Monday, January 31, 2011

plantain chips--baked not fried!

Plantains are a beloved dietary staple here that I have often felt indifferent to.   When you drive into the interior from the city, you pass truck after truck loaded with plantains.  The can be eaten at every meal, and are usually fried.  At their worst they can be pasty and dull and at their best crispy and delicious. A plate of fresh fried patacones, (fried green plantain) with a whole fried fish, eaten by the ocean, can be heaven.  But the patacones have to be fresh out of the oil, and they have to be pressed as thin as possible for the second frying, (yeah, they are fried twice).  Some of my favourite meals here in Panama have been fried fish and fried plantain (corvina frita con patacones) with loads of homemade hot sauce (scotch bonnet is the chile of choice here); spicy, greasy, salty perfection.  I rarely make them at home (the fried twice thing puts me off, and it's harder than you'd think getting them flattened thin enough).
I like plantains added to chicken soup and in any kind vegetable stew.  When they are ripe they are really good with lentils.  In Costa Rica I learned a great preparation for ripe plantains: cut in half length-wise and sauteed in a little oil and then finished with some white cheese under the broiler.  The only plantain dish that I really dislike is "Platanos en Tentacion;"  it's a sweet desert preparation that I assume is an acquired taste ( and is really no 'temptation' to me).  Lately we’ve been making green plantains into oven chips.
You have cut the peel off green plantain.  It's a starchy job.

We peeled eight small plantains.  To make chips you need fine slices.  You could use a mandolin, I use the food processor's slicing blade.

When all the plantains are sliced, put them in a bowl and add spices, salt to taste, and olive oil.  I use a mix of cumin and smoked paprika.  I'm planning to try lime and chile powder next time.  

Make sure the plantains are evenly coated with the oil and spices.  spread the plantains out on a cookie sheet.

Bake the plantain chips at 400° F.  Stir them and check them frequently.  They should start to be looking done in twenty minutes and really done in half an hour.  They are best nice and crunchy.

We gobble them up out of the oven; but they are pretty good cold too.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Fresh Shell Beans

Every two weeks we get a a basket of organic produce from Culantro Rojo.  

The baskets always have a nice mix of things-- bitter greens, plantains, oranges and tomatoes.  I love opening the  basket and imagining all the things I can make.  The unexpected assortment of ingredients presents a great creative challenge; I find myself googling and getting cookbooks out.  The produce is lovely of course, but I relish the challenge.  I love lifting the lid of the basket and finding something I don't recognize.  Tomate de árbol?  Bring it on!  (fantastic in apple pie by the way).  The basket really forces me to try local ingredients I'm apprehensive of.  I sometimes have this feeling that certain local things are out of my range--like it would be inauthentic for me to cook typical dishes.  This is ridiculous I know, but you wil probably never catch me making arroz con pollo.

Once when we lived in Costa Rica I was invited by neighbours to take part in a cooking contest.  I was really honoured and scared (those ladies could cook!).  The contest was meant to showcase light and healthy food--it was sort of a health expo.  I made chicken salad with mango thinking it was light, but not too outlandish.  Of course I was beaten by the pastel de carne (light my arse!) and tamales (which were exquisite).  I didn't have a chance; but I was glad I hadn't attempted anything typical because then they would have really laughed at me!  All that to say, I'm a little shy about local recipes and ingredients.  Look at the silly gringa trying to make patacones!

Anyway, our last basket contained fresh shell beans.

A real treat! There is something so satisfying about shelling beans; it's primeval like kneading bread.

 I cooked them in stock and then mixed them with some cooked quinoa, chopped onion, roasted pepper and some olive oil  and lemon to make a salad.  

The beans were delicious.  The flavour is nutty and delicate.  They would also be great sautéed with tomatoes and onions.

Next, what I did with the plantains...