After a successful first edition coming out in 2005, in 2007 we foisted upon the world the second edition of our Aunt Clara’s Dominican Cookbook, the first fully illustrated Dominican Cookbook in English. Thousands of copies later our book remains just as popular.
This review appeared in the Gibraltar Chronicle, on Friday 17 August 2007. By Mary Chiappe.
Yaniqueques are Johnny cakes and domplíns are dumplings and la comida is lunch. Pure Llanito*, wouldn’t you agree? How wrong can you be? – For I speak of Dominican cuisine. I have spent a happy morning reading through and trying to imagine the flavour of assorted recipes that range across dishes using plantains, coconuts, goat, guava and varied culinary exotica, to instructions on how to make piña colada, rum eggnog and the – I imagine – aptly named morir soñando, to die dreaming…an alcohol-free cold drink against hot, hot days.
But do not imagine that the ingredients are beyond our resources locally. While we may not be able to buy cassava and pigeon peas, we certainly have access to staples like fish, rice, vegetables, spaghetti, beans, aubergines, prawns, cabbage and the many other ingredients needed for a wide range of Dominican dishes. And in this day and age we can even buy plantains and coconut milk.
Why this sudden interest in the cuisine of the Dominican Republic? The answer is simple: a friend, a Gibraltarian, has published “Aunt Clara’s Dominican Cookbook” with a friend. The friend, Clara Gonzalez, is Dominican born, married to a Danish husband. Ilana Benady – Gibraltarian – is married to a Dominican and has lived in the Dominican Republic for eight years. They joined forces some years ago, united by a love of cooking, and have brought out this book with 100 traditional recipes from this island. Clara is the cook and Ilana is the one who provides social, cultural and historical information to go with the recipes. The book is beautifully illustrated: don’t illustrations for cookery books make your mouth water? It appears that Clara taught herself photography in order to illustrate her work – and her sense of colour and artistry are evident throughout this lavishly illustrated book.
However, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. And eaten I have. Ilana invited my husband and myself to a meal where she served a typical Dominican meal. The plate was divided into three sections – three colours – La Bandera, as it is called though it is not quite the red white and blue of the Dominican flag! We had perfect fluffy rice, tasty black beans stew and prawns in coconut sauce. Stop! Are you turning away? Are you thinking of coconut sauce as something sweet? It is no such thing. It was a delicious combination of delicate flavours (see page 54 of the book) which I’m planning to try out for myself using fish as well as prawns.
I have already tried one of the recipes for aubergines – with great success, and will be moving on to baked aubergines (page 67) which sound very tempting. So too do the yaniqueques, the bacalaitos – cod fritters; the easy-to-prepare cake made from sweet potatoes; and a very similar recipe to our local pudín de pán – bread pudding. And I can only regret the plantains my husband brought home a few weeks ago for us to cook. Neither of us had the foggiest notion what to do with them so it was a relief to read the little label that instructed us to leave them till they went black before using them. Relief! The problem was shelved. However, the darker the plantains looked, the less tempted I was to try them. Unfortunately, I cannot bear ripe bananas and by the time the plantains had turned black, I couldn’t face them and I slipped them into my bag of kitchen waste when my husband’s back was turned, and passed them on to my neighbour for his pigs.
Fool that I was! You’ve spotted my error, haven’t you? A banana is a banana is a banana. It is absolutely not a plantain. See page 43 for how to make mangú and, on page 72, tostones – the Dominican Republic’s favourite side dish. Tostones require green plantains and, fried, they are like potatoes, not like bananas. I could have made this perfect little snack if only I’d known how.
And, while I’ve marked down a number of recipes for further investigation, I have also learnt many an interesting fact about The Dominican Republic. I always knew that it shared the island with Haiti, that place that gained its very early independence from France under the splendidly named Toussaint Louverture and ended with the appalling dictatorship of Papa Doc and, later, his inept son. Now I know that the island gave us peanuts, maize and tobacco; and that it also gave us peppers and papaya. I can now mourn the Neolithic Taino Indians who were exterminated by the Spanish conquistadores who landed on the island in early December 1492. And I have learnt a little about Taino, African, British, Italian and Chinese influences in the local cuisine. Spanish influence certainly survives in dishes developed from paella, callos and fabada…now with local names.
I have also discovered why my attempts at stuffing cabbage leaves in the past were always a miserable failure : I’d set the cabbage to boil and inevitably end up with what could only be turned into cabbage purée. The secret is to put the individual leaves into very hot water till they become pliable. So easy when you know how.
So there’s the book waiting for you with recipes for everything from snacks to pies to cake to bread to – you name it. You can log into Clara and Ilana’s website for further information: www.dominicancooking.com
Plenty of folk now visit the Republic and carry away memories of dishes they enjoyed. If you’ve been there, are planning to go, or are just fond of cooking – then here’s the book for you. It is published in two versions: the beautifully illustrated colour version costs £15 (+ £5 package and postage to Gibraltar) and the black and white text-only version costs £6. I suggest a direct purchase from Dominican Bookshop -The Dominican Republic in Print – though it can also be purchased from Amazon or Barnes and Noble and is distributed in the UK by Ingrams. I’ve already ordered a copy for a Christmas present for one of my daughters – the one who is a far better cook than her mother.
*Llanito is the Spanglish dialect spoken in Gibraltar.