Savory Plantain Splits

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If you have been reading for awhile, or if you have taken some time to dig around here, you may know that one of my very first posts was a recipe for Tostones, fried plantains. I started Vegology to chronicle my adventures in the kitchen, particularly with ingredients and methods that were new to me. In the beginning, I was two years into vegetarianism and five years into my home cooking habit. I had started to be more adventurous in the kitchen and found new and exciting ingredients at the farmers’ market weekly. There were so many options that I had to consciously spread them out so that I wouldn’t bite off more new ingredients than I could chew each week. Now, three years later, I have to search a little harder to find ingredients that are brand new to me. There are still as many ingredients that I haven’t tried as there are stars in the sky, but I do have to look a little farther beyond my local farmers’ market to find them.

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Take, for example, jackfruit, which I discovered was an excellent stand-in for pulled pork last year. You can find a lot of things at a Virginia farmers’ market, but jackfruit is not one of them. Soba is another, and epazote yet another. So I have discovered a lot of my new-to-me ingredients over the last several months in specialty stores and grocers. However not every showstopper meal requires a trip to the end of the earth for exotic ingredients. When I am working with my same old kitchen staples, I try to reinvent the classics to get that jolt of adrenaline that I often do from novel food. Which leads me to the star of this show, the Cuban plantain split.

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Inspired by the elaborate and aesthetically appealing arrangement of the components of the classic ice cream shop creation, the banana split, I set out to make a savory version with starchy, green plantains instead of bananas. I often associate plantains with Cuban food, so I started brainstorming in that direction. I came up with my vegetarian paella to start. Then I recalled a Cuban dish that I made in my pre-vegetarian days, consisting of shredded meat, tomato sauce, spices, and green olives. Ropa vieja is like a Cuban sloppy joe, except that it’s so much better. Stuck at two scoops, I reached out to a foodie friend to come up with the third: slow simmered Cuban-inspired black beans.

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Topped with cilantro, avocado, a drizzle of hot sauce and a spritz of lime, this is a hearty vegan dish with complex flavors and a variety of textures. If you have an open mind, it is seriously fun to eat, and if you’re up to the challenge, it is easy to stuff yourself with this spicy comfort food. But let’s be real. This dish is a ridiculous time commitment.

Realistically, you’re going to get four separate recipes out of this post and you may never make them all at once like I did. To make them all together and assemble the plantain split masterpieces from scratch, it took me and another cook two hours in the kitchen, working together with no idle time. In the end, we agreed the result was worth it. But then again, I’m the kind of person who considers a night spent in the kitchen revamping the classics while chopping several pounds of produce and dancing to samba music to be a great time. If you are not that ambitious (or crazy?) each component takes less than an hour on its own and can be paired with a fresh salad for a quick, flavorful and filling meal.

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Cuban Plantain Splits

Prepare one batch of each: Split Plantains, Vegetarian Ropa Vieja, Cuban Black Beans, and Quick Vegetarian Paella. Arrange plantain halves along the long side of an oval shaped dish. Arrange one scoop of each of the other components, in a row between the plantain halves. Top with chopped fresh cilantro and fresh avocado. Serve with hot sauce if desired. Serves 4-6.

Split Plantains

Ingredients:

  • 4 large green (unripe) plantains
  • sea salt to taste
  • 2 cups vegetable oil for frying

Preparation:

  1. With a sharp small knife cut ends from each plantain and cut a lengthwise slit through skin. Cut plantains once lengthwise and once crosswise into quarters. Beginning at slit, pry skin from pieces.
  2. In a 12-inch nonstick skillet heat 1/2 inch oil over moderate heat until just hot enough to sizzle when a plantain piece is added. Fry plantains in batches, without crowding, until tender and just golden, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. With tongs transfer plantains as fried to paper towels to drain.
  3. Remove skillet from heat and reserve oil. With the bottom of a heavy saucepan or a wide solid metal spatula flatten plantains to 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.
  4. Into a bowl of warm salted water dip flattened plantains, 1 at a time, and drain them well on paper towels.
  5. Heat reserved oil over moderate heat until hot but not smoking and fry flattened plantains in batches, without crowding, until golden, about 3 minutes. With tongs transfer tostones as fried to paper towels to drain and season with salt if desired.

Vegetarian Ropa Vieja

Ingredients:

  • 2- 10 oz. cans jackfruit in water, drained
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 1 small green pepper, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1- 15 oz. can fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1- 8 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup green olives with pimiento, sliced or halved
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro

Preparation:

  1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add jackfruit and cook until browned, about six minutes. Remove from pan and shred jackfruit until the texture resembles that of pulled meat.
  2. Add onion, green pepper, and garlic to pan. Saute until translucent. Add ground cumin to pan and cook, while stirring, for 30 seconds.
  3. Add fire roasted tomatoes, tomato sauce, vinegar, and broth. Bring to simmer, then lower heat to medium-low. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add olives, salt and pepper just before serving. Top with fresh cilantro.

