Habichuelas con dulce was the dish that had my heart when I left home almost two decades ago. And then I found it — or rather it found me. Right smack in the middle of Washington Heights, from a street vendor who sold it in plastic containers for a dollar. It was an honest way to flee the hardness of the city, if only for a few spoonfuls, and travel to a place where breezes blew salty and flowers shone bright. Right around the beginning of Lent this year, I thought of it again. My Dominican tribe was ready to indulge and secretly fulfill my wish.
Within the tribe was Argentina Diaz, a self-taught cook who began tinkering with the stove by the time she was eight years old. Born in Santiago, Dominican Republic in the late 1950s, she was part of the Dominican exodus who left the island and made its way to New York City after Trujillo’s dictatorship fell in the early 1960s. Her mother ran restaurants in Queens and she learned the secrets of Caribbean creole cooking early on. Today, after a life-long career in finance and still in her 50s, she’s retired and living in a light-filled two-bedroom apartment she shares with a roommate on the second story of a single family home in Ozone Park, Queens.
We had traveled to the Dominican Republic’s Punta Cana last winter to break away from New York’s cold and gray and connect my daughter with the island of Mamá and Papá, where the air blows salty, the greens and blues amaze, and people treat you like they’ve known you their whole lives. For this trip, we were celebrating my husband’s birthday and getting our family and friends together all under one roof.
We stayed at a gorgeous villa in the Punta Cana Resort and Club where we greeted the day with generous cups of Café Santo Domingo, one of the island’s treasures and one of my favorite things on earth, on the poolside terrace and then fueled up with a royal breakfast spread of fresh fruit, eggs, toast, plantains, and batatas (sweet potatoes). Mornings went usually like this: We drove the golf cart to nearby Playa Serena which was an accurately named secluded spot with cool turquoise waters, sand as fine as flour, and a breezy beach front restaurant called The Grill perfect to grab a beer and snack after a dip in the ocean or some golf. more »
Cooking Up Something New12.03.14
Hi friends! I’m working on a new food project to be released soon. In the meantime, stay in touch via @Latinfoodie
Smoky cardamom and fiery chilies perfume the air, while brick red curries and fragrant Biryanis lure me in with their spicy warmth. A laboratory of desserts with wondrous incarnations of milk and sugar are dizzyingly enticing, and aromatic cups of chai ground me with a sense of place. This is India – and she’s still on my mind.
Throughout our journey, I found new and unexpected flavors in dishes that have secured a place in my memory. Dal Makhani, smoky black lentils that simmered for 24 hours until reaching a rich and velvety consistency. A triangular jewel of a dessert made from slivers of pumpkin dyed a psychedelic green and filled with dried fruit and nuts. Emerald Palak Paneer, a mild spinach curry balanced by cubes of light soft cheese and served with crispy papadum cones and golden garlic naans. Golden masala dosas folded over perked up potatoes and paired with black tea for breakfast, and Anarkali sweets molded from cashew nougat, spiked with saffron, and wrapped in edible silver in the late afternoon. more »
On how I felt at home, in Mumbai03.28.14
If you’ve been following me on Instagram @50Bottles you know that I kicked off the year spending six weeks in Mumbai, India and returned to NYC with a baby girl in arms. My husband and I were pregnant via surrogate and traveled halfway around the world to make our dream of a family a reality.
It was my first time in India and I didn’t know what to expect. Friends who had visited had warned me that it was a country filled with extremes, where sprawling high-rises neighbored makeshift slums, cows and elephants sauntered down traffic lanes, and kids played in dirty water. In reality, what got me most weren’t these observations, which seemed matter of fact once I arrived, but its volume, and especially the human density. With about 13 million inhabitants, to say that Mumbai is a congested city is an obvious understatement and makes NYC’s eight million inhabitants seem paltry by comparison. Everywhere you turned, things came in droves: people, cars, animals, buildings. I had stepped into another dimension, a parallel universe that captured the entire spectrum of humanity in one single place. more »
Last week, I was tasked with searching for stocking stuffer ideas for The Latin Kitchen. One caveat: all the gifts had to be under $25! I searched tirelessly and ended up with an armful of funky finds that I think you’re going to love. Some that were a bit over budget didn’t make it to the guide, like these cool Himalayan pink salt shot glasses and sleekly flexible lunch boxes. But the rest did – so take a look and enjoy a fabulous roundup:
It’s hard to believe that a week ago I was flying home from one of the most exhilarating food journeys of my life. I was at Mistura, the largest culinary festival in Latin America held in the culturally rich and historically fascinating country that is Peru.
This year the festival took place beneath a flurry of white tents in Costa Verde, a stretch of land bordering the Pacific Ocean and the dusty side of a hill that leads to the Magdalena district of Lima. Weaving through the countless stands, markets, and fascinating talks hosted by some of the world’s most celebrated chefs, I was (almost) able to grasp the dizzying diversity of Peru’s cuisine. Of the country’s 700 native dishes, I dove into luscious ceviches and light-as-air tamales from the capital of Lima, but also studied more obscure plates from other regions of the country, like seco de cabrito or stewed goat served with rice and beans and champús, a warming dessert made with soursoup and pineapple.
There was the vibrant and welcoming Gran Mercado, or grand market, with its endless varieties of potatoes (over three thousand in Peru), quinoa grains of every shade and size, olives as plump and briny as Greek kalamatas, Amazonian fruit whose twisty names tripped up my tongue, medicinal herbs, and more keepsakes to tuck away in my trunk of sensory treasures. more »