Crispy Tostones

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Tostones are crispy and golden, slightly sweet and savory. Made from the versatile plantain, a starchy member of the banana family grown in the tropics, tostones are green plantains fried to crisp perfection and enjoyed as a side dish or snack. When the plantain is green and under ripe you can make them into crunchy mariquitas (plantain chips), mofongo (plantain hash), or salty tostones. Very ripe plantains yield a sweet delicacy called platanos maduros that caramelize in the hot frying pan and melt in your mouth.

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Tostones are at the top of my list of the Cuban food pyramid for their simplicity and tropical deliciousness. I was craving the flavors of Cuban comfort food and went to 5 bodegas before I could find any green plantains. I felt like NYC was playing a cruel joke on me, but alas persistence prevailed and I am one happy Cuban in the city.

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Tostones are meant to be thin and crispy enjoyed with a touch of lime juice. Ordering tostones at a restaurant is risky- there is nothing worse than anticipating the glorious crunch of a crispy green plantain only to encounter a thick and soggy toston. Fry your plantains once, smash them, and now fry them again. Always remember: only crispy tostones can fulfill dreams and make wishes come true.

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Crispy Tostones

  • 2 green plantains
  • Vegetable oil
  • Sea salt
  • Lime

Choose firm large green plantains. Cut a slit down the side of the peel and cut off the top and bottom of the plantain. Cut the plantain into 1 inch segments. When they are green the outer peel is difficult to remove. My abuela taught me to heat the cut plantain pieces in a microwave for around 15 seconds to soften the tough peel.  When you peel them you will instantly feel the starchiness on your fingers.

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Heat vegetable oil in a frying pan. The oil should be deep enough to cover the plantains. I try to use more shallow oil to make the dish seem less fattening- you know mental illusions and all. Since I used less oil I had to rotate them around to get crispy on all sides. Fry the plantains in batches if you are making a lot. Turn the plantains in the hot oil to get evenly golden. Transfer the plantains to sheets of paper towel to drain.

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Now for this next step some people use a tostonera which I find absolutely ridiculous (but you know you do you- if you like it- go for it). Why on earth waste money on yet another expensive kitchen contraption!? My abuela taught me to mash down the plantain with the bottom of a regular old can of food. The bottom makes for a great and flat circular shape. Ironically I actually had no canned food so I used the bottom of a cafetera (percolator) which is very Cuban in and of itself.

Now re-fry the smashed plantains in the hot oil until golden and crispy. Drain the crispy tostones on sheets of paper towel and garnish with sea salt. I like to sprinkle the paper towels with salt as well to get the flavor on all sides. Squeeze fresh lime on top of your Cuban tostones right before enjoying!

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Fall Quinoa Salad

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Soft chunks of butternut squash, salty pumpkin seeds, sweet chopped dates, crunchy kale, and aromatic sage form a sensational and light quinoa salad for fall. Quinoa, couscous, tabbouleh, and barley are all versatile grains that really shine with the right ingredients. Fall is well underway and I have been itching to make a fall-fabulous salad with seasonal ingredients. For the summer and spring I love making a bright couscous salad with fresh crisp veggies, but a fall quinoa salad calls for richer flavors and textures.

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Fall quinoa salad is crazy easy to make because it can be prepped in advance if you’re planning on treating guests to a feast. I roasted the butternut squash and made the quinoa a day ahead. It is better to work with chilled ingredients so the kale and sage do not wilt from the freshly cooked ingredients. Crunchy pepitas or pumpkin seeds add texture, flavor, and bring saltiness to the dish while butternut squash’s velvety bite gives the salad healthy richness. Dress this salad lightly with salt, pepper, olive oil, and lemon juice or whisk up a yogurt dressing to drizzle on top. Serve fall quinoa salad with roasted chicken, fish, or enjoy with extra greens as a salad!

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Fall Quinoa Salad

  • 1 cup quinoa prepared as directed
  • 2 cups fresh chopped kale
  • 2 cups roasted and diced butternut squash
  • 1 sprig sage finely chopped
  • ½ cup dates pitted and chopped
  • ½ cup roasted and salted pumpkin seeds
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil

Prepare the quinoa as directed; you can optionally use chicken broth or orange juice instead of just water to cook the quinoa. Spread the cooked quinoa on a baking sheet so it can cool. Roast the butternut squash in advance. Cut it in half, core out the seeds, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Place the halves cut side up on a baking sheet and roast for 35-45 minutes or until fork tender at 350F.

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Once the squash is cool enough to handle gently peel off the outer skin and dice the squash in cubes; set aside. Chop the kale, dates, and sage. Combine the ingredients and toss with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. I also thought an apple cider vinaigrette could work well with this dish, but alas I did not have any apple cider vinegar handy.

