Thursday, February 28, 2013

Recipes from the Dominican Republic

One of the best things about doing this blog is discovering recipes or ingredients that I would probably never have tried in my regular cooking life—especially those that I like so much that they become a part of my family menu.

One of these ingredients: pigeon peas. I love them. They have a wonderful earthy flavor and they are a great change from those basic legumes that we Americans are used to. So I was actually pretty happy to find pigeon peas in the recipes I was researching this week.

Anyway, last week we were in Dominica; this week we are in the Dominican Republic. Both are in the Caribbean, but one of them is about 64 1/2 times as big as the other.

Here's where The Dominican Republic is located:

Now, somewhere off to the southeast are a bunch of little specs, which you can't see on this map because they're so tiny. Dominica is in there somewhere.

The Dominican Republic occupies the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola; the western one third is the nation of Haiti. The Dominican Republic is actually one of the locations "discovered" by Christopher Columbus in 1492 and was the site of the first permanent European settlement in the new world. Today it is the second largest economy in the Caribbean as well as the second most-visited Caribbean nation.

Catalonia Bavaro Beach, Casino & Golf Resort, Punta Cana, Dominican
Republic. Photo Credit: Martin Wippel via Compfight cc

Dominican cuisine is a mixture of TaĆ­no (the island's native population) and Spanish and African influences. Like the people who live in other Caribbean nations, Dominicans eat a lot of plantains, which I chose not to do (because although readers have told me I'm doing plantains wrong, I'm still not ready to give them another try), and staples like rice, beans and meat with a local twist.

I had plenty of recipes to choose from because cuisine from the Dominican Republic has a pretty big online presence. So here's the menu I ended up with:

Pollo Guisado
(from That's Dominican)
  • 1 whole chicken, cut into small pieces
  • 2 lemons, halved
  • 2 green bell peppers
  • 1 small red onion, sliced or cut into fine strips
  • 1/2 tsp garlic, pressed
  • 4 plum tomatoes, cut into quarters
  • 1/4 cup pitted olives, halved
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp powdered chicken bouillon
  • 3 tbsp sazon seasoning
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • water, to cover
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • kosher salt to taste

I have to add the disclaimer that I excluded a couple of ingredients from this recipe, based on them being excluded from another version I found elsewhere. And also based on the fact that I don't like those particular ingredients. I think I still have a pretty authentic Dominican recipe since there does seem to be a fair bit of variety when it comes to this particular recipe.

Here's the side dish:

This recipe came from, which is one of those big recipe sites I don't usually like to depend on because the authenticity is hard to verify. In this case, however, I was able to cross check the ingredients with some other versions of this recipe and I'm pretty sure this one is genuine:

Moro de Guandules con Coco (Rice with Pigeon Peas and Coconut)
  • 2 tbsp cooking oil, divided
  • 1/2 tsp fresh parley, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1/4 tsp fresh thyme, mined
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 6 pitted olives, halved
  • 2 cups rice
  • 1 15-oz can pigeon peas
  • 1 cups coconut milk
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tsp tomato paste
  • 1/2 tsp powdered chicken stock
  • about 1/4 of a small green bell pepper, chopped fine
  • 1 pinch oregano
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • 2 tbsp capers
And for dessert:

Arepa Dominica (Sweetened Cornmeal Cake)
(From Delicious Dominican Cuisine)
  • 4 cups arepa corn flour
  • 5 cups water
  • 5 cups of milk (whole, reduced fat or skim)
  • 2 12-oz cans evaporated milk
  • 3 or 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
  • 2 15-oz cans coconut cream
  • 1 tbsp anise seeds
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp butter or margarine
OK first the chicken:

Mix the lemon juice with the peppers, onions, garlic, tomatoes and olives. Pour over the chicken and let sit for 30 minutes.

Now heat the oil in a large pot. Add the bouillon, sazon seasoning and sugar and cook until the sugar starts to caramelize (It will be hard to tell from the color because the sazon is a bright red. Go more by the thickening of the sauce.).

Now add the chicken to the pot and turn until coated with the seasoning. Cook on both sides until lightly browned.

