Meal 51: Dominican Republic

Another Thanksgiving weekend, another nosh in San Francisco!  To go with the gorgeous weather, the calendar aligned on Dominican Republic, the second-largest country of the Caribbean. While the Bay Area is no stranger to foods from Spanish-speaking lands, there's few Caribbeans around, so these dishes made for something more of a novelty here than they would have been in Dominican-immigrant-heavy New York.

Thanks to the kind folks at Hattery, I had a big kitchen to discover the intriguing Dominican way of cooking, which was just, well, different. I used a grand total of one onion with none of that going into the stew, scrubbed every cube of meat with lime halves, and boiled rice at full hilt rather than gently simmering. And that's not even mentioning the oddness of a dessert built around kidney beans.

Around the table are Jon, Bryan, Alley, Suj, Drew, Greg, Emily, Shilpi, and my mom and dad! It was great to catch up with three friends in town from Portland, and of course to share the joy with my parents, cousin, and future cousin-in-law.

Sancocho de siete carnes | Seven-meat stew | Recipe

Can you even name seven meats? Well, it's kinda cheating since there are actually four types of pork (cubes, ribs, ham hocks, and longaniza sausage), plus beef, chicken, and goat. This is a truly rustic stew, with little more than meats plus some whole chunks of vegetables. The trick is putting in the longer-cooking items first, and gradually building up the pot, and getting a good longaniza since that's where the spices will come from.

The result was a really satisfying stew, with tender and flavorful chunks of meat and a sauce worth spooning on top of everything. Given the fun textures of the different root vegetables, it's worth making the effort to find them, especially the true yam, which isn't the same as a sweet potato. If you make this recipe, just be sure to give yourself plenty of prep time, it takes longer than you think to scrub each and every piece of meat! Or if you don't, at least take away the lesson to cut whole ears of corn into rounds, it's a fun addition and much more dramatic than tossing in individual kernels.

Guandules con coco | Pigeon peas in coconut milk | Recipe

Pigeon peas don't seem like much more than pale little lumps when dry, but once cooked they exhibit a rich caramel color and an unexpected smoky taste. They're often served in rice, much like rice and beans, but there's more you can do. This vegetarian preparation uses coconut milk and squash to give a more tropical feel. I'm kicking myself for neglecting to eat the final version, but reports are that even the carnivores thought this was a good dish.

Arroz blanco | White rice | Recipe

The goal with Dominican rice is to get concón, layers of crispiness mixed in with loose, fluffy kernels. Well, I got the loose and fluffy part all right, but nothing approaching crispy. Maybe I didn't let the oil sear the bottom of the pot long enough, or maybe that huge pot was just too big to deal with. Anyway, the rice was plenty fine, and served valiantly to sop up the sauce.

Jugo de tamarindo | Tamarind juice | Recipe

No photo, but imagine a pitcher full of brown liquid and you're set. This recipe is for if you've thought ahead. If you're like me, and you're starting from whole tamarind pods, first peel them (don't need to be obsessive over getting every last bit of peel), cover with water at about six times the volume of the nuts, bring to boil, and simmer for 15 minutes. Place a chinois or strainer over a bowl, dump the pot into the strainer, and use a wooden spoon to press the pulp onto the edges until the pulp is all squeezed through and into the bowl and only the seeds remain which you then throw out. Mix sugar into the still-warm juice, chill, enjoy the distinctive tang. For a really good time, make a cavarindo: half tamarind juice, half cava. (Watch out, it'll foam up like a root beer float!)

Habichuelas con dulce | Sweet bean soup | Recipe

A chilled soup made of pureed kidney beans and chunks of sweet potato doesn't exactly sound like dessert, but we were all pleasantly surprised by how tasty this inventive dish is. With evaporated and coconut milks, it's got a nice but not excessive milky richness, and the spices make it feel vaguely Christmasy. If you're adventurous, it's worth trying!

Ponche de ron | Egg nog | Recipe

One of the few scenes from the Jetsons I remember is the Christmas special, in which Rosie the Robot creates egg nog by mixing one egg and one "nog." Well, two decades later, I've finally made it — or, at least, the Dominican version — and while I can affirm that egg nog indeed has eggs, the "nog" part of it is a bit more complicated, in this case three types of milk plus sugar and spices, all cooked over a bain marie. But gosh it was tasty, not unctuous like the stuff in a carton, but really smooth sippin', and just the right density to warmly embrace the rum and make you forget you've eaten too much and shouldn't put any more in your belly.

So that does it for the D's! Next weekend we head due south to Ecuador. Thanks again to the kind folks at the Hattery for opening their space to us!