Mofongo (Garlic-Flavored Mashed Plantains), concedes Aunt Clara, is a dish with a special place in the hearts and stomachs of Dominicans, but actually originates in the neighboring island of Puerto Rico.
Not surprisingly, I know some Dominicans who would take serious issue with that claim. Mofongo is the flagship dish in many typical Dominican restaurants like Adrian Tropical, which offers a number of variations on the theme, some Dominicans would consider it heresy to label it as a foreign import.
So what is mofongo?
Mofongo is an extremely tasty and filling dish made with plantains: fried, mashed with garlic, shaped into a ball and served in a pilón (the mortar bit of the pestle and mortar).
Classic mofongo is made with chicharrón (fried pork rind) and Adrian Tropical also does a chicken version and – my choice – a garlic prawn alternative – all served with a garlicky broth to moisten the plantain and bring out the flavor. It can be eaten for lunch or supper, and is also a popular snack for late-night revelers.
Go to Puerto Rico and you’ll find the same thing – mofongo is all over the place there too. In fact, so much of Puerto Rican cuisine is similar to Dominican, that it’s difficult to say who invented what. There are some differences, like in the spelling: what we know as guandules (pigeon peas) in the DR is spelled gandules in PR. Similar or identical dishes sometimes have different names.
I had the pleasure of visiting Puerto Rico last month, and my seven-year old son gave a special vote of approval for ‘pinchos’ – that universal treat of barbecued chicken, fish or meat on a skewer also known as brochettes, kebabs or pinchitos elsewhere. Bearing in mind my less than carnivorous tendencies, I enjoyed a simple but delicious plate of garbanzos (chickpeas). Mofongo – never, ever to be confused with mondongo! – is a sensitive subject. I always have to think twice before saying the word, especially when ordering in a restaurant, because I don’t know what I’d do if a steaming plate of innards was put in front of me, instead of mofongo. I’m also going to re-read this article very carefully to make sure I haven’t put my foot in it, so to speak.
How’s this for a compromise? Puerto Rican and Dominican cuisine share the exact same roots: Taíno, African and Spanish. Both countries have Middle Eastern and Chinese immigrants, as well as European influences apart from the Spanish, the only striking difference being the Corsican influx to Puerto Rico. Later influences may have varied – for obvious reasons Puerto Rico has a much stronger US influence than the Dominican Republic, for example, while the DR has closer contact with its Haitian neighbors.
Mofongo, however, comes from the African side of the family so that’s where we shall say its origins really lie. Dominicans and Puerto Ricans are the grateful heirs.
- 2 tablespoons of oil
- 1 lb [0.45 kg] of beef bones (any type would do)
- 2 cloves of garlic, mashed
- 1 onion, halved
- 4 cups of water
- 1 sprig of cilantro
- 1 sprig of cilantro ancho/recao/culantro (optional)
- 1 pinch of oregano
- ¾ teaspoon of salt, or to taste
- 1 cup of oil for frying
- 5 unripe plantains, peeled, cut into ¾" [2 cm] slices
- 1 lb [0.45 kg] of pork cracklings, cut into 1″ [2.5 cm] pieces
- 2 tablespoons of mashed garlic
- 1½ teaspoon of salt, or to taste
- In a deep pot heat the oil over medium heat. Brown the meat being careful that it does not burn. Add the garlic and onion and stir. Pour in water, and add cilantro, cilantro ancho and oregano.
- Simmer for an hour over low heat, topping off the water every once in a while to maintain the same level.
- Season with salt to taste. Sieve and remove the solids.
- Heat oil over very medium heat and fry the plantains till golden brown all over (3-5 mins). Using a pilón (wooden mortar) mash the plantain, garlic and cracklings together (You might have to do it in small batches and mix in the end.
- Shape into 6 balls and place in small bowls.
- Serve garnished with the beef stock.