A new eatery serving up Dominican soul food recently opened in Willingboro.
Burlington County can add another cuisine to its repertoire. Sol Sazon, which opened in Willingboro in September, specializes in Dominican dishes with a modern twist.
A small, family-owned BYOB, Sol Sazon serves up traditional Dominican soul food like mofongo, a Puerto Rican staple also popular in the Dominican Republic. Mofongo owes its origins to traditional West African fufu, a dish that arrived on the Carribean islands during the sixteenth century.
Made from mashed plantains and chicharrones (fried pork skin), mofongo is a dry food usually stuffed with a second protein like chicken, beef, or seafood and served with a sauce or gravy. Sol Sazon offers their mofongo with your choice of chicken with alfredo sauce or shrimp with creole sauce.
Other Sol Sazon specialties include fried empanadas, loaded yucca fries, and pasteles (Dominican tamales). Sol Sazon’s owner says the pasteles’s mushy texture might take some getting used to on an American palate.
Empanadas and even yucca fries – which resemble thick french fries in both appearance and taste – provide a more conservative introduction for less adventurous diners.
Housed in a small strip mall off Route 130, Sol Sazon’s family-friendly, brightly-lit interior is decidedly casual. As diners wait for their meals, they have the option of playing Dominos, a game the owners have available for visitors.
Menu prices range from $2 to $18 for appetizers and $10 to $30 for entrees, which you can order in individual portions or family-style. To drink, bring your own wine or beer, or order the kids a morir sonando, a sweet drink made from orange juice and milk.
On Saturday, December 15, 2018, I dined at Sol Sazon with a few other food bloggers.
To fully experience Sol Sazon’s menu, we ordered a variety of appetizers – including beef empanadas, salmon empanadas, chicken empanadas, pasteles en hoja, shrimp mofongo, chicken mofongo, and loaded yucca fries.
I enjoyed the empanadas – particularly the beef variety. As Sol Sazon’s owner mentioned, the pastelito’s texture was a bit mushy for me, though it was flavorful. The rest of the food was on the bland and dry side for my liking. Being a newcomer to Dominican food, I’m unsure whether these characteristics are typical for other restaurants serving similar cuisine.
A quick Google search revealed other reviewers describing Dominican food as ‘bland.’ So my suspicion is that my complaint has more to do with my unfamiliarity with Dominican food – along with a personal preference for spicier cuisines – than a failing on the part of the restaurant.
Sol Sazon’s friendly, welcoming staff was open to our feedback. As a new establishment, Sol Sazon is still working to refine its taste and work out kinks. Because food is so subjective, I firmly believe people should try things for themselves rather than taking someone else’s opinion as fact.
I know I’ll be giving Sol Sazon – and Dominican cuisine – a second try.
BYOB offering takeout, dine-in, and catering in South Jersey
Dr. J.H. Salisbury declared salisbury steak a health food in a late 19th century book.
A few years later, a woman named Elma Stuart wrote a book extolling the healing powers of Salisbury’s diet recommendations.
Salisbury and Stuart did not believe we should eat salisbury steak with mashed potatoes as we do today, calling them “indigestible.”
When Salisbury and Stuart published their books, German immigrants had already been eating a similar dish for centuries.
During the 1950’s, TV dinners entered the market. One of the most popular TV dinner varieties – sold by Swanson – included salisbury steak with a side of potatoes.
Around the world, people in countries like Japan, Sweden, Russia, and Germany enjoy meat dishes similar to salisbury steak.
To cook salisbury steak, purchase ground beef raised on local farms in South Jersey.
Salisbury steak is surprisingly difficult to find on Jersey restaurant menus, but there are a few restaurants in our area offering the dish.
Dr. James Henry Salisbury
Before ‘low-carb diet’ entered the American vernacular, a physician from New York named Dr. James Henry Salisbury touted the benefits of eating low-fat, protein-rich foods. Salisbury believed the optimal human diet consisted of two parts meat to one part vegetable. Carbohydrate consumption, he argued, was the root cause of afflictions like heart disease, tuberculosis, and even mental illness.
