Jean Santelises’ Chelsea apartment is an unexpected departure from the color that abounds in his home country of the Dominican Republic, and yet it’s one that mixes with the drama and energy of New York, his adopted city buzzing below.
An architect by trade, Santelises moved into his two-bedroom apartment with his husband in the heart of Chelsea four years ago. Contrary to many city apartments, his is filled with natural light that drifts in through wide windows in the living room and bedrooms. This advantage gave Santelises the chance to make a streamlined, yet bold decision when it came to color: he painted his walls a rich slate, which gives the space a cozy and sophisticated feel.
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 »
Last Saturday night, top bloggers from all over Latin America gathered together at La Mar Cebichería in Lima, Peru to celebrate Chowzter’s annual Latin American 50 Tastiest Fast Feasts. I had my first Pisco Sour in Lima that night (which was much stronger and sweeter than I had anticipated) and met international food personalities and bloggers from Venezuela, Chile, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, and London. The night was chilly and drizzly, but inside the restaurant was as warm as the pisco in my belly. Imagine being in the company of a room full of kindred spirits – everywhere I turned to, people spoke in the universal language of food. We washed down classic Peruvian dishes like ceviche, tiradito, and papa a la huancaína with pisco sours and white wine. I thought to myself, it can’t get any better than this, until my name was called to speak about a Dominican dish that was chosen as a runner up.
The Ever Versatile Aubergine08.12.13
Mom prepared a plate of pickled eggplant or berenjena a la vinagreta with her signature enthusiasm. She simmered the aubergine with a laurel leaf, a pinch of allspice, onion, garlic, and a bouillon cube. After it cooled, she dressed it in a vinaigrette spiked with Worcestershire sauce and oregano, storing it in the refrigerator in a round clear pyrex. My sister loved piling on the silky tangy stuff over crispy saltines, which she snacked on with pure abandon at any time of the day. I, on the other hand, had quite a different relationship to the pickled spread and was far from being a fan.
It’s been surprising to see how all of a sudden this summer, it’s the one vegetable I can’t live without. I’ve sliced and roasted it, layering it with tomatoes and sharp cheese like the Italians do with their melanzane. I’ve diced and tossed it over a high flame with snap peas and ginger to create a hearty and flavorful stir-fry.
Coq au vin is the French man’s version of one of my favorite Dominican dishes, pollo guisado. If you grew up in the Caribbean you, like me, have fond memories of the tangy creole chicken stew seasoned with sour oranges, oregano, tomatoes, and smoky sweet ajicitos (which grew in my backyard, by the way). So what to do when half of the ingredients that make up this flavorful dish can’t be found without having to schlep to a mercadito in Washington Heights or a remote part of Brooklyn? You have to get creative.
Enter Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I’ve been staring at the elegant fleur de lys-stamped tome for the past three years, dog-earing classics like Moules a la Mariniere (mussles with wine) and Navarin Printanier (lamb stew with spring vegetables), but never once having the courage (or the time) to dive into one of these elaborate dishes. This week, however, whether spurred by the rainy forecast or the ridiculously decadent meal I recently had at Daniel, I felt inspired. more »
Spotlight: Lali Restaurant05.24.12
In this week’s Spotlight, we’re featuring Lali Restaurant, a family-run business Dominican restaurant located in Hell’s Kitchen. This is part of a longer story that Executive Editor Karina Taveras wrote as her thesis for graduate school (which she just completed last week, WOO-HOOOO!).
On an unusually clear and breezy June afternoon, Lestiel Lopez, her curvy silhouette crowding the doorway of Lali Restaurant in midtown Manhattan, declares her latest plan.
“We start selling frio-frio today,” she announces to her staff.
