Puerto Rico, the smallest of the Greater Antilles islands, is widely known for its spectacular stretches of crystal-water coastline, its loud cock-fights, its love for baseball, jazz and reggaeton music, and its cuisine, which local folks call cocina criolla.
Cocina criolla blends the ingredients of Spanish, African, Mexican, Arawak, Taino, Latin American and North American cuisine, but highlights the insertion of bright herbs and spices, as well as an assortment of onions, garlic, peppercorns, salt and olive oil, in most of its main dishes.
Among the most popular dishes are mofongos. You can find them everywhere, whether in San Juan, Vieques, Ponce, Culebra, Palomino, Mona or any of the other colorful sections of Puerto Rico. The finest dining rooms serve them, but so do general roadside kiosks: they are a staple of the Puerto Rican diet and should not be missed.
A mofongo is a sphere-shaped dish comprising mashed plantains and chopped garlic, which can be stuffed or served along with several fillings, from pork cracklings to chicken stew. This dish can be prepared with a food processor, but native tradition calls on cooks and chefs to prepare mofongos with a wooden mortar and pestle.
Mofongos are an ideal choice for garlic lovers, a true taste of the island’s flavor for those who want more zest in their meals. Although many consider asopao, a vigorous consommé made with shellfish or chicken, to be the most traditional meal in Puerto Rico; mofongos have taken a front-row seat in the local cocina criolla.
Plantains, the key ingredients of mofongos, are a variety of banana that should not be eaten uncooked. They are found in many agricultural sections of the island, then collected and transported to the local markets to be baked, fried or boiled.
3 green plantains
4 1/2 cups water
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon olive oil
Peel the plantains and cut into 1-inch diagonal pieces; place in a bowl with the water; add the salt and let stand for 10-15 minutes. Then remove the plantain pieces from the water and drain well.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a regular frying pan, at about medium heat, and put in and fry the plantain pieces until firm, making sure not to overcook them: this takes between five and 10 minutes. Remove the plantain pieces from the olive oil and, once again, drain them well.
In the interim, put the garlic cloves in a food processor and chop them completely. Remove and mix in with the olive oil, which should still be quite hot. Stir occasionally and set aside.
Finally, put three or four pieces of plantain inside the wooden mortar and pestle and add one pinch of the garlic oil; blend well. Allow this mix to rest for about three minutes, take four teaspoons of the mixture and, using your hands, form a sphere with it. Continue forming the tasty plantain balls until the mixture is all used up.
Having each mofongo ready to go, you can hollow every sphere in the middle and stuff it with some of the favorite fillings produced on the island. The most renowned fillings are shrimp, lobster, pork, beef and stewed chicken.
Mofongos Filled with Shrimp
For the stuffing: Two pounds of shrimp (cleaned and cut in half), three chopped garlic cloves, 1/2 cup of squashed tomatoes, two teaspoons of olive oil, 1/4 cup of chopped cilantro, 1/4 cup of chopped onions, 1/4 cup of freshly squeezed lime juice, one tablespoon of chopped parsley, and salt to taste.
For the mofongos: same components shown above.
After soaking the green peeled pieces of plantain in a bowl with the water, heat the two teaspoons of olive oil in a large skillet until almost smoking. Add the shrimp and garlic cloves and sauté, stirring fully, until the pi