rican Dishes
Why Puerto Rican?
Being of partly Hispanic descent, I often find myself craving Latino cuisine. I enjoy the dishes of various Latin-American countries, including Mexico (in Central America), and Peru (in South America). But my all-time favorite Hispanic dishes are definitely from the island of Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico is sometimes referred to in Spanish as "La Isla del Encanto" which means "The Island of Enchantment" in English. Puerto Rican food, at least to me, is truly enchanting ! The cuisine has its roots in the cooking traditions of Europe (mainly Spain), Africa (from the slaves originally brought to this island), and the Taínos (an Amerindian tribe).
In this article, I'd like to share my top three all-time favorite Puerto Rican dishes. Although I myself am not Puerto Rican, I was exposed to these dishes growing up through my step-grandfather, Mario, and also through one of my closest friends, Enid, both of whom are of Puerto Rican descent. These dishes provide good exposure to the "typical" Puerto Rican diet, and hopefully will make you as much of a fan of this cuisine as I am.
Recipe #1: Puerto Rican "Lasagna" (Pastelon)
This dish is absolutely yummy, and what I like most about it is the "throw everything together and bake" method of it and the fact that you should have leftovers for days.
To prepare the meat-filling layer:
- 1 lb ground beef
- 5 plum tomatos seeded and diced
- 1/2 cup manzanilla olives chopped
- 1/2 cup golden raisins
- 1 cup tomato sauce
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1/2 Tbsp pepper
To prepare the plantain layer:
- corn oil (enough to fry the plantains in)
- 7 very ripe yellow plantains peeled and cut into 3 length-wise slices each
For the top layer:
- 1/2 lb shredded mozarella cheese
- 6 eggs beaten
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, begin preparing the meat-filling by browning the ground beef in a pan and then adding in all the remaining meat-filling ingredients. Cook this mixture on medium for about 5 minutes more.
For the plantain layer you just heat the corn oil in a large skillet and fry the plantains in the oil until cooked. Drain these on a paper towel as you remove them from the oil.
Next grease the bottom of a 9x12 inch square baking dish and begin your layering. First add a layer of the plantains. Then spread 1/2 of the meat-filling over the plantains. Follow with another layer of the meat-filling, and then a final layer of the plantains. Pour the beaten eggs over the top of the layers. Finally, sprinkle the mozarella cheese all over the top. Place the baking dish in the oven and cook this for 45 minutes or until the eggs set.
Recipe #2: Arroz con Pollo (Rice with Chicken) Puerto Rican Style)
There are other Latin American countries where you will find variations of the famous "Arroz con Pollo". But I still hold that the Puerto Rican version is among the best and most flavorful variety.
What you will need:
- 2 garlic cloves chopped
- 1 Tbsp cider vinegar
- 1 Tbsp Adobo (an all-purpose seasoning that can usually be found in the condiment aisle of your supermarket)
- 1 four lb chicken cut into pieces
- 1/3 cup corn oil
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, sliced
- 1 green bell pepper cut in strips
- 1/4 cup Recaito (a cilantro-based seasoning that can usually be found bottled in the Spanish section of your supermarket)
- 1 cup tomato sauce
- 1 twelve ounce can of beer (any variety)
- 3 cups short grain rice
- 3.5 cups chicken stock
- 1/2 cup capers
- 2 tsp oregano
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1 cup cooked peas and carrots for garnish
Combine the garlic, vinegar and Adobo and use this mixture to season the chicken. Let it rest at least one hour, but preferably overnight.
Heat the corn oil in a large skillet and saute the chicken in it over medium heat for 5 minutes. Remove the chicken from the skillet and drain the oil. In this same skillet, heat the olive oil and saute the onion and peppers in it until browned. Add in the Recaito, the tomato sauce, the beer, and then add back the chicken. Cook everything over medium-low for another 5 minutes.
Stir in all the other ingredients except the peas and carrots garnish. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, stir and cover, and allow this to cook for 30 minutes more. Sprinkle garnish on top of the dish before serving.
Recipe #3: Mofongo
My third favorite Puerto Rican dish, which I find absolutely mouth-watering, is called "Mofongo". "Mofongo" refers to the mashed up green plantains that form the basic ingredient of the dish. For a delicious variation of this dish, check out the following YouTube video illustrating the process for making "Mofongo con Camarones" ("camarones" means "shrimp" in English).
Well, there you have it - my top three all-time favorite Puerto Rican dishes. If you are not fortunate enough to have a Puerto Rican friend or family member cook these dishes for you, I hope you will give these recipes a try. May you too come to enjoy the exquisite tastes of Puerto Rico as much as I do!