Black, rounded, sans-serif characters spell out the title, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. A medium image of a single, red splattered drip in the shape of a bird’s wing protruding out of a young boy’s profile is easy to recognize because of the book’s popularity. A few years ago, every reader on the subway train was engulfed in this Pulitzer Prize book by Junot Diaz. The novel is about a Dominican family’s immigration experience via generations. An intriguing story, it has the adult cartoons, bad boyfriends, childhood memories, teenage love stories, lecherous dictators, college drama, the Dominican Republic’s 20th century history and a nerd boy descended from a curse many times evil because of the sincere actions of his grandfather. A friend, Danny Rodriguez, wrote a serious book review on his blog, The Cultural Critic Who Carries a Kampilan….
Except for Hija, who owns a bakery, and her granddaughter, Belicia Cabral, who decides to quit school to work in an Asian restaurant, there is seldom a food reference in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. The novel has left an affectionate impression to create a Dominican dish. When creating a menu, Empanadas and Moro de Habichuelas (rice and beans) are the initial recipes that come to mind. Then a favorite grocery store had Champagne Mangoes on sale for one dollar each that would taste good in a salsa. The rice and bean recipe would use brown rice instead of the traditional white rice. A Chilean Carmenère wine, recommended by Anu Karwa, of SwirlSavvy, would complement dinner well. After dinner, while drinking another glass of wine, the book would reopen to the last page read about the happiness and woes of another character in Oscar’s life. Zafa.
1 package of empanada shells, found in the frozen department, thawed*
1 tbsp. olive oil
1-4 in. cinnamon stick
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 green or jalapeño pepper, diced
1 tbsp. + 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1-1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. ground turkey
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 green olives, roughly chopped
1-28 oz. canned crushed tomatoes, undrained
1/2 cup almonds, roasted and chopped
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1. In a cast iron skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.
2. Add cinnamon stick, onion and green pepper. Stir until onion is translucent, about 5 to 10 minutes.
3. Add ground cinnamon, oregano, cloves and garlic. Stir until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
4. Add meat and stir until brown or until done (8 to 10 minutes).
5. Add raisins, olives, tomatoes and their juice.
6. Stir in remaining ground cinnamon, almonds and balsamic vinegar.
7. Pre-heat oven at 350°F degrees.
8. With one empanada shell, place 2 to 3 tbsp. of the meat filling in the center. Fold the shell over to make a “half moon shape.”
9. Using a fork, press the edges to seal the empananda shut. Place on a baking sheet. Repeat with the other empanadas until the meat mixture is used.
10. Place empanadas in the oven and bake until golden brown.
11. Enjoy with favorite sauce.
*Have extra time to make the empanada pastry shells from scratch? Velveeta Ain’t Food posted “Veggie Empanadas with Sundried Tomato Pesto” along with the recipe for the pastry shells.
Mango Tomato Salsa
2 mangoes; peeled and chopped
3 tomatoes; ripe and chopped
1 cup cilantro
A dash of smoked paprika
1 jalapeno; seeds removed and diced
Salt and pepper, to taste
Crushed red pepper, to taste
white balsamic vinegar, to taste
A dash of cumin
olive oil, to taste
The juice of 1 to 2 limes
1. Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Let marinate for at least an hour.
2. Enjoy with tortilla chips or your favorite empanada recipe.
Brown Rice and Beans
Note: They are many ways to add spice this dish. However, when two other recipes in a menu are flavorful, a third dish needs be supportive.
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup long-grained brown rice
1-7/8 cup of water
salt and pepper, taste
1-14 oz. canned black beans, drained and rinsed
3 to 4 scallions, roughly chopped
1. Heat olive oil over a medium-high temperature in a pot. When oil is hot, add brown rice. Stir until fragrant. Slowly add water, but don’t worry about the alarming sizzling. Season with salt and pepper. Cover pot and bring to a boil. As soon as pot boils, and without removing the lid, reduce heat to low. Liquid should be a slow simmer. Cook for 40 to 45 minutes, until rice is done. Do not stir while rice is cooking! When done, fluff rice with a fork.
2. In a large bowl, add brown rice, black beans and scallions. Adjust seasoning, but don’t over do it (see note below the Brown Rice and Bean title).