When I pulled the Dominican Republic for the letter D, I was pretty excited. Finally, we were at least swapping hemispheres! It would be like a mini Caribbean vacation in my kitchen (sans the gorgeous beaches, girly boat drinks, and bikinis)! Ok, so it wouldn’t be exactly like a Caribbean vacation, but c’est la vie.
Anyway, Google searches yielded a ton of information about Dominican cuisine. With African, Spanish, and indigenous influences, Dominican food tends to feature hearty, inexpensive dishes. And with cold weather slowly creeping into our region and my budget refusing to expand, these are attributes I can certainly get behind.
As for a specific recipe, I found an awesome blog with a lot of ideas. Aunt Clara is from the Dominican Republic, and as far as I could tell her dishes looked pretty authentic (at least it seems to jive with the Wikipedia article. I’ve never been there, so I really can’t speak to the authenticity with any sort of authority). Anyway, I found this one recipe in particular that looked like my kinda thing. A cross between lasagna and tamale pie, the pictures looked appetizing (certainly better than mine) and the ingredients sounded delicious.
Unfortunately, I only gave the instructions a cursory glance before I started. I realized a bit too late that key pieces of information, such as baking temperature and pan type, were missing. So I had to improvise a bit. In the end, it all worked out pretty well. The cornmeal was a little sweet for my liking; next time, I’d probably reduce the sugar a bit and add some crushed red pepper flakes to either the beef mixture or the sauce to help balance it out. Also, it made far more than the four servings indicated on the initial recipe — we got about eight out of it. Fortunately, it held together really well in the fridge and reheated beautifully in the oven. So, in the long run, this could be a great make-ahead meal.
Anyway, go ahead and get ready for your own mini Caribbean jaunt! (If you want to throw on a bikini and put some steel drums on in the background, I promise I won’t tell anyone).
Pastelón de Harina de Maíz (Cornmeal & Beef Casserole)
Makes 8 servings
- 2 cups cornmeal
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 cups grated cheddar cheese
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 cups water
- 2 lbs ground beef
- 1 small red onion, diced
- 1 green pepper, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- Olive oil
- 1 can crushed tomatoes (28oz)
- Olive oil
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- Mix together cornmeal, sugar, olive oil, and water in a medium pot, and let rest for an hour.
- Preheat oven to 350.
- For tomato sauce: sauté onion in olive oil over medium heat until translucent. Add garlic and oregano and toast for about a minute. Add the tomatoes, reduce heat, and let simmer.
- For the filling: in a bit of olive oil, sauté together the onion and pepper. Once those are soft, add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the ground beef and brown it all together, adding salt, pepper, and oregano to taste. Once the beef is cooked through, add a ladleful or two of the sauce and allow it to simmer until much of the liquid has evaporated.
- For the cornmeal: Take your pre-mixed cornmeal, and cook over medium heat until the mixture boils and starts to pull away from the sides. In this step, make sure that you are stirring the mixture constantly – it doesn’t take much for it to burn and stick to the bottom of the pot.
- To assemble: Spray a 9×13 glass baking dish with Pam. Spread half of the cornmeal mixture on the bottom of the pan, and top with half of the cheese. Next, add all of the beef mixture. On the top, spread the remaining cornmeal mixture and top with the remaining cheese. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the cornmeal has set and the cheese is bubbly and browned. Let sit for a few minutes before serving, with remaining tomato sauce.
- Notes for future: The cornmeal was pretty sweet, so I would probably reduce the sugar a little bit. Additionally, I would add some red pepper flakes to the beef mixture (either on its own, or by incorporating it into the tomato sauce) in order to offset the sweetness of the cornmeal. I’ll admit, I don’t know how much this will mess with the authenticity of the dish, but I think I’d prefer it this way.
Calories per Recipe: 3,363
Per Serving: 420 calories, 47 g carbs, 10 g fat, 30 g protein 278 mg sodium, 17 g sugar