Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Spring is upon us, warmer days and nights are ahead, and it’s time to get tropical in our culinary ventures. For this article, we’re drawing on Clara’s experiences in the Dominican Republic, where she stayed with family friends and enjoyed the Spanish- and African-influenced cuisine.
This article chronicles our attempt to make a traditional Dominican dish – with a few alterations that the local grocery stores made necessary. Mofongo is a great dish for stressful end-of-the-semester nights because it’s rich, delicious, and quick to make.
Dining in Santo Domingo
My mother’s best friend grew up in the Dominican Republic, and two summers ago I went to visit her family outside the capital. Santo Domingo is a hopping city, and reverberates with the sounds of merengue, bachata and honking traffic. The quality of the street food in Santo Domingo rivaled that of Aleppo, and the home-cooking at the family household was the very definition of comfort food. While in the DR, I started to understand the rapid cadence of Dominican Spanish, walked the old plaza built by Christopher Columbus, and ogled the remarkable Tres Ojos caves. But mostly, I ate.
My memories of the two weeks I spent with my adopted abuela in the suburb of Ciudad Duarte are filled with the simple, good food I was so graciously served at her house: fresh slices of mango, roasted chicken with beans and rice, and hot cafÃ© con leche made on the stovetop and served in thin china cups. These dishes made me deliciously content and lazy, leading me to lazily thumb through romance novels on the couch and watch telenovelas in the afternoon.
The first and last thing I ate in Santo Domingo was mofongo. This rich, garlicky mashed plantain dish is of contested origins; Dominicans claim it as their own, as do Puerto Ricans. The dish resembles the West African dish fufu, which is made by using a mortar and pestle on starchy vegetables.
While mofongo is a typical lunch or dinner meal in the DR, I prefer to think of it as the perfect midnight snack: starchy, fatty, and not too healthy but too good to pass up. As the specter of finals looms at Swarthmore and we flock en masse to McCage Correctional Facility, it is imperative to indulge now and then in a little rest, relaxation, and heavy food. We hope that this recipe will inspire at least a few of you to do just that.
Taking a Break to Cook
It was late at night during a particularly rough work week that we finally cooked up mofongo in Wharton basement. In this corner of the world, half of the work is finding plantains; Jasper located some in Philadelphia after we had searched for weeks around Swarthmore. You might be able to substitute bananas for plantains, but the result really wouldn’t be the same. One substitution that we did make was thick-sliced bacon in place of the traditional chicharrones, fried pork rinds.
We made this recipe fairly quickly once we had assembled our ingredients. While you can make do with just one frying pan, adding an electric skillet sped things up for us because we could start frying the plantains while the bacon was still cooking.
Mash the plantains in small batches – we recommend using a bottle. Try making a test batch so that you can perfect your ratio of bacon grease to plantains. Also, be sure to make extra bacon. You’ll be amazed at how much disappears through snacking while cooking. We were stuffed by the time we finished the dish near midnight, and had to call up hungry friends to finish it.
8 strips of thick-sliced bacon
6 garlic cloves
enough olive oil to fry the plantains with (we used 1-2 cups of olive oil)
1. Fry the bacon and reserve the bacon grease.
2. Fry the plantains in oil until they are just starting to brown and get mushy.
3. Mash the fried plantains.
4. Add some mashed up garlic, bacon grease, and bacon bits to the mashed plantains and form into a ball. The exact amount of bacon grease that you use is up to you, as is the shape of the ball.
Isn’t that simple? Â¡Buen provecho!