Meal Planning – Puerto Rican dinner

Puerto Rican Dinner

At least once or twice each semester, we try to have all the college students at our church over for a big lunch, usually with some sort of international food theme. Mom loves being able to have more time to get to know folks around a dinner table or a silly game afterwards. Last year we did German food on Mother’s Day, this year I’ve been wanting to do a big Puerto Rican dinner.

I never know quite how many people to expect – so far we haven’t gone over 20 people, but we always invite a few more every time. Still, I need to aim for food that’s easy to make in large quantities. For large quantities, I really need to stay away from complicated preparation or expensive ingredients. This is sometimes hard for me to do with menus from a specific cuisine, since I really enjoy trying new recipes that sound different and interesting.

I do usually have all day Saturday to get it together, but it’s a question of how much time I want to spend grocery shopping and doing prep work. Some of the standard Puerto Rican dishes are very cheap and simple to make, so that gives me a bit more leeway if I want to include one or two fancier dishes.

Basic recipes:

Arroz con Gandules
rice with pigeon peas
pink beans with ham
Arroz con Gandules-3 Puerto Rican Beans

Our lovely Puerto Rican friends make planning this a lot easier because they’ve not only cooked for me a number of times but also shown me step-by-step how to make some of their favorite dishes. I certainly haven’t mastered the cuisine – I still have to watch what Iris does closely every time, since she cooks by habit and I don’t have the right touch with all the seasonings yet.

Favorite dishes:

plantain “lasagna”
Pollo Asado con Papas
roast chicken (perhaps with potatoes)
Pastelón Pollo Asado

I’ve also picked up a Puerto Rican cookbook with a variety of traditional and more experimental gourmet recipes. These lead me to more internet searching to learn about ingredients, which has led me to some lovely cooking sites for Puerto Rican food. Some of these are tourism sites, with some helpful food dictionaries but less personal information. My favorites are the personal sites and blogs with lots of family memories and personal critiques of the recipes.

Fancy dishes:

Caldo Santo
coconut seafood soup
mocha caramel custard
Caldo Santo - Puerto Rican Coconut Fish Stew-17 Chocolate Mocha Flan

The last few items I probably won’t bother with recipes for – they’re simple and I’ve had them enough times at friend’s homes or at restaurants to figure them out on my own:

Remaining dishes:

Ensalada Verde Tradicional
Pastelillos de Guayaba con Queso
guava cream cheese turnovers
Ensalada Guava Pastellilos (Turnovers)-3

There are a few other dishes I know I should probably include, but they’re either very labor intensive or require a lot of prep work just before serving. I’ve done last minute frying once or twice, but since we usually have a big crowd of helpers in the kitchen and they’re usually in church clothes, I think I’ll avoid that this time. Sigh… still, I’ll be hankering to try these again soon:

Eliminated dishes:

plantain fritters/chips
(traditional Christmas dish)
Puerto Rican tamales
fried tostones Pasteles Puertorriqueño

On the topic of Puerto Rican cuisine, there’s still one dish that’s been eluding me: Iris’ recipe for marinated steak in tomato gravy – Bistec Encebollado. It’s utterly delicious, especially in the Puerto Rican sandwich – the jibarito – that uses tostones as the bread. Every time I’ve tried to make it, the result is too pungent or stringy or something. So that won’t be on the menu (it’s less of a crowd dish anyway). Sigh…

Bistec Encebollado (marinated beef)
Iris's Bistec

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