Like any other subsection of the freezer aisle, there are hits and misses amongst the offerings from Goya, LaFe, and other Caribbean-themed purveyors. Here's how to navigate your choices for a taste of the tropics, minus the sodium overload.
Living in the Bronx and working in Washington Heights may have forever spoiled me with Puerto Rican and Dominican eats. Every corner seems to boast a lunch spot or cuchifrito, and come summer, vendors take to the streets to peddle savory fried treats. And the coffee...my lord. No one does it better.
Left to my own devices, I head to the freezer aisle for a taste of Latin goodness, but not for just any old thing. Here are my top three frozen Latin picks, and which goods you should skip. Oh, and if your local supermarket is anything like mine, you'll probably find them under a sign (erroneously) identifying them as "Spanish."
Goya Maduros (Ripe Plantains)
Here's the deal: these taste EXACTLY what you would find in a restaurant. Perfectly soft and not drowning in excess oil, I'm willing to be they're lower in fat, too. I used to fry my own maduros, waiting for plantains to ripen into blackness, carefully sautéing them in olive oil, and still feeling like they were never quite right. Then I saw my Puerto Rican mother-in-law throwing these in the oven at a Sunday dinner. Good enough for her, good enough for me. Two words of caution: one, these will take much longer to heat up than the package promises - at least 20 minutes; two, beware of the nutrition facts label. At first glance, these aren't terrible for you, until you see that an 11 ounce package is meant to yield FIVE servings. So, enjoy, but be mindful of portion sizing. Also worth noting are the Baked Ripe Plantains, which are even lighter, but honestly not as tasty - you may as well follow this easy recipe and make them yourself!
What to skip: Goya Garlic Mojo Yuca Bites, Bocaditos de Yuca. The Mojo sauce contains MSG, contributing to a high sodium content - 430mg per serving. And the box is meant to serve 6!
We're going dancing in the frozen foods aisle! Wepa! No...not that kind of disco - these are discs of dough for turning out perfect baked (or fried) empanadas in a hurry. The flavor is on point, and at 110 calories per disc, they're a great option - as long as you're filling them with care. Resist the urge to over-salt whatever it is you're stuffing into these bad boys, since they already contain 180mg sodium per piece. Consider adding pureed butternut squash and shredded chicken seasoned with ground chipotle and cumin, or for a sweeter treat, guava paste and ricotta.
What to skip: pre-fabbed frozen beef empanadas. One serving packs 800mg of sodium - more than a third of the daily recommended amount for healthy Americans.
LaFe and Goya Frutas
If you've ever had a batido (Spanish for shake, and in my experience made with whole milk and spoonful upon spoonful of extra sugar), you may have thought you died and went to heaven - or a beach somewhere. Head to the freezer section and grab one of these flat discs of frozen fruit pulp. Almost all of them are packaged without the addition of sugar. The Tamarindo flavor in particular is packed with fiber. For a more nutritious spin on the batido, combine one serving of your choice of fruta, 1/2 cup plain Greek Yogurt, and 1 cup milk or mylk of your choice. Frutas also lend themselves to perfectly to margaritas and other adult beverages - FYI.
What to skip: LaFe nectars. These aren't in the frozen foods section, but they're not far. The added sugar isn't worth the trade off for tropical flavor. Try mixing them in a cocktail for a massive hangover.
The bottom line: the frozen food aisle is your friend - as long as you navigate it with care and keep an eye out for additives like sugar and sodium.
Enjoy your food, enjoy your life! Buen Provecho!