Thursday, September 11, 2008

In which we travel to Spanish Harlem

I don't know why my title sounds like a chapter from the original "Winnie-the-Pooh." That's just the kind of mood I'm in today. I think it's the weather. I'm giving my questions post a few more days to marinate, in case any one else wants to add in their thoughts. I'm taking today to tell you all about my adventures in Spanish Harlem.

My aunt and uncle live here in New York. When I started college here, they adopted me and had me over for dinner pretty much every week all throughout my time in school. Since I've graduated, it hasn't been quite as frequent, but they are a significant presence in my life nonetheless. One of my favorite things my aunt Ana makes is "arroz y gandules" or rice with pigeon peas. Back when I couldn't cook, I just assumed I'd be dependent on her for it for the rest of my life. Since I've learned how to cook though, she offered to teach me how to make it. I jumped at the chance. We decided that this week would be a good time to get started (since I'm unemployed now and have lots of time....Rita calls it "fun-employed"). First thing to do? Set off to Spanish Harlem to get the right ingredients. Here I am on the bus:

A note about these pictures - my uncle Steven who is an amazing photographer took all the photos for this post. It was really fun. I want to have a professional photographer with me all the time. I feel kinda low-rent with my neon pink polaroid and my tiny tripod. But I digress.

We made it to the market on 108th Street and 3rd Avenue. We asked the clerk if he had any "pimenitos dulces" or spanish sweet peppers. You want to make sure you get the right kind - sweet peppers look exactly like "scotch bonnets" which are wickedly hot. They look like this:

Here I am picking some out. Titi Ana says it's very important to pick out each one so that you get the good ones.

We also picked up 2 bunches of cilantro and 3 bunches of culantro. Culantro and cilantro are different. Culantro looks like this:

It has a stronger flavor than cilantro and is native to Mexico and South America. We took home our ingredients and got ready to make arroz y gandules. But first, we had to make sofrito. What is sofrito exactly? I'm so glad you asked. Sofrito is a sauce that is basically the base for stews, soups, other sauces, etc. There are many ways to make it. This is how my Titi Ana makes it.

First we washed our peppers and herbs. Then we cut our peppers in half (and ripped off the stems):

We chopped the ends off the culantro and cilantro. I'm not wearing an apron, but my Uncle Steve gave me one of his t-shirts so that I didn't stain my clothes. I look like one of Santa's Helpers.

We layered the peppers and herbs into the blender...

And blasted it! Woo! It took a few tries. We kept adding more peppers and herbs until they were all done. We added some water as well.

Now this makes a lot of sofrito. I poured it into an ice cube tray and froze it. Then I have nice little portions like this:

It looks a little gross, but it's very practical. One side note - it ended up being a little spicy. We think that a scotch bonnet slipped in by mistake. Oh well, I still liked it. Tomorrow, I'll continue with the recipe for arroz y gandules!


Meredith said...

You know me- I'd love it if a habaƱero dropped in with the sweet peppers. The hotter the better. To a point, of course.

It's lovely to have a photographer. It makes things so much easier. It reminds me of our zucchini post- we helped eachother out. Much better than doing it alone.

Kate said...

Aw, man, I miss spanish harlem. if we were still there, you could have stopped in to visit us! ah well.
I like the ice cube tray trick...we do that with our homemade cube = one serving. make a big batch, it lasts for ages and having the cubes on hand to pop into sauces-or an instant meal- is fantabulous. (removing them from the tray once they're frozen and putting them in heavy duty freezer bags makes'em last forever. We actually just finished off the last gigantic batch we made...back in 2003.)

Anonymous said...

I'm jealous!! Wish I could've been there too. I so admire your new "freelance artist" status! Can't wait to see the arroz con gandules!

David Borgen said...

sounds like a good shopping trip up to spanish harlem and now you have a lot of green spicy ice cubes which just has to be a good thing


Nancy said...

Great post, I store my sofrito in containers.