The Puerto Rican Vegetarian

IMG_20130928_122819_514I grew up with a traditional Puerto Rican Mother and Grandmother who home cooked 99% of our meals. Like most Americans, I was raised eating meat. My family cooked traditional Puerto Rican foods such as arroz con gandules (rice and pigeon peas), pernil (roasted pork shoulder), pastilles (or empanadas) and bistec encebollado (Beef and onions) just to name a few! I can still eat some of the things from my past with subtle, healthier and meatless, changes. When people meet me or find out I am a vegetarian they often say, “You’re Puerto Rican, right? How can you be a vegetarian?!” I never get offended I just laugh. Ignorance is bliss and I can attest to this first hand.

My first attempt to vegetarianism

Becoming a vegetarian was not the easiest decision I ever made but it sure was the best one. As I got older, I noticed I didn’t enjoy meat as much as I used to. When I was a sophomore in college, I went cold-turkey (pardon the pun!) and ate zero meat for 3 months straight in Spring 2007. None of the food I ate was healthy but there was no meat whatsoever. Many people thought I wasn’t going to last… and I didn’t. When my semester was over, I went home- to Philadelphia- and ate a Philly Cheese Steak.

Second Attempt to vegetarianism

When I graduated college in Fall 2009, I had my own place and freedom to cook anything I wanted. I thought I was a chef making all different kinds of foods- mostly Italian. I enjoyed every bit of it. I was not conscious about what meat, or what food for that matter, I ate. I just know I had it included at least at dinner time. Growing up, I was used to including a carbohydrate, meat and vegetable on my dinner plate. Transitioning away from this tradition was a challenge. But challenge accepted! I concurred.

I decided to take the “Vegetarian Challenge”. Basically, I challenged myself to make all meatless meals for 1 week. I did and at the end of the week I thought to myself, “That was not so bad!” Then I realize how good I felt. I felt physically lighter and psychologically happier.

My (new) Typical Diet

I always say that I am borderline vegan. My biggest challenge is, not so much diary, just cheese in general. I have switched to almond milk and very rarely eat eggs. Most of the times I have eggs I can’t see them because they are usually incorporated in foods such as breads or cakes (which is also rare for me). Nonetheless, I do eat them.

For breakfast, I always start with a green smoothie. Occasionally for breakfast, usually weekends, I make things like vegan pancakes, grits or oatmeal. A typical lunch for me includes a huge salad, sushi, or Asian cuisine (Thai or Japanese). For dinner, I usually start with a salad and have anything from hardy veggies such as eggplant, zucchini or broccoli with a gluten free pasta, quinoa or brown rice. I am not gluten intolerant but for better digestion I prefer gluten free products.

Incorporating Traditional PR Cooking

Once I adjusted to my vegetarian diet, I knew I had to get my Spanish flavors back. I began slowly including them. For example, sofrito. If you add sofrito to anything not only will it taste fantastic but Spanish, too! (See sofrito included in the recipe below). I think people in my circle are realizing I am serious about my vegetarian lifestyle-including my mother. Lately, when she invites me to dinner or has a gathering at her house, she makes sure there are plenty of meatless options for me so I am not watching everyone eat. Recently, she made Spanish rice without the meat or meat flavors and it was delicious!

Recipe De Jour: PR Mofongo and Sofrito “Vinaigrette”

I am currently on a mission to recreate more Spanish dishes. I do not want to limit my abilities but this recipe is my first attempt. Monfongo, for those who don’t know, are mashed plantains traditionally made with pork rinds-among other ingredients. I have refined it healthy, tasty and vegan. The list of ingredients may seem intimidating, however, please note my tips at the end for leftover and variations. I hope you enjoy this!


Mofongo Sauce Ingredients

  • 2 vine ripened tomatoes
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tbsp Vegetable Broth (or 1 Tbsp of olive oil)
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • ¼ onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 3 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1 ½ tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • ¼ tsp cumin

Instructions for Sauce

  1. Chop tomatoes and blend with water
  2. In a small saucepan sauté the onion and garlic (until translucent) in vegetable broth
  3.  Add tomato blend, tomato paste and all spices to the saucepan
  4.  Simmer for approximately 20 minutes

Note: For a thinner sauce, add more water

Mofongo Ingredients

  • 4 plantains
  • 2 garlic cloves, mashed
  • 4-8 tbsp Olive Oil
  • ¼ cup of starchy water, reserved

Instructions for Mofongo

  1.  Peel and chop plantains into 1 inch piece.
  2.  Bring medium saucepan to a boil.
  3.  Add Plantains and boil until fork tender (approximately 20 minutes).
  4.  Reserve ¼ Cup of starchy water, discard the rest.
  5.  Add the olive oil and mashed garlic.

Tip: Those of us on low fat diets, use less olive oil and more water.

Sofrito “Vinaigrette” with Leafy Greens Ingredients

  • 2 Cup Water (or more for desired consistency)
  • 1 Medium Onion
  • ½ Cilantro Bunch
  • ¼ Parsley Bunch
  • ½ Green & Red Peppers
  • ½ Garlic Bulb (approximately 6-8 cloves)
  • ¼ Tsp Sea Sea Salt & Pepper (or to taste)
  • Juice of 1- 2 Limes
  • Leafy greens

Instructions for Vinaigrette

  1. Blend the first 6 ingredients in a blender.
  2. Measure 1 cup of the mixture and put in to a bowl.
  3. Add Sea Salt, pepper and lime juice.

Note: This vinaigrette will be on the spicy side because of the raw garlic. Use less to reduce spiciness. The longer it sits (maybe overnight) the better it will taste.

Tip: Make less, use half of all the above ingredients.

Serving Instructions

Place the mofongo in a ramekin  (or small bowl) to shape. Once on the dinner plate, pour the red sauce directly on top (Desired amount). Add a heaping amount of leafy greens on the plate (I used spring mix and kale) and top with the Sofrito ‘Vinaigrette’ (Desired amount).

Serving note: This Vinaigrette can be used on ANY salad. If leafy greens aren’t enough for you add tomatoes, carrots or any of your other favorite salad topping.

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