Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Puerto Rican Cooking 101

This is your first lesson in Puerto Rican cooking. People are always asking how to make rice and beans and stuff, so I'll just write a post here to refer to in the future. You can make the rice in a rice cooker--just add salt and oil to the cooking water. Also, I find it's best if you don't open the rice cooker when it immediately finishes. Leave it for about 5-10 more minutes to let the moisture evaporate some more. In my family, we like our rice more dry and fluffy than moist and gooey. So onto the beans:

Puerto Rican Style Beans 
1 can pink beans not drained or a similar amount of dried beans that have been soaked (This recipe is also great with chickpeas, like in the above picture!!)
1 Tbsp Recaito (recipe below) or more to taste
4 oz tomato sauce
1 packet sazon*
1 small potato, diced into 1/2 inch cubes

handful of pimento-stuffed green olives (optional)
pinch of oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

Saute the recaito with the tomato sauce for about 3 minutes. Add beans, potatoes, olives, oregano, salt and pepper and enough water to cover the beans. Simmer over low heat until the potatoes are tender. Stir occasionally, and add water if needed to keep the liquid level above the beans

* Sazon is found in most supermarkets, with the spanish foods. It's usued mostly for color but it has other spices too (one caveat: it also has MSG). Annato/achoite can also be used, but that's even harder to find. The other spices in the packet are salt, garlic, cumin, and coriander. So I think it would work if you use those spices and add saffron. Honestly, you could just leave it out all together. It's not THAT crucial.

Now onto the recaito. This is what the finished product will look like.

Okay so Goya sells jarred recaito, but it's easy enough to make, so why not make your own? We usually make a huuuuge batch of this stuff so we can keep a big jar in the fridge and just scoop a bit out every time we cook (it's the flavor base for most Puerto Rican foods). I scaled the ingredients down a bit, but it still makes a lot, so just pack it into a jar and use it little by little. Now, in this recipe, you'll see a couple of new, unfamiliar ingredients. Culantro is sometimes called recao or long coriander. It can be found in Latino supermarkets and maybe Carribean/Asian supermarkets too. If you can't find it, add some more cilantro.
The other ingredient that you've likely never encountered is ajicitos. They're small and sweet and flavorful. They can be found at Latino supermarkets, but you can leave them out if you can't find them. No worries; there aren't even a lot in the recipe. 
The long leafy stuff in the left front is culantro. The small squat peppers are the ajicitos. I'm sure you're familiar with garlic, cilantro, onions and bell peppers.

Recaito (yield: about 3 cups)
3/4 cup garlic
1 large bell pepper (any color, or a mix)
2 yellow onions
1 cup cilantro
1/3 cup culantro
1/4 cup ajicitos

Toss everything into a food processor. Whir it around until everything is all minced together.