The leaves are falling and there’s a chill in the air so what better food for fall than the food from the tropical island of Puerto Rico. I know that when most people think of warm climate foods the last thing on their mind is a warm and comforting stew, but this next recipe is one my mother used to make while I was growing up. It’s hearty and filling with layers of flavor you can’t begin to imagine. This recipe looks intimidating but is easier than you think. It may also require a little scavenging to find all of the ingredients, but is well worth the effort.
Sofrito (see helpful hints)
1 bunch recao (if you can’t find it, omit)
1 bunch cilantro with stems
1 medium onion, quartered
12 ajices dulce (little sweet peppers not to be confused with habanero as they look similar but come in red, green and orange)
1 green pepper
1 head of garlic
¼ teaspoon oregano
In a blender, blend all of the ingredients together and store in a sealed container in the fridge, or fill an ice tray with the mixture and freeze into cubes before storing them in a baggie. This mixture is also great for marinating pork, beef or poultry and fish.
Carne guisada (Beef stew)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, cho
3 cloves garlic
2½ to 3 pounds of beef cut in about 1-inch cubes (beef stew meat is ideal)
Salt and pepper
½ cup sofrito (see ingredients above, or read helpful hints)
2 teaspoons of vinegar
1 8 ounce can tomato sauce (try Goya if you have it)
2 cans water (use the tomato sauce can, we’re going old school here)
1 bay leaf
3 carrots peeled and cut into ½ inch pieces (optional)
¼ cup of Goya alcaparrado, plus 1 tablespoons of the brine (if you can’t find alcaparrado, you can substitute Spanish olives with pimentos)
4 tablespoons of capers (if using alcaparrado, omit this ingredient)
3 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
½ cup frozen peas, optional
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat a Dutch oven over medium and add the oil, onion and garlic. While that mixture is heating, season the meat with salt and pepper (if you have a seasoning called adobo (I use the Goya adobo with the red cap), season the meat with that); once the oil is hot, brown the meat. Add the sofrito, vinegar, tomato sauce and water and bring to a simmer.
Add the bay leaf, cover and cook for about 1½ hours, stirring every half hour.
Add the carrots and alcaparrados and simmer for another hour before adding the potatoes - by this time the meat should be fork tender. Once potatoes have cooked, turn off the heat, remove the bay leaf and add the peas if using. Let the stew sit for about ½ hour before serving over rice with a crusty loaf of bread. Bien provecho! – Loosely translated - enjoy your meal.