While I would love to think of myself as an intrepid investigative writer, travelling the Dominican countryside in search of hidden treasures of our culinary culture, the fact is that I am nowhere near that. We just travel aimlessly around the country from time to time, sampling the local foods and befriending perfect strangers on local colmados.
That is even easier when you realize how amazingly friendly and talkative we Dominicans are.
While we were painting my office a few days ago, my husband and I were talking about this. More specifically, about how police here can be incredibly efficient at solving some crimes, like kidnappings.
While I didn’t want to rob them of their due credit, we wondered out loud if it isn’t that spirit of knoweverythingness that made it so difficult for the criminal element to hide their dastardly deeds. Have you tried to keep to your own business in a Dominican barrio? Not going to happen. Seriously. Everyone will know about “those people, who aren’t from around here and are up to no good, y no saludan a nadie“.
I always joke that the next two things coming out of a Dominican’s mouth after they meet you – assuming you are a fellow Dominican – are “¿de que familia eres?” and “¿de donde son ustedes?” (What is your family? Where are you from?). This, my dear readers, is fraught with danger. You might be stuck for the next 5 hours sitting in a bus with a heretofore unknown “cousin” and being interrogated about relatives you didn’t even know you had. Beware!
Although only idiots generalize (see what I did there?), it seems that different cultural groups have traits that are part of their identity, I’ll trust you believe me when I say nobody will use words like “laconic” or “reticent”, or “taciturn” to describe us. Sure, some of us may be, but in general we Dominicans value friendliness above all.
And I originally learned from my readers about this dish, it was Dominican’s friendliness and openness that led me to find out how to make it. This is a pretty obscure dish, I have only tried it from one vendor on the road from Dajabon to Loma de Cabrera, although I have heard of at least two other vendors in the country.
If you know this dish you might not recognize it in this shape, it is usually a square, flat, dense “bread” cooked wrapped in plantain leaves (you can see more here). I tried that, and I honestly found it too dense, so I set out to modify this to make it lighter, prettier and easier to make for those of us that don’t usually have a plantain tree lying around. The taste is unchanged, though.
- ¼ lb [113 gr] of pork belly
- ¼ cup of oil for frying (canola, corn or peanut)
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- ½ teaspoon of oregano
- ½ teaspoon of cracked pepper
- 1½ lb [0.7 kg] of cassava
- 1 cup of unsalted chicken broth
- 3 tablespoons of butter
- 1 tablespoon of aniseed
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- Some oil to rub on your hands and grease baking tray
- In a thick-bottomed pot mix pork belly, 2 quarts of water, ½ teaspoon of salt, oregano and a pinch of pepper.
- Cook over medium heat until all the liquid has evaporated (there will be some fat from the pork). Add oil and fry until it has turned a dark golden brown and skin is crispy.
- Remove it from the heat and place it on a paper towel, let it cool down to room temperature.
- Cut into small cubes (1/2 inch [1 cm]). Reserve.
- Peel and wash the cassava. Grate using the least coarse side of the grater, or using the grater attachment of your food processor (which I did).
- Place the grated cassava on a clean cotton cloth and squeeze as much liquid as you can. Catch the liquid into another container.
- When you have finished straining the cassava, measure the amount of liquid that you extracted and add that same amount of chicken broth to the cassava (I used 1 cup of broth, amount may vary depending on the cassava you use). You may discard the liquid extracted from the cassava.
- Add butter, aniseed, and a ½ tablespoon of salt to the cassava. Mix well with your hands.
- Add the cracklings to the cassava mixture and mix well.
- Place the mixture in a large non-stick pan and heat over low heat.
- Cook stirring constantly, turning the mixture at the bottom until it turns into a darker, more transparent color (see picture of mixture halfway the process). Remove from the heat and place into another container (to stop the cooking process). Let it cool down to room temperature.
- Preheat oven to 400 ºF [200ºC].
- Rub oil on your hands and place ¼ cup of mixture on your hand. Form balls with it and place on an oiled baking tray or silpat.
- Bake until the top turns a light golden color (15-20 minutes).
- Remove from the heat, serve warm.