But Salisbury didn’t just eschew bread and pasta. He also vilified vegetables. He even had a term for illness brought on by plant-based diets: vegetable dyspepsia. Salisbury believed we all possess “twenty meat teeth” and only “twelve vegetable teeth,” a finding he viewed as evidence favoring a protein-rich diet. In 1888, he set forth his diet recommendations in his book, The Relation of Alimentation and Disease.
Today, most people wouldn’t put the terms ‘ Salisbury steak’ and ‘health food’ in the same sentence. But, as part of his crusade against all-things-carb, Salisbury popularized the comfort food we all know today as Salisbury steak. (Notice I didn’t say invented the salisbury steak, as the dish had already been eaten around the world for centuries. More on that later.) Above all things edible, Salisbury thought beef singularly nutritious for the human body. In fact, he argued we could all stay healthy by consuming salisbury steak three times a day.
No arguments here.
Elma Stuart and the Healing Powers of Beef
In 1895, a woman named Elma Stuart published a book called, What Must I Do to Get Well? And How Can I Stay So? which advocated in favor of Salisbury’s diet recommendations.(I imagine Salisbury and Stuart as the nineteenth-century equivalent to quacks who, during late-night television infomercials, get rich by convincing desperate consumers they hold the secret cure to all that ails us.)
The recipes in Stuart’s book are divided into multiple parts. First, she offers advice “for the sick” who are already suffering. She then lists some recipes “for the seedy,” a term that referred not to trashy, bedbug-ridden motels, but to people who were “hovering on the borderland” of health and illness. Finally, Stuart addresses those who are already well and want to remain that way.
The beef recipes in Stuart’s book specify guidelines for selecting and preparing the beef used to cook Salisbury steak. Beef should be free of fat. The cow should be between the ages of four and six years when slaughtered. “Butter, pepper, salt, and mustard” should not be added until after the beef has finished cooking. Finally, the sick person can eat the beef “with a tea-spoon in his right hand and a dessert fork in his left!”
Potatoes as a Salisbury Side
Neither Salisbury nor Stuart recommend we eat salisbury steak over mashed potatoes as most people do today. In fact, Stuart calls out mashed potatoes as one of the “foolishest” menu items a person could eat – dubbing them one of the “vain imaginings that have deluded mankind” – a pretty extreme stance to have about a mashed potato. Instead, she argues, we should eat baked potatoes because they are cooked more thoroughly and are therefore more “digestible.”
TV Dinners and Salisbury Steak
So how did our modern take on salisbury steak – rich in buttery, flour-thickened gravy and served over mashed potatoes – ever enter American kitchens? Likely, this recipe change happened when the “TV dinner” was popularized in American culture around the 1950’s. In fact, one of Swanson’s first TV dinners included Salisbury steak. Potatoes were, and remain, a cheap, easy-to-make, filling commodity. (Plus – as we all know – they’re delicious with ground beef and gravy.)
Before Salisbury and Stuart
While Salisbury and Stuart may have been the first to popularize the supposed health benefits of minced steak, they weren’t the first to introduce the dish to America – or to the world. We also have German immigrants to thank for our modern conception of salisbury steak. By the time Salisbury published his book, Germans had already been eating a similar dish called Hamburg steak – often cooked with breadcrumbs and onion – for centuries. During the 1700’s, sailors from Germany introduced Hamburg steak to Americans at their bustling New York port.
‘Salisbury’ Steak Around the World
Today, Americans aren’t the only ones who cook up salisbury-esque steak. The Japanese enjoy hambagu, a meat and gravy dish made from minced beef and pork. Swedes make pannbiff seasoned with allspice and ginger. And Russians have buttery pozharsky, which is made from ground chicken in place of beef.
Salisbury Steak Recipe
On busy weeknights, I like to whip up salisbury steak in a cast-iron skillet with a side of buttery mashed potatoes from our Instant Pot. I toss a bag of steamable frozen peas in the microwave and spoon the steak gravy over top. Easy-peasy.
Finally, if you don’t feel like cooking at all, here are a couple South Jersey restaurants that offer Salisbury steak on their menus. I wasn’t expecting to have difficulty finding local diners that serve Salisbury steak, but the dish is surprisingly rare on Jersey menus.
Maybe time for a Make Salisbury Steak Cool Again campaign?