Dressed in a cotton t-shirt and skirt, Lestiel, 30, known as Les, swiftly enters the restaurant, hugging a green jug filled with fresh mint that hides half her face with its wild stems. She walks past the vinyl stools at the counter and plops the greenery down on a table. A gold headband keeps her dark curls in place. Her skin is the color of brown sugar. more »
Latinfoodie Goes to Europe12.12.11
Hello Friends, I’m thrilled to share with you my first international byline! I have just been published in Sabor, a food magazine distributed in the Netherlands. For their Winter 2011 issue, I had the honor of covering Latin American tamales, prepared throughout the Caribbean and Venezuela during the Holidays. The story has been translated to Dutch, but here’s the original story in English. Hope it’s what you need to kick off a wonderful and blessed Holiday season! ¡Felices Fiestas! more »
Easter in a bun04.16.11
Ever since we moved to Clinton, a year and a half ago, we’ve been savoring the perks of living in the heart of the city. We not only walk to work, but to a butcher shop, spice market, flea market and fishmonger all located within a 5-block radius. But one of the most treasured discoveries has been the “Chinese Bun”. Ming Du, formerly known as Ying Du, is a Chinese bakery located on 38th street and 7th Avenue, and a neighborhood goldmine. Some days, when I get my breakfast on the go, a quick stop gives me a glimpse into the early morning buzz of Chinatown. When I place my order at the counter, I always notice a devoted clientele stationed throughout the restaurant, ready to start the day with noodles, hot broth, the daily paper and sweet milk tea.
However, the main reason G and I visit Ming Du are for the assortment of their breakfast pastries. They are puffy, golden spectacles filled with red bean, pineapple, egg cream or onion scallion, making them one of the most affordable breakfasts in the city. A bun plus a small cup of tea usually sets you back about $1.35.
Which brings me to the main point of my story. Lately, I’ve been craving my habichuelas con dulce, that unique Easter dish from the Dominican Republic made from cooking red beans, coconut milk and sweet potato. With the red bean bun from Ming Du, now I can get the sweet and creamy flavors of my habichuela in a slice from the Far East right down the street.
For me, weekends are for sleeping in, seeing friends, catching up on life and most importantly, indulging in the luxury of time. Creating elaborate breakfast dishes is such a treat that I sometimes enjoy the process more than the actual tasting (ahem, NOT). Mangú con huevo, the quintessential breakfast dish from the Dominican Republic is the perfect case in point. Mangú, or mashed green plantains, is made by boiling green plantains and crushing them with olive oil and butter until they’re soft and creamy. In the D.R., mangú is typically served with fried cheese, fried salami (a local sausage), sunny side eggs and avocado. The end result is a feast of textures: the smoothness of the egg yolk balances the density of the plantain, the cheese and salami add a salty crisp and the avocado a cool refuge for your taste buds.
As I prepared this beloved breakfast dish on a recent Saturday, I was reminded of a drive I took with the family through the Dominican countryside, as we made our way to the mountains of Jarabacoa. The morning was rainy and fresh, and we stopped at the breezy roadside restaurant Típico Bonao which lures locals from all over the country to start the day with this dish and an aromatic cup of Dominican coffee. Mangú con huevo brings back this Dominican love, and nourishes the spirit as well as the belly.
Mangú con Huevo Serves 2
2 green plantains
“queso de hoja” cheese (optional)
Chop the ends off each plantain. Make slits throughout the plantain, running the tip of your knife through the length of the fruit. Chop the plantains into 1″ chunks. Fill a pot with water and boil the plantain chunks for about 45 minutes.
While the plantains cook, thinly slice the onion and place the slivers in a bowl with 1 tablespoons of white vinegar, olive oil and salt. Stir these around until the onion gets covered and let it rest.
Check if the plantains are ready by piercing them with a fork. They should be tender when cooked. They will also be easy to peel. Remove their skin and place the chunks in a deep bowl. Pour a 1/4 cup of cooking liquid, a drizzle of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of butter and salt and start to mash with a masher or fork. Work through the pieces, alternating with the liquid, olive oil and butter, until you achieve your desired consistency.
Working quickly, pan fry the onions in a drizzle of olive oil and pour over the mangú. Cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. Next toss the ham, and fry the eggs sunny side up, on a non-stick pan. You can also deep fry the queso de hoja for an authentic latin kick and slice up some avocados on the side. Serve the mangú with the onions, eggs and ham. Eat immediately!