Cuban Black Beans

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 small green bell pepper, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
    • OR 1 teaspoon dried oregano plus 1 teaspoon dried epazote
  • 2- 15 oz. cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • Salt and pepper

Preparation:

  1. Heat oil in a large sauce sauce pan over medium heat. Add onion, pepper, garlic, and oregano, and epazote if using. Saute until translucent.
  2. Mash 1 cup of beans with fork, or blend in food processor, Add mashed beans, remaining whole beans, vegetable broth and vinegar to pan.
  3. Cook 15-20 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring often.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Quick Vegetarian Paella

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup medium grain white rice
  • 6 saffron threads
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 large bell pepper, diced
  • 1 cup fresh vegetables, diced (I used zucchini, carrots, and peas)
  • 1- 6 oz. jar quartered, marinated artichoke hearts
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 4 oz. tomato sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper

Preparation:

  1. Prepare rice according to package directions to produce 3 cups prepared rice.
  2. Boil 1/2 cup water in a small sauce pan. Turn off burner. Add saffron threads, cover, and let stand 10 minutes. Strain water into a bowl and discard threads.
  3. Heat vegetable oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add onion and pepper and saute until tender.
  4. Add vegetables, saffron water, artichoke hearts, vegetable broth, tomato sauce, and garlic to soup pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Add rice and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

 

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POM Party: Dinner is Served

This post is part of a series of recaps of my POM Wonderful Dinner Party. Catching up? See all the posts here: POM Party.

For my POM Wonderful dinner party, I served a Cuban inspired menu to eleven lovely guests. Friends, old and new, enjoyed the following:

Pomegranate Mojitos

Tostones with Pomegranate Salsa

Cuban Salad with Pomegranate Balsamic Vinaigrette and Arils

Vegetarian Paella with Fresh Vegetables and Pomegranate Seeds

Tres Leches Cake with Pomegranate Whipped Cream

In my last post, I left off after the first course. As I started to move salads to the dining room, my gracious guests formed a bucket brigade of sorts and passed the eleven salads down the line and onto the table. It felt like a big family dinner!

We all took our seats and enjoyed a traditional Cuban salad with a twist. Cuban salads are typically a mixture of lettuce, tomato, onion, and avocado. In addition to these elements, I included pomegranate seeds and dressed the salad with a pomegranate balsamic vinaigrette.

Pomegranate Balsamic Vinaigrette

Ingredients

4 tbsp POM Wonderful 100% pomegranate juice

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1/2 tsp honey

1/2 tsp minced garlic

salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

Whisk all ingredients together in a medium bowl until blended. Chill for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator. Whisk again before serving over a bed of fresh greens.

I tossed mine with romaine. sliced grape tomatoes, sliced avocado, pomegranate arils, and thinly sliced red onion. I think this would have been good with a salty cheese like feta or aged parmesan, but in keeping with the Cuban theme, I left this salad cheeseless. It was fresh and light, and the sweet tanginess of the vinaigrette was just right.

Next I served our third course, which I had kept warm in two crockpots for about an hour. This was a great dish for a dinner party of this size and complexity, because I had to do nothing between the second and third courses but clear the salads and plate the paella. You never want your guests waiting too long after the salad. Their palates were prepped and I wanted to get on with the main course as quickly as possible.

As I served the paella, someone from the large table asked me, “where did you find the recipes for this?” I do not remember who it was because I was moving quickly at the time. I apologize now for the flip response. I smiled and replied,

“Recipes? I’m sorry, what are those again?”

I found this question particularly funny because the paella had been thrown together in a fit of chopping, mixing, and tasting (as usual). I have never made the same paella twice. Typically I throw in whatever is on hand and although this one was planned with the best of intentions, the paella just happened. Luckily, I have photos of the whole process, so I will attempt to recreate the recipe through the pictures that my friend Carissa has captured.

Vegetarian Paella with Fresh Vegetables and Pomegranate

Heat some olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add diced onion and green bell pepper. For 12-14 servings, I used 2-3 onions and 4 green bell peppers. Saute until onion is translucent.

In the meantime, prepare 8 cups of medium grain rice. When it was finished cooking, I put mine in a mixing bowl and stuck it on top of the (clean) refrigerator, hence the beer trophies in the background.

On another burner (I know you’re running out, but you will be okay, this is the last one), bring 3/4 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan. When it reaches boiling, add 10-12 saffron threads, cover, and remove from heat. Let stand for 10 minutes.

WOW that looks like a little more than 12 threads. Really you shouldn’t need any more than that. I must have gotten carried away with the saffron in my haste. When this is done, pour the liquid through a strainer and reserve the liquid while discarding the threads.

By now your onions should be translucent. At this point you are going to add about 4 cups of vegetables to the mix. I chose yellow squash and zucchini. This is about 3 cups of squash, halved and sliced.

Stir in your vegetables and let this simmer for about 6-8 minutes.

To the squash and zucchini, I added the saffron water, 2 cans of vegetable broth, one and a half cans of quartered artichoke hearts, 3 tablespoons of tomato paste, and 3 cloves of garlic, minced.

Let this simmer for 15 minutes over low heat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Slice two pints of grape tomatoes into halves.

Add the tomatoes to the vegetable mixture. Mix in 8 cups of cooked rice. You are probably going to need another bowl to do this in batches because my guess is you are running out of room in your pot. Because I was using two crockpots, I divided both the rice and the vegetable mixture between the two pots and mixed them together in each pot. Salt and pepper again to taste.

Then add the fresh pomegranate arils! Add as many as you would like; I just added until it looked like it didn’t need anymore. You might have to experiment with it to get it just right.

I served the paella in large bowls with sriracha on the side.This stuff is bottled magic. I know I have said that before about beer. And wine. And olive oil. But this time I really mean it!

People went back for seconds on the paella, so I think it was a hit. The personal favorite of the evening was probably the dessert, which we will get to next time. Stay tuned for tres leches cake, a pomegranate opening demonstration, and some fabulous prizes! I will post the rest of my recap this week.

Believe me, and my dinner guests will attest to this, the tres leches cake with pomegranate whipped cream is worth the wait.