Back to Basics: Embracing The Food of My Dominican Abuelita
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.
*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