What is that?
If this is your first time living in the tropics, you will encounter many unfamiliar fruits and vegetables during your foray to the supermarket. Don't be shy about trying the local produce. Most are delicious, if you could only figure out exactly how to "cook" them. Here is a handy guide to help you maneuver through the shopping aisles.
Besides red and white potatoes, there are many types of tubers, or root vegetables, available in Santo Domingo.
Batata is similar to a sweet potato, only milder and paler. It can be served boiled like a potato or fried in oil.
Yuca is one of the most popular Dominican foods. It is a starchy vegetable from the cassava plant, and has a dark, bark-like peel. Yuca can be eaten boiled, and is traditionally topped with sauteed red onions.
Yautía is another root vegetable, served boiled like potatoes. It is usually white, but also comes in a more expensive yellow variety. Related to yautia is ñame, which is also served boiled or made into arepitas (similar to potato pancakes). All of these vegetables are frequently used in soups or stews, such as the national dish of the Dominican Republic, sancocho, a tasty combination of various meats and vegetables.
There are several kinds of squash grown in the D.R.
Tayota, known as chayote in other countries where it is eaten, is a light green, pear-shaped squash. It is very versatile, and can be braised, steamed, stuffed with meat or cheese, pickled or even served raw with a dip.
Auyama has a green rind and orange flesh, and is usually so big that it is sold in wedges. The flavor is somewhere between a pumpkin and a butternut squash, and can be used as a substitute in any recipe calling for either of these vegetables. You can boil or steam auyama and then mash it with butter, salt and cinnamon for a delicious side dish. It can also be added to stews and soups for color. It makes an excellent custard.
Finally, you may find calabacín readily available in the markets. This mild-tasting vegetable is similar to what you may know as summer squash, zucchini or courgette.
The plantain, or plátano in Spanish, is found in almost every community with a Hispanic population, so you may have seen it before. However, you may not be aware of its versatility. It looks like a banana, only larger, and can be cooked when the peel is either green or yellow. Thinly sliced and deep-fried plantains are called platanitos.
Platanitos are eaten like potato chips. Thicker slices are fried, flattened and then fried again to make the very popular side dish, tostones, also called fritos verdes. (The term fritos in general can refer to fried slices of either green or mature plantains). Green plantains can also be boiled and mashed with water and butter like potatoes to make mangú.
The sweeter, ripe plantains make a delicious side dish when sliced thinly lengthwise and fried, or when prepared in a spicy, sweet syrup using brown sugar and cinnamon. If you have never cooked with plantains before, this is one regional vegetable you should get to know.
In addition to the familiar red, green and occasionally yellow bell peppers available in Santo Domingo, there are some other varieties. You have probably seen a pale green, long, irregularly shaped pepper in your market. This very mild pepper can be used in any of your recipes that call for green peppers or even celery.
Ají gustoso, however, is a mild, hot pepper. It is small—the size of a thumbnail—and is either red or greenish yellow.
Jalapeños are also found here in season. This pepper is common in Mexican food and we recommend that you wear rubber gloves when preparing them—they are so hot, they can burn your skin.
Fresh hearts of palm are a highly-prized delicacy taken from the center of the Royal Palm tree, sold by better restaurants as palmito, similar in texture to cabbage. Dominicans prefer it sauteed with onions and spices or boiled in salt water, cooled and served as a salad or with a dip. Vegetarians use it to prepare a delicious mock lobster salad. Despite its exquisite taste, the consumption of palmito is being discouraged by ecologists because the whole tree must be cut down to extract it.
The Dominican Republic is a country rich in fruits. Citrus fruits are available all year and you can squeeze your own delicious orange juice. Don’t be fooled by the color of the orange peel. Good oranges are actually greenish orange, or even all green. They do not need to be a bright orange color on the outside to be ripe and sweet.
The most common local name for oranges is china. Another name for oranges is agria, or sour. Mix the juice with sugar and water to make a pleasant drink. If you want pure orange juice, look for china dulce, which is less common.
Although you won’t find yellow lemons in the Dominican Republic, there is a similar alternative that is just as tasty in its own right. It is small—about the size of a golf ball—and green, with a juicy, tart taste. These can be used in drinks and dressings or any place you would use a lemon or lime. Persian limes are larger and greener than the Dominican limón.
Bitter orange, also known as naranja sevillana, is another citrus fruit available in Santo Domingo. It is used in sauces, soups, dressings and as a meat tenderizer. As a condiment, it also adds a delicious zingy flavor to dishes.
