My Mofongo Dressing with Salami—a Touch from My Grandma—Brings a Little Bit of Puerto Rico to Northern California for Thanksgiving
Pictured recipe: Puerto Rican Mofongo Dressing with Salami
I'm going to assume that there are some people who don't think Thanksgiving is anything in Puerto Rico. You'd be right. And wrong. Thanksgiving is an American holiday, but as Puerto Ricans are American citizens, Thanksgiving is one of the many things we've adopted and adapted. Puerto Rico has one of the longest Christmas seasons in the world. There's more singing, drinking and eating than you could ever imagine in your wildest dreams. Thanksgiving is merely an extension of the Christmas holiday season. Most of the dishes on the holiday table are the same for both holidays: arroz con gandules (rice and pigeon peas), coquito (coconut eggnog), tembleque (a coconut dessert). Except for the pavochon—the word is a combination of pavo (turkey) and lechón (slow-roasted pork) and means turkey prepared in the style of roasted pork with oregano and garlic—and the mofongo (stuffing). Those are specifically reserved for Thanksgiving.
Mofongo—a dish of mashed fried plantains—first appeared in a cookbook titled El Cocinero Puertorriqueño, Puerto Rico's first cookbook, in 1859. Then some clever person decided to take one of Puerto Rico's iconic dishes and shove it up a turkey tuchus. This idea had to have been a little more recent, because the recipe for mofongo stuffing (or even a mention of it) doesn't seem to appear in any cookbooks until Yvonne Ortiz's A Taste of Puerto Rico in 1994.
Growing up in Northern California, my family's Thanksgiving table was covered with all of the traditional American fixings: a gargantuan supermarket turkey, ploppy jellied cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, buttered rolls, and sweet potatoes that came in a purple can. Those sweet potatoes were subsequently topped with marshmallows, roasted and found their way further and further to the back of the buffet, untouched. In retrospect, I'm feeling sad for those sweet potatoes. I digress. Mofongo stuffing is not something that ever made an appearance on my nana's or my mother's Thanksgiving table.
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My mother makes her mother's cornbread stuffing—a combination of Jiffy corn muffin mix and hefty chunks of Bay Area-born Gallo salami. Both my mother and my grandmother exclusively used the salami that came in a log, which Gallo calls "the chub"—it's an Italian dry salami that comes in a cylindrical shape, wrapped in paper and sealed at both ends with metal crimps. Using the salami chub is a little anomaly that my nana picked up from her Italian neighbor back in the 1950s. To my grandmother, newly arrived from Puerto Rico, a sausage was a sausage was a sausage. Vintage Puerto Ricans love to add pork flavoring to just about everything. In a flash, she had changed the landscape of the recipes of her motherland out of necessity, making it Californian-Puerto Rican.
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The Cali-Rican approach lives on in my kitchen today. Standing over the stove, taking in the huge waft of salami perfume when it hits the hot oil in the pan, I combine the Gallo chub salami with my own take on mofongo dressing. I created the recipe above for Friendsgiving, a gathering of friends and chosen family. The dish is one way to introduce friends to Puerto Rican culture. And since not everyone is on board with the stuffing inside of poultry, mofongo dressing is a sure way to please everyone—combining the nostalgia of family and the sabor of birthright.
Illyanna Maisonet is the creator of the blog EatGordaEat. Her column for the San Francisco Chronicle, Concina Boricua explores and preserves traditional Puerto Rican recipes. Follow her Twitter and Instagram @eatgordaeat.