Why mofongo is the perfect addition to your holiday table

I fell in love with mofongo in 2019, and the romance continues to this day

Published December 25, 2021 1:30PM (EST)

Mofongo, made from fried mashed green plantains with garlic. salt and pepper mixed with pork cracklings, then shaped into a ball. Served with red beans. (Getty Images)
Mofongo, made from fried mashed green plantains with garlic. salt and pepper mixed with pork cracklings, then shaped into a ball. Served with red beans. (Getty Images)

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My love story with mofongo began in 2019 on a family trip to Puerto Rico. After we had dropped our bags off at the hotel, we ventured out to fill our stomachs. We stumbled into a nearby restaurant, and on the menu, there were a ton of mofongo options. I distinctly remember my first bite: a mound of mashed, fried green plantain layered with garlicky, saucy, spicy chicken creole. From this point forward, mofongo became my favorite Puerto Rican dish, one of the many reasons I can't wait to go back to the island.

Mofongo is undoubtedly the most popular Puerto Rican dish. Its primary ingredient, plantains, is one of the island's most harvested crops, along with coffee and sugarcane. I wanted to try making mofongo for myself, so I reached out to Executive Chef Ramon Carrillo, a native Puerto Rican who helms the kitchens of Wyndham Grand Rio Mar. I first met Carrillo during my trip in 2019, where I devoured his mofongo at Iguanas Cocina Puertorriqueña and learned more about the soul-enriching dish. I learned mofongo originated from enslaved people from Angola and other parts of Africa, who brought plantains to the island in the 1500s. Not only is mofongo a favorite among locals, but it also represents the complex, often overlooked history of the island.

The hearty dish is now commonly paired with Puerto Rican classics like pernil, carne frita, and shrimp mojo. Mofongo's core strength is its versatility. It pairs with everything, even just a simple topping of crunchy crumbled pork rinds. And that's why this year I'm kicking potatoes off my holiday menu, and making mofongo instead.

To create the dish, Puerto Rican cooks would traditionally used a mortar and pestle to crush green plantains. These days, a food processor works just fine, but many cooks, including Chef Carrillo and his grandmother, still do things the old-fashioned way. Carrillo puts fried green plantains, olive oil, garlic, and vegetable stock together in the mortar and pounds it with the pestle until it becomes smooth.

Unlike Chef Carrillo, I use a food processor and find the consistency nearly identical, very smooth and soft. I use a half-ripe plantain instead of a green one — blasphemy, I know, to Carrillo and other mofongo traditionalists. But I like the combination of sweet-savory tastes and find half-ripe plantains easier to peel and mash than the green ones. I fry those half-ripe plantains in a good amount of oil, too — once they turn a darker golden color, they're ready to scoop out, cool, and process. I prefer leaving my mofongo simply seasoned — some garlic and salt does the trick for me — but the beauty of this satisfying dish is that you can adapt it as you please. And it's perfect for the holiday table, topped with ham or roast beef or roast chicken, or just eaten furtively over the sink once the party dies down.

By Alyssa Holder

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Food Food52 Holidays Monfongo Puerto Rico