First – a very Happy New Year! I trust you enjoyed your Christmas holiday and are launched into an exciting 2013.
Second, let me admit that I’m not accomplished in meals Puerto Rican. It was my grandparents who traveled from the farms and towns of el borinquen nearly a century ago, and it was my grandmother, Nana, who routinely produced huge cast iron cauldrons of shiny rice, and pots of beans stewed in garlic, oregano and tomato.
Nana and my grandfather,TaTa, lived together with my great-grandmother, Quela. Because she was the matriarch of the extended family, all the relatives who lived in all corners of New York City migrated to Quela’s Manhattan apartment for major celebrations, Christmas the most important one. The tradition was adhered to faithfully: gifts were opened only after all relatives (30-60 of them) arrived and dinner was eaten. Absolute torture when you’re a kid.
But the food…ah the food was a blessing from God channeled through my Nana. Rice and beans, of course. But then there was the pernil – fresh pork shoulder slashed and filled garlic, salt and pepper, and oregano. The fragrance of slow-roasting pernil was the first thing to hit you when you stepped inside from the cold air.
All that said, my favorite dish was, and remains, the asopao, a thick rice stew pink with dozens of shrimp. Highly seasoned with onions, garlic, oregano, and tomato paste, the broth is a rich clam or shrimp base. Because rice continues to soak up whatever liquid it sits in, this is one of those dishes that’s best eaten as soon as it’s ready. Asopao is so delicious, however, there’s never a problem getting people to the table.
This is the dish I make every Christmas here, in snowy Wisconsin. Thankfully, my children, husband and step-children all love it. Asopao has become our shared tradition, along with Norwegian lefse.
Christmas and New Years are behind us, but if I close my eyes, I can still see, and enjoy the aroma, of the simmering asopao. From Puerto Rico to New York, from the Bronx to Minnesota. And now, to our farm in rural Wisconsin. I’m greatful for this link with my grandparents and for the newer connections with Scandinavian traditions. How blessed we are to be able to recreate Christmas dinners from around the world. We wish you a “prospero ano nuevo!”