Puerto Ricans, like everyone, love to eat and in so doing have perfected the art of Caribbean
cuisine into its own cocina criolla. This special Caribbean cookery has a fairly traceable family tree
and it is safe to say that it was initiated by the early Indian inhabitants of the island. For almost 500
years the basic ingredients the Arawaks used have been enriched by the culinary skills of
newcomers from Europe such as the Spaniards or of the African slaves brought to toil in the sugar
fields. The time-honored ingredients are still at te bottom of almost every dish but the different and
delicate blends and innovations of five centuries have developed a genuine cuisine.
Sofrito (cooking base)is a combination of ingredients used as a seasoning to give a distinctive,
characteristic taste to many native dishes.The caldero or cauldron is an iron or cast-aluminum kettle
with round bottom and straight sides used to cook the arroz con pollo (rice with chicken) and many
other dishes. The use of this pot or a similar heavy kettle is indispensable to cook a good rice
recipe.The seasoning is perhaps the most noticeable difference in Puerto Rican cookery. You must
think of pepper, lime rind, cinnamon, cloves, fresh ginger, garlic and the juice of the sour orange.
Some favorite herbs are culantro(coriander), and orégano.These, together with small sweet
peppers are widely used to flavor soups, meats and legumes. The real secret of the cocina criolla,
however, lies in the use of sofrito, achiote lard and the caldero.The mortar and pestle, used to grind
small quantities of seasonings to a small paste is indispensable in the Puerto Rican household.
Plátanos or plantains one of the contributions to the Caribbean diet which may be eaten green
or ripe and can be fried, baked, boiled or roasted and served either whole or in slices.The leaves of
the plantain plant are used to wrap up foods to be boiled or baked such as the delicious pasteles.
Rice is a mainstay of the Puerto Rican diet and it can be prepared in a variety of ways be it "white"
served with kidney beans or prepared with gandules (pigeon peas) or garbanzos (chick-peas) or in
a variety of other delicious ways...( just try a well-made rice with chicken).
Soups are a popular beginning for meals in Puerto Rico or a full meal by themselves such as the
sopón de pollo con arróz (chicken soup with rice), sopón de pescado (fish soup) or sopón de
garbanzos con patas de cerdo (chick peas soup with pig's feet). Not really a soup, one of the most
traditional of dishes is the asopao,a hearty gumbo made with fish or chicken. Every Puerto Rican
chef has his own recipe for asopao. Asopao de pollo might take a whole chicken, which is flavored
with spices such as garlic, paprika and orégano as well with salt pork, cured ham, green peppers,
chili peppers,onions, tomatoes,chorizos and pimentos. If the budget is low an asopao de gandules
will still be a hearty meal. An amazing number of ingredients, notably local vegetables, plantains and
meats go into the sancocho, a type of Caribbean soup which is a true delicacy..
Lechón Asado Roasted or barbecued pig is a favorite for Christmas and other occasions, the
pig being roasted in an open pit, a process that takes a few hours. It is traditional for picnics and
alfresco parties where the aroma of this dish wafting through the palm trees is enticing and
appetizing.The pig is basted with sour orange juice and achiote coloring.The lechón asado is best
when the pig's skin is golden and absolutely crisp..The traditional dressing served with the pig is the
aji-li-mojili, a sauce combining garlic,sweet seeded chili peppers, flavored further with vinegar, lime
juice, salt and olive oil.
Tostones a favorite side dish made from plátanos (green plantains) which are sliced, fried lightly,
then are crushed and placed back on the frying pan to be fried again to a crunchy golden yellow...
Bacalaitos The best-loved street snacks are the deep-fried codfish fritter(bacalaítos fritos),
pastelillos(deep-fried cheese and meat turn-overs), and alcapurrias, banana croquettes stuffed with
beef or pork.
Fruits The abundant tropical fruits are used to prepare delicious juices or nectars to freshen up
the tropical heat--a favorite is pineapple juice from some of the most sweetest pineapples in the
world...Coconut, papaya, lime and tamarind are among other delicacies worth trying. Mangoes from
the western part of the island are among the sweetest of fruits..
Puerto Rican desserts include the pudding or custard flan and the tembleque..Papaya cubes
cooked in sugar and cinnamon must be accompanied by white cheese(queso blanco). Arróz con
dulce is made of cooked rice and coconut cream, sugar and cinnamon.
Café Puerto Ricans are heavy coffee drinkers and Puerto Rican coffee is among the best in the
world..islanders like their coffee real strong, some drink it black, others as café-con-leche.
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