Von Diaz’s Essential Puerto Rican Recipes (Published 2021) – The New York Times

The journalist and cookbook author, who grew up traveling between Atlanta and Puerto Rico, collects dishes that tell stories about life on the island, and the flavors that bring her back to it.
Von Diaz stirs a pot of sancocho, a stew found all over the Caribbean, as it simmers over an open fire at her home in North Carolina.Credit…Lauren Vied Allen for The New York Times
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Intensely green, verging on chartreuse, plantains hang like chandeliers from tall broad-leafed plants across the Caribbean. The botanical name is Musa paradisiaca, the second word meaning “of paradise.”
The plátano is generous, and can be eaten in all stages of ripeness. In Puerto Rico, the greenest ones can be fried, smashed and blended with garlic, olive oil and chicharrones — pork cracklins — to make mofongo, one of the island’s best-known dishes. When their peels turn bright yellow, speckled with dark spots, plátanos can be fried and served alongside rice and beans for that signature agridulce flavor, sweet and salty. And when they finally become black and squishy, seemingly past their prime, their flesh can be boiled, then blended with butter, and then pressed into a pan to make pastelón, a casserole layered with sofrito-laced beef.
I was born in Río Piedras, Puerto Rico, but raised in the suburbs outside Atlanta. My family traveled back to Puerto Rico often — not always the case for those of us on the U.S. mainland — and I was fascinated by those plantain chandeliers. I lived in two worlds in my mind: a lush, loud, exciting tropical wonderland, and a seemingly cultureless, strip mall-laden labyrinth of subdivisions.
The island beckoned me. I longed for the feeling of hot, tropical air hitting my face as I exited the plane, for the interlaced smells of garlicky grilled meat and car exhaust, for the sonorous canopy of El Yunque rainforest.
I love Puerto Rico deeply. It’s where my heart lives, where my mind wanders at night when I can’t sleep. But we don’t always love the places we’re from. My mother, in fact, hasn’t been back to the island in 11 years. For her, Puerto Rico is chaos, rife with machismo, economic instability, crumbling infrastructure and bad memories. Despite the fact that Puerto Rico is part of the United States, those on the island have long struggled with inequities that can make life there extremely difficult.
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