Back to Basics: Embracing The Food of My Dominican Abuelita

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I had a day full of plans today, but since my little one was sick I decided instead to clean out my kitchen cabinets. With the new dietary focus in my home, I wanted to weed out the things that I had that might not be conducive to our new lifestyle.

I went to the market earlier this week and realized that it took me so much longer to shop. Not because I didn’t have options as much as because I am even more diligent in reading labels. I’ve read labels before, but this time I didn’t want to rely on what I thought were good choices (that I really enjoy and are staples in our home). I wanted to actually know if they were. Food labels are so deceiving, aren’t they? It really takes that extra step to read the small print to make sure.

Lucky for me, I realized that many of our options – not all, but many – were already on the right path. I came to the same realization when cleaning my kitchen cabinet, and it hit me that this whole transition doesn’t have to be so daunting. I just have to go back to basics, to the basics of the Latino cuisine that is ever so fabulously delicious.

The pilón has been a part of our kitchen in incorporating spices and herbs to the
flavors of our cuisine since I was a little girl. It will continue to be so.

I am the granddaughter of one of the most amazing cooks I know. She didn’t always have access to all the American flexibilities in food and her influence on me already makes me cringe at frozen, microwaveable anything. Our ethnic food has some of the most flavorful dishes in the world. As someone from a Third World country, my grandmother learned to create dishes that fed many with basic herbs and grains, vegetables and produce. Meat, as a matter of fact, became a sign of affluence for my grandparents and was consumed more upon moving to the states because of the ability to purchase in bulk at low price.

But as I dug out and dusted my Dominican cookbook I found chapter after chapter of meatless recipes that made my mouth water, were full of flavor, and better yet, I have cooked for my family for years without effort.

“Just reach into your childhood memories. Just go back to basics,” I told myself over and over as I set aside my spices and dried goods. In the end, I tossed out very little and am left with plenty of options.

My teen isn’t convinced. He envisions himself eating lettuce for the rest of his life at home.

But something tells me that he might come around when I dish out a serving of jasmine rice with spice-filled stewed red beans and fried green plantains* with garlic mojo and avocado salad.

The basics.

*Fried plantains will require the use of vegetable oil, however, fried sweet (ripe) plantains offer a different option. In speaking with Chef Jehangir Mehta at the recent Kids Food Festival, I asked him how to address the challenge of frying without butter or oils. He shared his own strategy which consists of using a pre-seasoned cast iron pan, heating, and allow the already set oils of the pan to “fry” the food. He said for his eggs, for example, he has a set cast iron pan he uses. He sets the flame low – almost at a “candle-like” setting, and allows the eggs to fried in this way – no butter or oil needed.

Photo by Carol Cain, NYCityMama

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Carol Cain

Carol is her happiest when on an adventure, either close to home or farther away. She's the mom to three fun boys and wife to a handsome Irish/Scot. She lives in New Jersey with her happy crew, but will always be a girl from Brooklyn. You can read her full profile here.

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18 Responses to Back to Basics: Embracing The Food of My Dominican Abuelita

  1. Carol,

    I love fried plantains, and beans/rice. Trust me your teenager will not forget this part of his life. He will appreciate it. It is FOOD, trust me.

    Thanks for the article and love the pix of the pilon.

  2. Back to basics… so much of our understanding of food and what's good for us is knowing what our basics are… we have some amazing food. I need to play around with more Dominican food! Be inspired this year, woman!

  3. vianney says:

    Great post I love that you are going back to the basics. A preseasoned cast iron pan is a true kitchen staple.

  4. It's so nice to go back to the food you grew up with. I think it's great your pilon is still being used!

  5. I'm always reinspired when I read about others wanting to go back to the basics…our grandmothers would laugh, because that's all they knew. Thanks for sharing the reality that food at it's raw and core state can be deliciously prepared without changing it's true taste and color. Love you picture…

  6. Unknown Mami says:

    Thanks for the tip about the eggs I'm going to try it right now.

  7. Carol Cain says:

    Awesome Unknown Mami! Let me know how it turns out for you!

  8. OMG platanitos without oil? I'm sold. My mami will have a heart attack and think I'm nuts until she sees it but going to do it =)

  9. I love this post…. I eat many meatless dishes here in my home… would love to get my hands on some of the recipes you have…. 🙂

  10. “Just reach into your childhood memories. Just go back to basics.” Great philosophy by which to eat, love, and live! And if your son doesn't come around, can I come over for dinner? 🙂

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