Savor the rich, hearty stews of the Puerto Rican kitchen

By Jackie M. Young

POSTED: Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Taste of Puerto Rico

Address: 91-2072 Old Fort Weaver Road, Ewa Beach (take the back road by St. Francis Hospital); 681-1100. Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays

The dish: Pollo en Fricase (Chicken Fricassee) is a new addition to Taste of Puerto Rico's menu. “;It's a special-occasion dish I'm only making three days a week to introduce people to different types of authentic Puerto Rican cooking,”; said co-owner Johanna Martinez, 40. “;If they like it, I'll add it to the regular menu.

“;The recipe comes from Spain and France, but we've made it our own with the ingredients.”;

A whole chicken is boiled for about 10 minutes in canola oil, then cut and steamed in a pot for about an hour in a tasty sauce of white cooking wine, salt, black pepper, green olives, oregano and bay leaves, tomato sauce, cilantro and potatoes.

“;It's something you can eat with salad or rice or by itself. It's becoming very popular,”; noted Martinez.

The restaurant: Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Johanna and Carlos Martinez met through mutual best friends. “;She walked by me on the sidewalk, and I went, 'Wow!',”; Carlos, 45, remembered. “;I had my friend introduce me. It took me three years, but I finally conquered her heart.”;

They married after Carlos finished basic training in the U.S. Army, and have a daughter, Chalynette, 15, and a son, Carlos Jr., 18, who help out in the restaurant when not in school.

Carlos Sr. had his second tour in Hawaii at Fort Shafter in 2004, and about a year later Johanna started cooking at the “;salsathons”; at Kapiolani Park. “;People would ask me to do special orders for them,”; Johanna said. “;And I come from a family that cooks a lot — my relatives are cooks or chefs or caterers.”;

By chance one day when they were house-hunting, the Martinezes noticed a business space available on Old Fort Weaver Road and thought of opening their own restaurant. Taste of Puerto Rico was born in May 2008.

“;I learned to cook from my mom and grandma, and I'm somewhat of a perfectionist,”; Johanna said. “;I cook by eye — I don't measure anything.

“;I like the local people here, their appreciation of our food. They actually thank us for opening here.”; The eatery already has many regulars from Kaneohe, Waianae, Kalihi, Mililani and Pearl City.

Cassandra Henfield of Ewa Beach has been coming frequently since it opened, at least twice a week. “;Their food reminds me of what I grew up with in New York; it's the most authentic Puerto Rican food I've tasted so far. I could eat it every day if I could afford to.”;


Ramona's Pasteles

Sold from a truck on Fort Barrette Road, opposite Kapolei High School, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. most Saturdays; or at 87-147 Liliana St., Waianae (four blocks Kaena Point-bound past the Maili Pink Market); 696-8383 (call before coming)

The dish: Carne Mechada (Stuffed Beef) is prepared only on special occasions, and when you hear how it's made you'll know why: Large holes are made with a long knife in a roast or rump of beef so that olives, capers, tomatoes, ham bits, peppers and white onions can be stuffed inside.

The roast is seared until brown on both sides to seal in the ingredients, then cooked again in a pot for about an hour or until tender. Sliced potatoes may be boiled separately and added to the beef, resulting in a complex, tasty meal.

“;It's a special dish — mostly either for Sundays or when you have company — not every day,”; said Ramona's Pasteles co-owner Ramona Caraballo.

About the business: At 71, Ramona Caraballo is like the Energizer bunny — she just keeps cooking and cooking and cooking ...

...”;I learned to cook from my mom growing up in Puerto Rico and I followed all her recipes,”; said the spry Caraballo.

When she was 14, Ramona moved with her family to the Bronx in New York City, where she met her husband, Erasto. They have three daughters — Yvonne, Lysandra and Evelyn.

When eldest daughter Yvonne joined the Navy, she was stationed in Hawaii. Erasto visited her in 1994 and decided he liked the warm weather so much he wanted to stay. Soon Ramona and the rest of the family followed.

“;But I still only cooked at home, and not to sell,”; Ramona said. It wasn't until about 2000 when they were living in Wahiawa that she started a business cooking.

“;It was when that soldier kept bothering you for pasteles,”; reminded Erasto jokingly. Her reputation soon spread via word of mouth.

“;In my opinion, she makes the best pasteles in the state,”; claimed Aiea Heights resident Jose Villa. “;I normally order three to four dozen pasteles from her for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“;I also order from her at various times during the year when I want to get my Puerto Rican food fix and want the quality to be as good as my mom made.”;

To comply with Department of Health standards, Caraballo prepares all the food she sells at the Pacific Gateway Center's “;incubator”; kitchen in Kalihi (a shared commercial kitchen made available to low-income business owners), then transports it to either sell out of the back of her truck on Saturdays in Kapolei, or out of her home in Waianae.

“;Anything more than just pasteles or gandule rice, people can just call me ahead of time,”; Caraballo said.

“;I enjoy cooking and I'm proud when others hear about my food and like it.”;



Ramona Caraballo and Bessie Santiago contributed this recipe to the cookbook “;Recipes from the Heart of Hawaii's Puerto Ricans,”; published in 1999 by the United Puerto Rican Association of Hawaii.


Carne Mechada

2 or 3 pounds beef roast
1/4 pound ham, diced
1 onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1/4 cup cilantro
2 cloves garlic, crushed
6 stuffed green olives, chopped
1 tablespoon capers
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons achiote oil (see note)
1 cup water
1 cup tomato sauce
6 potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks
6 carrots, peeled and cubed

With a sharp knife, make deep holes in roast.

Combine ham, onion, pepper, cilantro, garlic, olives and capers. Stuff mixture into holes in roast. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat achiote oil in deep pot; brown meat. Add water and tomato sauce. Cover and cook on low for 1 hour to 90 minutes, until tender.

Add potatoes and carrots and continue cooking until potatoes are done and sauce is thick.

Nutritional information unavailable.

Note: To make achiote oil, simmer 1/4 cup achiote seeds in 1/2 cup vegetable oil for 5 minutes or until oil is deep red. Strain. Store in refrigerator. Dried achiote seeds (also called annatto or achuete) are sold in the Asian section of supermarkets, near the Filipino seasonings.