"MON-DON-GO." If rolls off the tongue. It sounds African, just like its origin. Some claim the term may have been coined by the Carib Indians of the Antilles. But most likely it was labeled by the black slaves imported to Puerto Rico during the Spanish colonization. It is a unique dish in our culture since it incorporates tripe in the recipe. And what you get is a deliciously thick stew that invigorates body and soul. Now, tripe is in the category of such unconventional foods (to some) as sweetbreads, calf's brains and octopus. Not only that, in Mondongo, the tripe is teamed up with another not so sophisticated comestible: calf's feet. The first response is "Yuck!" But, given a chance, you'll come back for more, believe me.

To Puerto Ricans, Mondongo, is ubiquitous. Especially on Sundays mornings when all those wasted partygoers line up for orders of Modongo in San Juan and Spanish Harlem. My relatives claim it's the best thing for a hangover the day after. I recall that on the island, in the city of Ponce, there are two or three hole-in-the-wall joints whose claim to fame comes from the fact they make Mondongo not with calf's feet but with pig's feet. Legions of aficionados seek out this special platter---and at a buck-fifty the price is just right.

If you're not familiar with tripe, today it can be found in most supermarkets. It looks like a white sheet patterned with honeycombs. First you trim the excess cartilage, and follow the recipe below as given. As to calf's feet, it normally comes packaged in pieces so you don't have to bother cutting it up. The dish also includes yautia (tanier or dasheen) and name (pronounced nyah-meh). Both are roots plants (collective called bianda) and found in Caribbean stores or markets.

The recipe comes from my first cookbooks, Puerto Rican Cuisine in America (Thunder's Mouth Press). An added note: some cooks add macaroni to the dish. In my family we do not, we keep it traditional. Still, if the yen is there, a half pound of macaroni can be added to the stew during the last 15 minutes of cooking.


3 pound beef tripe, trimmed
1 pound calf's feet, cut up in serving pieces
4 lemons or limes
1/2 pound pumpkin, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 pound yautia, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 pound name, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 medium yams, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 packet Sazon Goya (Coriander & Annatto)
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 teaspoon salt

1. Rinse tripe and calf's feet under cold running water. Pat dry with paper towels and set aside calf's feet.
2. Rub tripe with lemons and place in a large kettle or pot. Squeeze juice of lemons over tripe and add water to cover by about 2 inches. Cook in boiling water over moderate-high heat for 15 minutes.
3. Drain water and remove tripe. Rinse again under cold running water and place tripe on a cutting board. Cut tripe into 1 1/2 x 1/2-inch strips.
4. Return tripe and calf's feet to kettle and add fresh water to cover. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer, covered, until tripe is tender (1 1/2 to 2 hours).
5. Add pumpkin, yautia, name, yams, Sazon Goya, tomato sauce and salt. Cover and continue simmering at a low boil until vegetables are tender (about 1/2 hour). If a thicker stew is preferred, simmer, uncovered, during the last 10 minutes of cooking.
Yield: 8 servings.
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