July 29, 2017 – Jose’ Feliciana and Manuel Iguina.
They are all I know about Puerto Rico.
I once shared the first class cabin on a flight with Jose’ Feliciana. He’s a very pleasant traveling companion. We spent much of the flight being embarrassed by a boorish man who insisted on telling Jose’ where to get the best Mexican food at our destination city. Jose’ was patient but eventually and quite politely pointed out that he is Puerto Rican, not Mexican. There’s a difference.
Manuel Iguina is another good guy. He is a restaurateur in Washington, D.C. He owned Mio, one of the best restaurants in a city full of restaurants. It became my go to hangout when I was in town. Here’s the piece I wrote about Mio. http://travelsthroughalife.com/?cat=6&paged=2
I was greatly saddened to hear that Manuel closed Mio down not too long ago. Possibly in remembrance, I decided recently that I wanted to know more about Puerto Rican food.
Puerto Ricans, I learned, tend to refer to their cuisine as “cocina criolla.” Creole cooking. It contains elements of the many cultures that have passed through the island. Beginning with the Arawaks and Tainos, the first inhabitants of the island who ate fruit and seafood, cocina criolla adopted elements of later arrivals. Spanish, Cuban, Mexican, African, and American. Puerto Rico took the best of them all to create their own unique cuisine. But it was the European Spanish who influenced island cooking most.
Puerto Rican dishes often begin with a sofrito, which can include tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, onions, and garlic. A sofrito, or something similar to it, is common in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and throughout Latin America.
Adobo can mean different things depending on where you are. In Puerto Rico it’s a spice mixture, usually (but not always) consisting of salt, pepper, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, and turmeric.
As in other Latin American cooking, annatto is often used in Puerto Rican dishes. With a relatively mild flavor, it’s most often used to impart a golden color to a dish. As it’s difficult to find, a similar effect can be achieved with paprika, turmeric, saffron, or a combination of any or all of them. I used all three.
Arroz con gandules is often mentioned as something akin to the island’s national dish. Rice with pigeon peas. That’s what I wanted to make but I couldn’t find pigeon peas. I had to make do with what I had. Plain old green peas from the freezer.
So with apologies and due respect to Jose’, Manuel, and the entire island, here’s my take on Puerto Rican rice.
And, by the way, this is an excellent accompaniment to a ribeye!
Puerto Rican Rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1/2 roasted red pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup peas
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cumin
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of saffron
Salt & pepper to taste
2 cups water
1 cup rice
In a heavy pot with a tight lid, heat the olive oil.
Saute’ the onion, garlic and roasted red pepper until they are softened, being careful that the garlic doesn’t burn. It should take about five minutes.
Add the spices. Stir to mix.
Add the water. Bring it to a boil.
Add the rice and turn the heat to low. Cover and let the rice simmer for 20 minutes without disturbing it.