By Emma Sánchez

Like many people over the summer, I quickly regressed back into my younger self. I played video games, binged Disney Channel originals — “Descendants,” anyone? — and I especially enjoyed my mom’s home-cooked meals. 

So when I moved into an off-campus apartment this Fall, the first thing I missed was her cooking. I’m a really bad cook. I moved in only knowing how to make depressing mac and cheese from the box and quesadillas. 

I soon realized that the nearest Puerto Rican restaurant was a 43 minute T-ride away. If I didn’t learn how to cook like my mom soon, I’d be seriously deprived of authentic Boricua food. 

I chose a fairly easy recipe, as I’m waiting for an essential ingredient to arrive before I can kick it up a notch. Sofrito is the secret sauce that adds so much flavor to many Latin Carribean dishes. Its ingredients — bell peppers, onions and herbs — are reduced down and included in many dishes. 

My grandmother normally makes a big batch of this, freezes it and sends it to her family members. 

However, she no longer makes it as often because it’s a sauce that requires a lot of preparation and patience. My mom likes to support small businesses by buying sofrito from Queens-based restaurant “The Freakin Rican.” 

As I’ve been waiting for my sofrito to arrive, I made a dish that doesn’t require many ingredients but tastes just as authentic and delicious. “Chuletas al horno” are thinly sliced pork chops baked in the oven. You can mix and match sides for this dish, so I chose to make white rice, tostones (fried green plantains) and pickled red onions. I called my mom to consult her about how she makes chuletas. 

Like many homemade meals, there aren’t specific measurements, so I had to eyeball everything. 

Pork chops:

  • Olive oil.
  • 3 small cloves of  garlic.
  • Splash of white vinegar.
  • Adobo (I use Goya all-purpose seasoning with pepper).
  • 1/2 Red onion.
  • 1 red bell pepper.

First, crush garlic onto the pork chops and drizzle olive oil over each one. Then, add a splash of white vinegar and marinate everything into the pork chops. 

Then, generously sprinkle each side of every pork chop with adobo and rub it in, making sure they’re well-coated. Chop up some onions and peppers and place these on top of the pork chops while they bake to give the pork more flavor. The onions and peppers that cook with the pork can be used as another side. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and place the tray of pork chops in. Cook until the edges are crispy. 

Sides:

White rice: Cook short grain white rice as instructed.

Pickled onions:

  • 1/2 red onion.
  • 1 lemon.
  • Splash of white vinegar.
  • Salt to taste.

Chop up the remaining half of the onion into long slivers and place into a container. Squeeze an entire lemon on top and then pour white vinegar to coat the onions until they are fully submerged. Sprinkle salt to taste, close the container and shake. For best results, leave overnight until the pickling solution has turned pink.

Tostones:

  • 1 green plantain.
  • Olive oil.
  • Salt.

Peel plantain and chop into slices about one inch thick. Fill a deep pan or pot with enough olive oil to almost fully cover the plantains. Heat olive oil on high and place plantains in, turning them so that they are fully fried. Take plantains out when the outside looks yellow in color then pat the plantains dry with a paper towel. Either use a “tostonera” or two plates to squash the plantains into medallions about one centimeter thick. 

Place back in the fryer and make sure oil is still hot. Constantly flip over plantains, checking to see if they have crisped up. Take them out when both sides are golden and crispy. Pat excess oil off with a paper towel and sprinkle with salt to taste. 

All that’s left to do is assemble. This dish was easy for me to make and I had enough left over for the whole week.