Tangarines are known as mandarinas. Look for them in November, December, January and February.
There are many wonderful fruits available at different times of the year in the Dominican Republic. You are heartily encouraged to go ahead and try any new fruit that appears in your market. Ask someone to help you select a ripe one if you are uncertain. You might just discover zapote, an ugly brown color on the outside, but a delicious pinkish orange on the inside. You can eat it as is, or make it into a batida —a drink of blended fruit, milk, ice sugar and vanilla.
The list of regional fruits is endless—papaya, known as lechoza here, and mango, are two common fruits with which you may already be familiar. They come in a variety of colors and sizes—just always be sure they are ripe before eating them. Papaya is good with a little lime squeezed on it, eaten out of the rind like a melon. To eat a mango, you must accept that you will get messy—take off your shirt if you must, but don’t let it stop you from enjoying this glorious fruit. The mango season is from May to September.
Cajuilitos Sulimanes have a brief season. This small, red, pear-shaped fruit has a mild flavor and a crisp, crunchy texture.
One of the most wonderful tropical fruits is chinola, known as passion fruit in English. When ripe, the outside looks like a dimpled, yellow ball and the inside is sloshy. You can eat it out of the skin with a spoon, but it is most popular in juice or ice cream. The tart flavor is exquisite and unlike any other fruit.
Guayaba, or guava in English, is a pear-shaped fruit with a pinkish color inside, and yellowish on the outside. It is also commonly made into juice, ice cream or jam. Guava is also made into a sweet paste and eaten like candy. This paté is sometimes served with a bland white cheese for dessert.
The guanábana, known as soursop in English, is green, spiny and irregularly shaped on the outside but the inside is a creamy white with seeds like those in a watermelon. It has a delicious sweet flavor, and is also common in juice and ice cream. It is ripe when soft to the touch.
Jagua is another exotic fruit that can be peeled and eaten as is. A refreshing drink from this fuit is made by boiling the jagua in water and adding ice and sugar to taste.
This list only scratches the surface. Experimenting with local fruits can be a great pleasure while here, so be daring and taste the tropics!
Can you tell me about some of the other foods I see in the supermarket?
Beans are a staple in the Dominican Republic, and you will find many familiar varieties here. However, one that you may not be familiar with is called guandules, or pigeon peas. They are available fresh, dried, or canned and are similar in size and color to green peas. However, they have a richer, distinct taste. Use them in any recipe calling for beans, such as soups, stews or rice and bean dishes.
Beans are used in some surprising ways: watch for habichuela con dulce on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. This is a rich, delicious pudding made of red beans (really!), condensed milk, coconut, spices and raisins. Bon Ice Cream company produces a delicious seasonal habichuela con dulce ice cream in March and April.
Kipes (or quipes) are a result of Middle Eastern influence on this country. They are made of ground beef, cracked wheat and spices, fried and served as an appetizer.
Empanadas are like turnovers. They come in either a small, hors d’oeuvre size or large enough to be a meal. They are traditionally filled with cheese, meat or vegetables. Empanadas de yuca are made with flour from the yuca and filled with cheese.
Arepitas de yuca are similar to potato pancakes, only substituting yuca for the potato. Arepitas are also made from ñame, and larger ones are made from corn and filled.
Casabe is a round, flat, crunchy bread also made from yuca. It is good toasted, and is also sold seasoned which makes it taste a bit more interesting.
Platanitos, mentioned earlier, are like potato chips, but made from the plantain. You can buy them ready made in your supermarket.
A pastelito is a round-shaped fried turnover, traditionally filled with meat and raisins.
If you are a sausage eater, longaniza is a popular Spanish-style mild pork sausage, and morcilla is a type of blood sausage. Spicy, smoky Spanish chorizo is also available here.
Pan de agua, or water bread, may be shaped as a French-style baguette. It is long and almost as narrow. It is also available in a smaller size at most local supermarkets, colmados and panaderías. This crusty bread is quite popular and very tasty. It is made with water instead of milk.
If you are wondering what to do with the tamarind pulp available in your market, it can be made into a juice by boiling it in water and adding sugar. It has a distinctive nut-like flavor that does not appeal to everyone.
There is a wide variety of fruit juices for sale in Dominican supermarkets. They are almost always sold in concentrated form, which makes it easier to stock up on them. Discover the excellent tropical juices, such as mango, passion fruit and orange sold in supermarkets nationwide.