Within the Caribbean diaspora, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Cuba have many cuisine similarities, but it would take a person of those respective descents to discern their subtle culinary differences. Puerto Ricans share their love for sofrito, achiote, and adobo, and cannot make most specialty dishes without it. Dominicans add a unique Dominican oregano to nearly every saucy dish. This oregano is dried and finely ground, and has a more pronounced and pungent flavor than its Italian counterpart. Cubans have an affection for including a side of black beans and white rice on almost every dinner table; cumin being the flavor backbone responsible for the sauce’s dark color created by the black beans themselves and in which they are stewed. Yet, even with these country’s distinguishing touches of how their food is served and prepared, one cannot ignore that there are more commonalities than differences.
When I moved to Colorado, I noticed the lack of diversity when it came to Latin Caribbean foods. There are plenty of Mexican markets in Colorado offering multiple species of chile peppers, not to mention the wide availability of ingredients one would need to throw a huge Mexican fiesta. Such is not the case for foods coming from the Caribbean islands. Thankfully, my own Puerto Rican heritage afforded me the knowledge to be creative in sourcing closely related ingredients needed to make up for the inaccessibility. As a native New Yorker who grew up in Harlem then later lived in Brooklyn (and held a job in Manhattan for most of my life), I have tasted a wide variety of cooking styles of rice, beans, root vegetables, stews, meats, and plenty of fried things. The Caribbean Hispanic population is larger on the East Coast than in the Rocky Mountain region, and the proximity of these islands to the East Coast makes 100% sense as to why there aren’t many Caribbean ingredients available here. However, I did not foresee that I would not have access to a simple herb called culantro, also known as recao, when I moved out West. Luckily, the herb is similar to cilantro, so I simply use more of it whenever I make a fresh batch of sofrito.
One dish I love to make during the colder months is beef stew. While there are European variations of beef stew like France’s boeuf bourguignon and Germany’s goulash, Caribbean Hispanic countries do not include the use of red wine or paprika. Instead, these countries build upon a cooking base known as the aforementioned sofrito, a puree of vegetables like green bell peppers, onions, garlic, tomatoes and cilantro. Sofrito is widely manufactured and, as a result, available at nearly all supermarkets. Here I am offering my recipe for beef stew which is a winter staple at my home and has a mostly Puerto Rican influence in cooking style. A side of white rice is the traditional side dish served with this beef stew, but it can also be enjoyed alone as a soup with crusty bread. This recipe is great for freezing in portioned freezer-safe containers. Simply transfer it from the freezer to the fridge the day or night before you plan to enjoy it, and reheat it on a stovetop or a microwave. All of the ingredients are easily found at any supermarket. A wonderful meal awaits you.