The secret to Dominican and most Latin cooking is the ingredients more than the methods. When something calls for an orange, it is usually, a sour orange. When it calls for oregano, it is Dominican Oregano.

There is a group of herbs that are usually bunched together in Dominican cuisine. These are Cilantro (Cilantrico), Cilantron or Culantro, and Chives. Other names for Culantro include long, wild, or Mexican coriander, sawleaf herb and sawtooth coriander. It looks more like a lettuce than cilantro.

When I was young, there were women that walked the streets of Santo Domingo balancing a huge basket on their heads in which they carried herbs and vegetables. I was always amazed at their ability to carry such weight on their heads. If you asked for cooking herbs, they would put together a little bunch of these herbs tied together with a chive leaf.

Bija (Annatto) was used to color foods. In the 1970s housewives were introduced to chicken bouillon cubes and changed the way they cooked. Unfortunately, these contain horrible ingredients and MSG. I have found organic and vegan alternatives, and ways around not using them.

Sazon is a standard spice mix used on most meats.

Bija are the red seeds of a small tree, abundant throughout tropical America. Because of their deep red color, the natives of the Caribbean Islands used the seeds for decorating their bodies. Clay stamps have also been found with the remains of Bija which shows that they also used them to decorate their clay pots and maybe their cave walls. Annatto is used in Latin America to color and flavor food, usually in the form of Annatto oil (Aceite de Achiote or in the Latin sazon). Traditionally Annatto has been used in medications. Available as a spice in most Supermarkets with ethnic food aisles.

Cilantro is the green plant of the coriander, very similar to parsley, but with a fresh green aroma. Originally from the Mediterranean, Cilantro is now grown throughout the world. Cilantro is used extensively in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean islands. It is sold with the roots still on and should not be removed until ready to use. Do not wash until ready for use. Store in refrigerator wrapped in paper towels and placed in a plastic bag.

Escabeche is a tomato based sauce used extensively throughout the Spanish-speaking islands of the Caribbean. You can use it for any of the meats or vegetables the same. There is no set way to do it and it all comes down to taste. The main base is the same though: onions, peppers, garlic then whatever else you want to add.

Dominican Oregano (Lippia Micromera) , also known as Jamaican Oregano, is a very important spic in Dominican Cooking. It is a different plant than the regular oregano used in the USA and used by Italians, which is much milder. Dominican Oregano is a bush that grows about 3 feet tall and has small white flowers. I have never seen it in the wild in the DR, but, I understand that the wild version also can have pink flowers.

This is a seasoning used in some countries of Latin America which gives the basic flavor to many Dominican dishes. It is a combination of olives, capers, onions, peppers (preferably Cubanelle), cilantro, salt and pepper, vinegar, and garlic chopped in the food processor. This recipe makes quite a bit. You may refrigerate or freeze a large amount. You can get recaíto in most supermarkets with ethnic aisles or in Latin food stores. Goya contains Monosodium Glutamate, while Bohío doesn't. If you can find it refrigerated or frozen, that is preferable.

There is no reason to buy store made sazon. Goya is the most popular, but contains MSG. There might be other brands in the market without it. But, it is so easy to make that why not mix your own. It is great on chicken, pork, ribs, anything you want to bring the Latin flavor to. One of the key ingredients is bija (Anato, Achiote) and can be found in most Latin markets, just like the rest of the ingredients. Now days, large supermarket carry a lot of these ingredients.