Friday, February 3, 2012

Sancocho or “an homage to my ancestors”

For me sancocho embodies the essence of the Caribbean: its colors, its topography, its people, its flavors… It is made from a medley of root vegetables (viandas) that my people (both at home, in that Caribbean town named Arroyo, and in the Diaspora), have been eating since time immemorial. I grew up eating sancocho. My mother and her mother and her mother's mother also ate it. Historically, sancocho was poor people's food: the enslaved Africans who toiled in the Caribbean sugar fields made sancocho. These women and men often grew their own foodstuff, they tended large and diverse subsistence gardens and foraged for food in the woods, in rivers and lakes, along the coast, and in the mangroves.  Life was hard. But food making, food making has always been about more than just satisfying hunger. Food making is about hope, and love, and about distinguishing one self in a community: it is artistry of the most intimate kind.

Sancocho was the food of the low-wage laborers who cut cane well into the 20th century. It was also the food of peasants, mountain dwellers some the descendants of the indigenous peoples who populated the Caribbean and who better than anyone knew the foods the land produced. Still later, it was the food of all those displaced laborers who migrated to the metropolis in search of "a better life," be that life in San Juan, in New York City or Allentown, PA or Chigaco, IL.  

Sancocho is strong food, meant to fill you up for the entire day; it is food to "wake up the dead;" the type of food women should eat after the hard work of birthing! In fact, after a long arduous labor to bring my son Khalil into the world, my mother who is a master cook of traditional Puerto Rican foods, brought me a large bowl of sancocho to the hospital. I ate it. I ate it quite fast actually, I was starving. She told me that it would help me regain all the blood I lost during childbirth. After eating my mother's healing sancocho, I felt reinvigorated, rooted, and ready to take on parenting, the most challenging phase of the birthing process.

A friend recently asked me what she could make with all those “Caribbean” root vegetables she sees in the produce section of the local market (she was referring to yucca, yautia, ñame, apio, batata, breadfruit, malanga, and chayote; though we can also include here plantain and calabaza). Here I share my own vegetarian (and vegan) sancocho recipe that is sure to satisfy the mightiest hunger!

Ingredients (serves 4 to 6)

-2 batatas
-2 yautias
-1 carrot
-1 large yuca
-calabaza (cubed, about 12 medium-sized cubes)
-1 green platano
-1 malanga
-1/2 bunch cilantro
-1/2 small onion
-1/3 cup mixed red and green pepper pieces
-3 to 4 cloves garlic, crushed
-1 tablespoon sofrito
-1/4 teaspoon olive oil
-1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
-2 packets sazón
-salt, to taste

What to do?
Peel all the viandas and set aside. Peel the platano and put in a pot of boiling water and let it cook until it is soft.

Meanwhile, add the olive oil, let it heat up and add the sofrito, the onions, and the peppers let these come together for 2 minutes. Add the garlic, sautée it for 30 seconds (do not burn the garlic). Add 8 to 10 cups of water turn to high and cover for about 5 minutes or until it starts boiling. Add the sazón packets, the cilantro, and salt to taste. Remove the the platano from the small pot, mash it and add it to the boiling water (this will help to thicken and flavor the broth). Add the viandas, cover and let it cook on medium-heat for 20 minutes, then on low for an additional 5 minutes.
Let stand for 10 minutes before serving. You can add a spoon of white rice to the soup, or eat it with a slice of avocado on the side. Some people squeeze a bit of lime juice in the soup. Others make bolitas de guineo (green banana balls) and add it to the soup instead of the mashed plantain. 
What's your sancocho story?

1 comment:

  1. yummy! this looks so good! i've not seen a veggie recipe before: yay!