About Dominican cookingAugust 13, 2001 • By Aunt Clara
Aunt Clara’s Dominican Cooking, besides being a collection of recipes of the Dominican Republic, source of information about our cuisine, dishes, ingredients, and history is also thought as a help for those who want to learn about the Dominican culinary culture. Dominican cuisine is easy and spontaneous.
As in any other part of the world, recipes are passed down from generation to generation in the kitchen of our Grandmas, Aunties and Moms. Because the recipes are not always written down, we learn how to cook our vernacular dishes, yet we could hardly tell how much of “this” or what proportion of “that” is needed.
Origin and History of Dominican cooking
Dominican cuisine is the result of crossroads of many continents and many countries. Before the Spaniards arrived on the island of Hispaniola in 1492, the Taino Indians (native Hispaniolans) maintained a diet that reflected the resources found in their natural habitat, as well as their technological limitations. Fortunately, many of these dishes and ingredients have survived and today are an important part of the rich Dominican culinary culture.
With the arrival of the Spaniards, many new species of animals, vegetables, fruits and grains found their way to Hispaniola. The Spaniards also introduced many foods typical of the Mediterranean cuisine and others that had been passed down to the Spaniards by the Arabs during their 700-year domination of the Iberian peninsula.
The introduction of African slaves in 1503 presented yet another new (and important) gastronomical imprint on Hispaniola. It is worth noting that the African influence is almost as strong as the Spanish influence in the Dominican culture – and the cuisine is no exception.
Dominican fare is very similar to that found in other Latin American countries, especially Cuba and Puerto Rico – the only two other Spanish-speaking countries in the Caribbean. Some of the dishes are almost identical and only the names change.
Other countries and influences have found their way into our kitchens also. Pasta is a fundamental part of Dominican cooking; spaghetti was once called “the meat of the poor”. Exotic ingredients, like salted codfish and salted smoked herrings are commonly found in our kitchens.
How to cook Dominican dishes
Dominican cuisine is simple and its preparation doesn’t require, in most cases, that you do anything in advance. Some of the vernacular techniques are very common for Dominicans, but for the inexperienced cook and the ones being introduced to Dominican cuisine we are giving you a few tips.
We have tried here to keep it as simple as Auntie, Grandma or Mom would. Our recipes give you general instructions, but you must rely on your taste, intuition and common sense to make it a successful experience.
After all if we say “let simmer for 5 minutes” and at minute 4 it looks like it will start to burn, you should know what to do, right?
The base of Dominican cuisine is the sofrito, which is a mixture of spices and herbs, sautéed until the flavors are set free. Typically a sofrito incorporates thyme, salt, mashed garlic, parsley, onion (finely diced), green pepper, coriander/cilantro, tomatoes, tomato paste and vinegar. Many Dominican dishes are prepared using this mixture. Sometimes, to shorten the preparation time, people blend these ingredients and keep them in the fridge for a “ready-to-use” seasoning.
In some Dominican households it is very common to cook using too much oil, however this is not how most Dominicans cook. Our recipes here contain the minimum of fat necessary for each specific dish. We have tried to maximize the great nutritional advantages of Dominican cuisine and in most recipes we did not include a fixed amount of salt. That is because we want you to adjust salt to your own liking. As with most ingredients you should feel free to adjust them to your taste.
Breakfast for Dominicans is usually a light meal; the same dishes prepared for dinner are also prepared for breakfast, especially when one needs a hearty start to the day. A typical Dominican breakfast could consist of mangú accompanied by scrambled eggs and topped with sauteed onions. A few pieces of boiled cassava or another root is a good substitute for the mangú. This can also be accompanied by a few slices of fried Dominican cheese (its consistency and taste similar to that of Haloumi cheese, but is made of cow’s milk) and maybe some scrambled eggs a la dominicana. You can also accompany it with a couple of slices of deep-fried salami. A cup of cocoa, or latte is a suitable ending to this breakfast.
La comida (lunch) is the most important meal in the Dominican Republic. The family will gather around the table to share La Bandera Dominicana (the Dominican flag), our typical lunch. This consists of a combination of white rice, red beans, meat (chicken or beef) and salad or a side dish, and when prepared correctly, it becomes a meal that includes all food groups.
The fresh ingredients provide for a meal that is not only delicious but also healthy and nutritious. Accompany your lunch with a glass of ice water and end it with dessert, followed by a cup of coffee (un cafecito).
About our recipes
Most of our recipes are traditional Dominican Recipes, from the Dominican repertoire, compiled and written by us. The Dominican diet is rich in fresh ingredients and simple food. Some of these dishes, however, are very sophisticated and require planning and preparation. We have tried to make the recipes as easy to understand as possible, and suggest substitutions whenever we know an ingredient might be particularly difficult to acquire outside the Dominican Republic. You will find here authentic Dominican dishes and meals, just like Mami makes them, however, and as we constantly remind our visitors, they may differ from the ones that you have tried in your own home. Remember that each family has their own cooking style and secrets.
Alongside the traditional Dominican fare we have also included recipes of our creation, that may be inspired by the flavors and ingredients of our cuisine. You can see our traditional Dominican recipes here, which you can recognize because we have added the original name in Spanish, followed by the translation into English, or read about our top 10 must-try Dominican foods.