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Cuban Red Beans

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Cuban-style red beans or frijoles rojos is a traditional Cuban recipe that is a guaranteed crowd pleaser and all-around comfort food. My good friend Maria is known for making fantastic Cuban red beans so I asked her to teach me how to make her tried and true recipe. It is important to me to learn and document the traditional Cuban recipes I grew up eating, so that these recipes can be passed on down to future generations. I never got to learn how to make my abuela’s red beans, but I know Maria’s mother taught her all the classics.

Cooking with friends is fun, but blogging with friends isn’t the easiest. Normally we would just cook and go with the flow, but blogging adds another dimension of patience and pictures- lots and lots of pictures. Maria was kind enough to be very patient through all my picture and note-taking, but I had to make sure I got her amazing Cuban red bean recipe just right!

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Like many classic Cuban dishes, the base of the red bean soup is a delicious sofrito made of green peppers, onion, and garlic with added tomato paste. Large chunks of pumpkin or Calabaza naturally sweeten the dish and add buttery creaminess while the sliced chorizo gives a little spice and fatty richness to the red beans.

We used a pressure cooker to make the red beans. I must admit I have always been intimidated of using this daunting kitchen device, scared off with stories of exploding pressure cookers and food blunders, but my friend Maria wielded the pressure cooker like a real pro. My abuela was fearless of the pressure cooker too, and she used hers daily. Like my abuela, Maria’s ear was attuned to the various hissing and whistles of the pressure cooker and needed no timer to get the Cuban red beans just right.

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The red beans served over Jasmine rice were amazing! The calabaza was incredibly soft and fork tender- even the skin was supple enough to eat and added lovely bite and texture. The red beans were creamy, gently spiced with the rich chorizo, and the whole apartment smelled of comforting Cuban flavors that remind me of home.

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 Maria’s Cuban Red Beans

3 cups of large red beans
10 cups water
2 teaspoons salt or more to taste
1 green bell pepper
Olive Oil to sauté the sofrito
½ cooking pumpkin (calabaza) cut into large chunks, seeds removed, skin on
3-4 chorizo links, skin removed, sliced
1 onion diced
3 garlic cloves minced
1 6-ounce can of tomato paste
¾- 1 cup of water (to add to sofrito)
1 packet Goya Seasoning con Culantro y Achiote
Red pepper flakes to taste (optional)

Put the red beans in the pressure cooker with 10 cups of water and half of the green pepper. Lock the pressure cooker and put the burner on high. Once you start to hear the pressure cooker hiss, cook for 10-15 minutes. This initial step will soften and begin to cook the beans. During this step prep all of your veggies, the pumpkin, and chorizo for the red beans.

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Remove the pressure cooker from the heat, and let out the steam or pressure slowly. The pressure cooker might have too much pressure so do this step cautiously. Maria placed the pressure cooker entirely in the sink during this step until it released enough pressure to be opened. The green pepper was totally softened and added to the savory aroma.

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Once the pressure has decreased- after 15 minutes or so- it is safe to unlock the lid of the pressure cooker.  Place the pressure cooker back on the burner with the heat on high uncovered. We tossed in the chunks of calabaza and chorizo to the cooking red beans.

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While the red beans are cooking with the pumpkin and chorizo, heat the oil in the pan and add the garlic first. Yes I know, this seemed backwards to me, and I insisted that peppers and onions take longer to cook than garlic. Maria rolled her eyes at me and swore up and down that the garlic gets added first. I obliged her and the garlic turned golden and perfumed the air. We let it cook for only 30 seconds to a minute, lowered the heat, and added the peppers and onions. They softened right up and I have to admit- she was right. The sofrito was perfect.

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Next we added the tomato paste in large dollops and mixed with the softened peppers, garlic, and onions. This cooked for just a moment before adding around a cup of water to make a saucy sofrito base for the red beans. Stir in the packet of Goya seasoning. Once the sofiro was ready we poured it into the red bean soup, added the salt, red pepper flakes, and cracked black pepper, and then put the lid back on the pressure cooker and locked it shut.

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After the pressure cooker was howling for 15-20 minutes the red beans were nearly ready to pour over white Jasmine rice. Once again allow the pressure to decrease and let the steam out before unlocking and opening the lid. At this point, if you want a thicker dish you can put the pressure cooker back on the burner (lid off) to boil off some of the water, and add more salt if you like.

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Serve Cuban red beans as a side over white Jasmine rice with your choice of protein or as a soup with the rice. Buen provecho!

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