The Exorcism of "El Asopao."

Last time I cooked, I had to call a Catholic Priest. On my defense, let me explain...

It was one of those days. Actually more like THE day: the day after your mom returns to our beloved Puerto Rico after a month long visit to her native New York City. There's nothing like a Niuyorican bringing the flavors from home! Like every good Latina mother, she cooked and cooked and cooked, every single day. Needless to say, I ate and ate and ate. For those honorary Latinos out there, please know we cook as if we're feeding an entire village; it was my mom, my two cats and, well, me. So, 30 days and 7 more butt-pounds later, my mother returns to Trujillo Alto forgetting to freeze some arroz con pollo y habichuelas guisadas for my near future. 48 hours later, there I was, hungry and staring at some Goya gandules and the homemade sofrito my mom did freeze for me to practice my "culinary skills."

If you ask anyone that knows me very well what I'm really good at you may get different answers. My father may tell you I'm an undiscovered virtuoso musician, Denise Quiñones may tell you I'm the funniest woman alive, while my best friend Dinorah Torres may tell you I'm an iron-clenched-fist activist. Now, without a doubt, without fail, if you ask anyone- close to me or not- what my weakest skill is, they all will give you the exact same answer: cook. I admit it, for I have my own health to prove it. Well, now as a newly single woman, I must revert to my grotesque edible arrangements.

I spot a new cooking book my legally-soon-to-be-ex might have left in my bookshelf, probably on purpose, and dust it off. And yes, it was a Puerto Rican cooking book, sitting between Zumba DVD's and Tarot cards. I open the Asopao page. Luckily for me, my mom stocked my cabinets with seasonings and ingredients that I may never use. However, I try, for I believe practice makes perfect even if you lack the most important element: talent. And so I read out loud:
  • Rice -- 1 1/2 cups. I pour an entire coffee mug of rice.
  • Water or stock -- 6 cups. I pour 3 coffee mugs of distilled water.
  • Oil -- 1/4 cup. I pour a coffee mug of olive oil.
  • Onion, finely chopped -- 1. It took me an hour and an entire bottle of eye drops.
  • Green or red bell peppers, finely chopped --3. Green, always green.
  • Garlic, minced -- 2-3. So I took 3 entire garlic and crushed them and Bloooop! into the mix.
  • Oregano, dried -- 2 teaspoons. I just poured straight from the bottle.
  • Tomatoes, chopped -- 2 cups. Never add tomatoes.
  • Pigeon peas (gandules), cooked -- 2 cups. I empty the entire Goya can.
  • Pimento-stuffed olives -- 1/4 cup. I dumped 4 in the pot.
  • Capers, rinsed -- 1 tablespoon. What is this? Omitted.
  • Cilantro, chopped -- 1/2 bunch. I simply ripped an entire bunch with my bare, clean hands and dumped it in.
  • Salt and pepper -- to taste. Sazón Accent con culantro y achiote
  1. Mix the rice and water together in a large bowl and let it soak while you prepare the rest of the ingredients: For how long?
  2. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high flame. Add the onions and peppers and sauté until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and oregano and sauté for another 1-2 minutes: What is sauté?
  3. Add tomatoes and simmer to cook down somewhat, 5-7 minutes. Then stir in the rice and its soaking water and the pigeon peas, olives, capers, cilantro, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until the rice is cooked through. Add water as necessary to keep asopao stew-like. Adjust seasoning and serve: Can I add the sofrito?
  4. Saute 1 cup of chopped ham with the onions and peppers if you like.
While I'm doing this, I'm listening to Fania music, talking on the phone and having a good time. Oh! how proud I felt for my asopao. Suddenly, I hear noises coming from the bathroom. I go and check. Nothing. I stir the pot and, although it was a really thick asopao, the smell was delightful. Suddenly, my cats are hissing and running around. I feel this cold current and a voice behind my ear says: "if you eat that, you will die." I was petrified. I prayed, while my cats hiss at a corner as if they're asking "someone" to get out. I go back to the kitchen to check on my creation, and it had a whole in the middle, as if I was baking a cake. It looked like a tornado, with a lot of spices and burned gandules. Then I feel this urge to cry inconsolably. I have no idea why. So, I turn off the stove and crawled on my sofa in a fetal position, to cry for nothing.

A loud thump disrupts my unexplained catharsis. My neighbor screams loudly in horror and glass shatters against our shared living room wall. Within 5 seconds she knocks on my door: "Marlena, are you cooking again? If you are we need to call a Priest." I open the door, face inexplicably covered in tears and mucus, and let her in. "Listen, whenever you cook, the outcome is not food, is a portal where demons enter! Please you must stop," begs my neighbor, pale as a ghost who've seen a demon. "But you make it sound like, when I cook, I sacrifice a virgin. I followed instructions! Look!" I defend myself while showing her my now unbearably disgusting asopao. She says a prayer on top of the asopao, lights some sage and throws the asopao away. She sages my apartment and lights up white candles: "this will get you through the night. Tomorrow my Priest will come to bless both our homes. Please, for the love of God, do not cook anymore. Stick to mixing drinks," she says resigned to sleep in my living room tonight, given the terrifying haunting my asopao caused. "Margarita?," I ask.


 

4 comments

  • Alexandra Román
    Alexandra Román Puerto Rico
    This is funny. Really enjoyed this post. What you need is my magical book of cooking, believe me you will learn how to cook with it. I did and my husband doesn't suffer anymore, nor my poor kids. It's called Cocina Conmigo de Dora Romano. I stole an old version, which is falling to pieces, from my mom when I got married, whom in turn got it from my tía. Recently found the newest version at an unexpected place, El Castillo San Cristóbal's gift shop. Believe me, it works miracles and your neighbor will never ever call a priest again.

    This is funny. Really enjoyed this post. What you need is my magical book of cooking, believe me you will learn how to cook with it. I did and my husband doesn't suffer anymore, nor my poor kids. It's called Cocina Conmigo de Dora Romano. I stole an old version, which is falling to pieces, from my mom when I got married, whom in turn got it from my tía. Recently found the newest version at an unexpected place, El Castillo San Cristóbal's gift shop. Believe me, it works miracles and your neighbor will never ever call a priest again.

  • Marlena
    Marlena Bronx, NY
    Thank you Alexandra! I will check that book.

    Thank you Alexandra! I will check that book.

  • Diana Rivera
    Diana Rivera Trujillo Alto
    Solo Dios sabe cm se me han salido las lagrimas cn esta q lei conociendo tu creatividad, no me ha qud

    Solo Dios sabe cm se me han salido las lagrimas cn esta q lei conociendo tu creatividad, no me ha qud

  • Marlena
    Marlena Bronx, NY
    Diana, es para que te rias, no para que llores!

    Diana, es para que te rias, no para que llores!

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