Updated: Jul 5
There's nothing more satisfying than to have someone utter the sweet words, "that was delicious!" But soon after your applauding guests fade away, you realize you're still staring into an empty pan. We always wonder if our next dish is going to be a disaster. Sometimes cooking a great meal can be as easy as having the right tools, ingredients, and of course passion.
Being Puerto Rican, I have learned to appreciate our passion for food. I can remember growing up and seeing my Abuelita (grandma) mixing ingredients like a mad scientist in the kitchen. The smell of spices and herbs filled the lab as she slowly cooked her yellow fluffy rice. Her hands filled with spices, and the sound of clinking pots let me know that something magical was cooking.
My favorite time was when we would go to the vegetable and fruit market. She weighed the produce with her hands, then smelled, squeezed, and stared at the texture for a long time. I thought she was crazy, but then I noticed everyone was doing the same. Then I thought, "that must be what makes her food taste so good." As I got older, I realized that was the best way to select produce.
Now, as an adult, my friends and I tell jokes "You know you're Puerto Rican when.....", well, you know. It's funny because it's true. I have my pilón (mortar and pestle) and tostonera (wooden press for making fried plantains). I could imagine my family's expression if I didn't. When my grandma came over to my home for the first time, she went to the kitchen and asked if I bought a pilón. When I told her I didn't, out flew her chancleta (Urban Spanish for flip-flops) like a frisbee and it hit me on my head. For the record, my grandma is not abusive; she shows her tough love...the tough way.
Oh, and don't get me started on the herbs and spices! If the food didn't have the fresh cilantro or spice, well...olvidate! (forget it!). I explained to my grandma that I live in an apartment in New York City, and it's difficult to grow my own herbs and spices. "Then only buy the best", she said to me. So as long as I bought the best quality, I knew in my heart my meals would taste fantastic. I've always admired her sense of taste and love for freshness.
If you ever find yourself staring into an empty pan remember you can never go wrong if it's fresh and from the heart. I have learned that a kitchen is a magical place. Where you might surprise yourself given the right tools, ingredients, and a dash of love.