Nov 062013
 

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On this date in 1844 the Dominican Republic adopted its first constitution. The Dominican Republic is a Spanish-speaking nation on the island of Hispaniola, part of the Greater Antilles archipelago in the Caribbean region. The western third of the island is occupied by the nation of Haiti, making Hispaniola one of two Caribbean islands, along with Saint Martin, that are shared by two countries. Both by area and population, the Dominican Republic is the second largest Caribbean nation (after Cuba) with an estimated population of 10 million people, one million of which live in the capital city, Santo Domingo.

Taínos have inhabited what is now the Dominican Republic since the 7th century. Christopher Columbus landed on the island in 1492, and it became the site of the first permanent European settlement in the Americas, namely Santo Domingo, the country’s capital and Spain’s first capital in the New World. After three centuries of Spanish rule, with French and Haitian interludes, the country became independent in 1821. The ruler, José Núñez de Cáceres, intended that the Dominican Republic be part of the nation of Gran Colombia, but he was quickly removed by the Haitian government (in part because of slave revolts). Victorious in the Dominican War of Independence in 1844, Dominicans experienced mostly internal strife, and also a brief return to Spanish rule, over the next 72 years. The United States occupation of 1916–1924, and a subsequent calm and prosperous six-year period under Horacio Vásquez Lajara, were followed by the dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina until 1961. The civil war of 1965, the country’s last, was ended by a U.S.-led intervention, and was followed by the authoritarian rule of Joaquín Balaguer, 1966–1978. Since then, the Dominican Republic has moved toward representative democracy, and has been led by Leonel Fernández for most of the time after 1996. Danilo Medina, Dominican Republic’s current president, succeeded Fernández in 2012, winning 51% of the electoral vote over his opponent ex-president Hipolito Mejia .

The Dominican Republic has the ninth largest economy in Latin America and the second largest economy in the Caribbean and Central American region. Though long known for sugar production, the economy is now dominated by services. The country’s economic progress is exemplified by its advanced telecommunication system. Nevertheless, unemployment, government corruption, and inconsistent electric service remain major Dominican problems. The country also has marked income inequality. International migration affects the Dominican Republic greatly, as it receives and sends large flows of migrants. Haitian immigration and the integration of Dominicans of Haitian descent are major issues. A large Dominican diaspora exists, most of it in the United States. They aid national development because they send billions of dollars to their families, accounting for 10% of the Dominican GNP.

Dominican cuisine is a mix of Spanish, Taíno, and African. The typical cuisine is quite similar to what can be found in other Latin American countries, but many of the names of dishes are different. One breakfast dish consists of eggs and mangú (mashed, boiled plantain), a dish that the Dominican Republic shares with Cuba and Puerto Rico. For heartier versions, mangú is accompanied by deep-fried meat (Dominican salami, typically) and/or cheese. As in Spain and much of Latin America, lunch is generally the largest and most important meal of the day. Lunch usually consists of rice, meat (such as chicken, beef, pork, or fish), beans, and a side portion of salad. La Bandera (“The Flag”) is the most popular lunch dish; it consists of meat, red beans, and white rice. Sancocho is a stew often made with seven varieties of meat. Meals tend to favor meats and starches over dairy products and vegetables. Many dishes are made with sofrito, which is a mix of local herbs used as a wet rub for meats and sautéed to bring out all of a dish’s flavors. Throughout the south-central coast, bulgur, or whole wheat, is a main ingredient in quipes or tipili (bulgur salad).

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La Bandera

La Bandera is not really a single dish; it has infinite varieties.  So I’ll give some general ideas.

Rice

The rice used is normally a long grain white rice. It is cooked until tender on the inside but dry, loose and not sticky – called arroz graneado. The ratio is usually 1 cup of rice to 1 ½ cups of water. To cook it, all you add to the water is salt and oil.  It is imperative in Dominican cuisine to let the rice slightly burn on the bottom and create a thin coat all around the pan. This outer coat of dry and crispy rice is called concon and it is scraped out of the pan and served at the table as a special favorite.

Beans

The beans most commonly used are red beans, but you can see variations using black and white beans as well, or pigeon peas. They are stewed in water, and other elements are included to add flavor and make the consistency thicker. Some of the other items added can be onions, cubanela peppers, celery, tomatoes, plantains, and squash. The seasonings of choice are salt, garlic, and oregano.

Meat

The most popular meat is chicken, but you can use other meats such as beef, pork, or goat. The meat must be stewed. The base of the stewed meat is tomatoes and onions. Do not use too much stock in addition. A trick used by Dominicans to give the stew meat a rich brown color is to cook some sugar in the bottom of the pan first until it is caramelized and golden then the meat is added to sear and take the brown color of the caramelized sugar. You should cook the meat until the sauce is thick and provides a coating, rather than watery.

On the side

A simple side salad is expected. Fried plantains are common as well.

 

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