Put enough water in the pot to cover the chicken (Note: I had to put in a lot of water, and I ended up with a sauce that was far too thin. You may want to try less water but you'll need to keep an eye on the chicken to make sure it doesn't dry out). Now add the vegetables.

Turn up the heat to medium high. When the water boils, add the tomato paste, cumin and chili powder. Cover and simmer until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are tender. Garnish with the chopped cilantro and serve.

Now for the peas and rice:

Heat 1 1/2 tbsp oil in a large pot and add the seasonings, herbs, peppers, salt and olives.

Keep stirring until fragrant, then add the tomato paste. When well blended, add the pigeon peas and chicken bouillon, then the water and coconut milk. Bring to a boil.

Now add the rice, stirring occasionally to keep it from sticking. Let most of the water burn off, then cover and turn the flame down to its lowest setting. Let simmer for 15 minutes, then stir and add the remaining oil. Cover and let simmer for an additional five to 10 minutes. The rice should be al dente.

OK, now for the dessert.

What can I say about this dessert? It sounded good. I'm sure in capable hands, it is good. But this was as near to a disaster as anything I've ever made for Travel by Stove.

But I will repeat the recipe anyway, since I'm confident that its original author knew what she was doing. Here goes:

Add the arepa flour to a large bowl with the water. Stir to eliminate clumps. The flour will swell up, absorbing most of the water (this is what you want). Set aside.

Now preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, heat the milk over a medium flame. Add the evaporated milk, cinnamon sticks, raisins and sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then add the coconut cream (don't substitute coconut milk, they are not the same thing), the vanilla extract, salt and anise seeds.

Stirring continuously, let the mixture come just to a boil.

Now, when I was a teenager I remember reading this Stephen King short story about these people who had teleportation technology. In this particular world, when you teleport you have to be put under general anesthesia because if you are awake, the teleportation journey that physically happens in an instant will seem to your mind as if it takes an eternity.

Yes, that is what boiling milk is like.

Because milk scalds easily, so you can't walk away from it. And you can't boil it quickly, because it will curdle and then it will be all nasty. So you have to stand there and stir. And stir. And stir. And wish that someone had just given you the general anesthesia already.

So when you finally start to see those bubbles, like when your kids are ready to put you in that old folks home, you can add the damp arepa flour. Mix well, breaking up the clumps, and let cook on the stove. You'll have to stir it every minute or two to stop it sticking.

Meanwhile, use half of the softened butter to grease a large baking pan (this recipe makes a huge amount, so I actually cut mine in half and was still using a pretty big pan).

So eventually, your arepa will turn into a thick porridge like mixture. When this happens, you can put it in the baking dish. Dot the top with the remaining butter and transfer it to the oven.

I don't really know what went wrong at this point, but my arepa did not bake. I left it in the oven for the hour and 15 minutes as instructed, and it turned into this dark almost burned brown color on the top and was just goo in the middle.

I took it out and tried microwaving it, because I was desperate. 10 minutes in the microwave also did nothing for it. Then I tried microwaving a slice of it and just ended up with a block of concrete that made my microwave smell like burned arepa for about a week. My kids were furious with me because the dessert I promised failed to materialize.

Funnily enough, the next morning the arepa had solidified to the point where it looked exactly like the photos from the original recipe. So I really don't know what was up with that. The instructions did say it was done baking when a toothpick came out clean (which never happened) but it also said to let it sit for an hour before slicing. Well, mine sat out over night and then was actually edible in the morning. Martin snacked on it for a couple of days—I tried a piece too but was underwhelmed. I don't know if it was my personal tastes or if it was because of how wrong the recipe went for me.

 This is actually what it's supposed to look like.

Anyway, the chicken and the rice and pigeon peas were both delicious. Martin and I both gave a thumbs up to those two dishes, and Dylan did too (Though the girls didn't want to have anything to do with the pigeon peas. Typical.). So after a delicious main meal it was a little disappointing to not have a nice dessert to finish it off, but oh well. They can't all be winners.

Next week: Eastern Canada

For printable versions of this week's recipes:


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