My experiences in adjusting to Dominican customs and etiquette surrounding food and eating have become a theme – and possibly also a standing joke – in some of our articles here.
One such lesson that I learned the hard way is that no matter what, you never know how many people to expect when you ask people round to your house. There is no scientific way of anticipating or calculating this, because the possibilities, I now realise, are random and infinite.
I’ve had situations where I’ve understood that a couple, i.e. two people, is coming round for dinner, only to be confronted with a veritable herd of guests: teenage children, friends they’ve picked up on the way, a nanny or maid, mothers-in-law and other random members of the extended family.
The best – or worst – example was when I invited one of my sisters-in-law and her husband. They were coming round for a couple of beers, not dinner, but upon finding I didn’t have the usual olives or nuts to put out to go with the beer, I thought I’d make a small tortilla española, especially as it’s my sister-in-law’s husband’s favourite.
The tortilla in all its glory was waiting on the coffee table when their car drove up. Then we realised that not one but two cars were driving up: sister-in-law and husband’s car followed by their oldest daughter’s car. It wasn’t just sister-in-law and husband, daughter and boyfriend, but in tow were also their younger son, their maid and another family of three who were visiting them for a couple of days. Errrm… you could have mentioned it.
Suddenly the tortilla looked comical, pathetic, even. While my husband organised the drinks, I swooped it back into the kitchen and did some fancy artwork with a knife, cutting it into bite-sized cubes, pierced with cocktail sticks.
It was probably just my fevered paranoid imagination, but the small plate still looked a little silly in the middle of the table, dwarfed by a total of eleven people sitting round and staring at it…
With this sister-in-law’s family in particular, having them over for a visit has now become a game in our household – we now run a mini-sweepstake in advance of their arrival, the winner being the one who come closest to guessing the number of last-minute guests they bring along.
I also take comfort in the fact that at least the tortilla incident didn’t involve a proper meal. I’ve now learned that I have to stop taking some of what my husband says at face value. He’s been known to call me at lunchtime saying he’s on his way home, and to let me know that “Pepe’s with me”. Even though I’m about to serve lunch, this doesn’t faze me. Four can eat just as easily as three.
I wish I could have seen the look on my own face when “Pepe” turns out to be Pepe, his wife, their two kids, plus one child apiece from their respective previous marriages, and Pepe’s Mum. Total = seven, where I thought there was just one.
Now it’s completely clear why my mother-in-law always cooks several times more food than is actually needed. You really never do know. In the campo days, of course, any leftovers could be fed to the animals anyway.
Taking my cue from my elders and betters, I discovered the solution to this problem. Always make large amounts of the sort of food that can be saved for the following day if not consumed.
Despite its name, this delicious and easy-to-prepare dish does not contain pasta but uses eggplants instead. You can also order it by the name of "Pastelón de berenjenas con carne" in the Dominican Republic.
- 4 large eggplants sliced thinly
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1 cup of mozzarella cheese
- 2 lb. of ground lean beef
- 1 tablespoon of basil finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons of oil
- 1 cup of tomato sauce
- 1 onion diced into very small cubes
- 1 green pepper diced into very small cubes
- 1 pinch of black pepper
- 1 pinch of oregano
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- Season the meat with salt, pepper, garlic, onions, green pepper, and oregano.
- In a shallow pan heat a tablespoon of oil. Add the ground beef and brown.
- Add 1 cup of water and the tomato sauce,
- Simmer over medium heat until all the liquid has evaporated.
- Season with salt to taste and add basil.
- Remove from the heat and reserve.
- Preheat oven at 200 °C (400 °F)
- Cover the bottom of a medium-size square (or rectangular) baking pan with the oil.
- Put a layer consisting of half the eggplants on the baking pan and cover with the filling.
- Cover with the remaining eggplants.
- Cover baking pan with aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes.
- Uncover, sprinkle with the cheese and return to oven until the cheese has turned golden brown.