Tirado’s island flavors begins right in our very own garden. In making the base of our rich tasting Puerto Rican food, we use our own home-grown vegetables. This base is called “Sofrito”, and two of its main ingredients are cilantro and a little colorful pepper called ají dulce. The ají dulce pepper gives our food its authentic rich flavor. However, ají dulce peppers are not so easy to find here in the upstate; therefore, Tirado’s grows its own ají dulce. Although cilantro can be easily obtained, we believe our home grown organic cilantro has a richer, deeper island flavor.
We use deep, rich, black soil that is imported from Chicago. This soil provides a thriving environment for our vegetables to grow. The Carolina sunshine does the rest of the work and our gardens grow like crazy. In order to preserve our tasty veggies, we blanch and freeze them to ensure freshness. The inspiration for our restaurant design comes from the lush red, green, yellow and orange colors of the ají dulce peppers of Puerto Rico.
When I was nineteen, I visited Puerto Rico for the first time with my husband before my children were born. Like almost any other month of the year there was a holiday going on. Puerto Rico has more holidays than any other country I know. And what is a holiday without a festival with food, music and dancing.
Typically festivals take place in the center of town called la plaza. I think it was at one of these festivals that I first tasted empanadas — beef, shrimp, lobster, cheese and, my favorite, pizza. There were also all kinds of street foods: some made from things I had never heard of before, but, boy, was it good!
The food at the festivals was good, but nothing compared to my sister-in-law’s (Luz and Zaida Tirado, pictured right) cooking. I swear they are the best cooks on the Island. Since my husband and I were visiting from the mainland, the whole family came over, coming over always included food and music. We cooked all day and listened to Salsa and Merengue music and played dominos all night. Helping in the kitchen, I learned how to make some of the most flavorful foods I have ever tasted—it changed the way I cook, for though I am Greek and Irish, all of my cooking is influenced by all these wonderful times in Puerto Rico with my family.