When I was sixteen, I spent two years with a Puerto Rican family in Florida. Most of my memories of that time were people coming and going at the house. Spanish television playing in the background. The intoxicating smell of strong coffee being brewed throughout the day. The warm milk simmering on the stove to be added to each cup of sweetened coffee.
Every weekend the grandmother would dress in all white and go to church. I always looked forward to the meal after the service. Huge plates of roast pork with yellow rice and my all-time favorite, warm arroz con leche.
Sundays were cleaning days, and Mercedes (the grandmother) would make her sofrito. She’d place a massive rice pot on the stove with oil and as soon as the sofrito hit the hot oil the smell perfumed the entire house. Her sofrito went into everything. Her red beans with calabaza, rice, stews, and meats.
Sundays were cleaning days, and Mercedes (the grandmother) would make her sofrito.
I lost contact with the family over the years and recently I tried to reach out on social media. I will never forget them and all the warmth and love they gave me during those two years. I connected to Puerto Rico and the people through the stories Juilo and Soraliz would tell me. It took me twelve years to finally make my way to San Juan, and I could never forget the feeling I had walking through the streets of Old San Juan. I knew this place and it was a part of me without a blood connection.
These recipes are dedicated to the Arocho Family.
These recipes are dedicated to the Arocho Family. Thank you for putting up with me and giving me the Puerto Rican culture and food that I can pass along to my daughter.
1 bunch fresh cilantro
1 bunch fresh culantro (also known as recoa, or Chinese parsley) optional
2 large Spanish onion, cut into quarters
6 cloves garlic
2 green bell peppers, seeded and cut into large pieces
1 red bell pepper, seeded, and cut into large pieces
2 cubanelle peppers, seeded and cut into large pieces
1 tablespoon dried oregano
¼ vegetable oil
Kosher salt and ground pepper to taste
Using a blender add the onions, garlic, and peppers, as much as can fit. Blend down until smooth. Keep adding peppers, onions, and garlic until all is blended. Next, add herbs and oil and blend until smooth. Season with kosher salt and ground pepper.
*Sofrito can last in the fridge for up to one week. Or pour sofrito into ice cube trays for later use.
5 yellow/black plantains, cut into slices, and fried until golden brown
1 pound ground beef
1 package shredded mozzarella cheese
¼ cup green olives with pimientos, chopped
2 tablespoons sofrito
1 teaspoon capers
¾ cup tomato sauce
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¼ tablespoon adobo
¼ tablespoon sazón
3 eggs, beaten with 2 tablespoons water
Preheat oven to 375 F
In a large skillet on medium heat add ground beef. Break the meat down and add the sofrito, capers, and green olives. Cook until browned, 10-12 minutes. Next, reduce heat to low and add the tomato sauce, vinegar, dried oregano, adobo, & sazón. Simmer for another 10 minutes. Taste to adjust seasoning (salt & pepper). Remove from heat and set aside.
In a deep baking dish, add a layer of fried plantains, 1 cup of meat mixture (picadillo) spread evenly, and a light layer of cheese. Repeat each layer. After the final layer, add the remaining cheese. Add the beat egg mixture over the tops. Move around any puddles of egg mixture. Bake for 25 minutes, uncovered. To brown the top, broil on high for 5 minutes, be sure to watch closely to avoid burning. Serve warm!
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