How comforting it is to find a piece of your culture and who you are in a dish. At least that is how I feel when despite being far, far away from where I was born and raised I can still feel the warmth of my origins when served a plate of the Dominican Flag.
Dominicans call their country’s staple dish La bandera Dominicana which literary translates to the Dominican Flag. This is served almost daily in every Dominican household. There are many traditional dishes prepared and enjoyed by Dominicans but this is THE national dish that we prepare the most.
What does it consist of, you may ask? Well, similar to many other Latin countries, it starts with rice and beans. The two other countries with very similar typical dishes are Venezuela and Colombia and they have names for it too.
Venezuela: “El Pabellón Criollo” or the Creole Flag and consists of white rice, black beans, shredded stewed beef, fried ripe plantains, white cheese and arepas.
Colombia: “La Bandeja Paisa” or the Colombian Tray and consists of white rice, red beans, fried eggs, pork rind, chorizo, fried ripe plantains, avocados and arepas.
What about in your country? Do they have a name for the main traditional dish? What is it made of?
La Bandera Dominicana 101
The rice used is normally a long grain. It is cooked until tender on the inside but dry, loose and not sticky, we call it ”arroz graneado”. The ratio that never fails is 1 cup rice to 1 1/2 cup of water. To cook it, all you add to the water is salt and oil. It is imperative in Dominican cuisine to let the rice slightly burn on the bottom and create a thin coat all around the pan. This outer coat of dry and crispy rice is called Concon and it is scraped out of the pan and served at the table. Concon is for many the best part of the rice and is even ordered at restaurants that serve Dominican cuisine. Aunt Clara from ‘Dominican Cooking’ has more information on white rice and she shares a foolproof recipe.
The beans most commonly used are red beans, but you can see variations using black and white beans as well, or pigeon peas. They are stewed in water, and other elements are included to add flavor and make the consistency thicker. Some of the other items added can be onions, cubanela peppers, celery, tomatoes, plantains and squash. The seasonings of choice of Dominicans are salt, garlic and oregano. Marnely from ‘Cooking With Books’ shares a recipe in her blog that will surely warm you up in the coming cold days (if you are in the northern hemisphere like I am).
The most popular meat is chicken, which is probably because it is the most inexpensive option. We also use other meats like beef, pork and goat, but the meat must be stewed. The base of the stewed meat is tomatoes and onions. The juices released by the fresh tomatoes will create a delicious sauce which the meat will be stewed in. A trick used by Dominicans to give the stew meat a rich brown color is to burn some sugar in the bottom of the pan first until it is caramelized and golden then the meat is added to sear and take the brown color of the caramelized sugar. Below I share the Pollo Guisado (Stewed Chicken) recipe, that I always use when I need to be comforted and transported to mami’s table.
A Dominican lunch table with La Bandera Dominicana served is not complete without its multiple side dishes. Usually there is a fried side dish, a salad and a sweet side side dish. Our ultimate fried side dish are tostones (fried green plantains) which are twice-fried for a crispier consistency. Eliana from ‘A Chica Bakes’ has mastered the technique and shares her tips. Other fried side dishes are arepitas de maiz (corn fritters), arepitas de yucca (cassava fritters), torrejas de berenjena (fried eggplant). For the salad, the following could be served either separate or mixed together: avocados, tomatoes, shredded cabbage, cucumbers, lettuce, cayote squash, red beets and lettuce. These are normally served with a simple vinaigrette made from oil, lime juice and salt. For the sweet side dishes, Dominicans mainly serve caramelized ripe plantains, but you can sometimes even see yellow bananas accompany a savory plate of rice and beans.
As you can see there are many variations of how the Dominican Flag can be served and I want to point out that Dominican cuisine is much more than just rice and beans. The goal of the ”Lunes Latinos” food series is just that, to share and explore all the rich cuisine of my country and Latin America. So please share your stories, links to your recipes and lets all learn together.
Pollo Guisado (Stewed Chicken)Chicken is seasoned and marinated with salt, garlic and cilantro for about 30 minutes.
Ingredients – yields 6
Rinse chicken in warm water.
Add lime juice and rub chicken so all pieces are covered with the lime juice.
Season with salt, oregano and garlic. Let the chicken marinate for 30 minutes.
In a large pot heat oil over medium high heat add sugar and wait until sugar is caramelized.
Add chicken and stir so it gets covered all over with the golden brown color of the caramelized sugar.
Add the water and onions, stir and let the onions cook with the chicken on medium heat for about 15 minutes.
Add tomatoes and cilantro, stir and cover. Keep it covered over medium heat for 15 more minutes.
Uncover to check the sauce, stir and keep cooking until tomatoes have released all its juices and formed a sauce.
Taste the sauce and add salt to taste.