The only honest answer to the eternal question: What do you want for dinner?
I try to be honest about how hard it is to write this newsletter, sometimes. There are days when I just can't come up with what I wanna cook. There are days when things I do cook come out well, terribly. This week was almost one of those weeks. We spent last week in traveling and visiting family. Which meant when we returned, we were exhausted. I wasn't feeling inspired at all. Really had no idea what I was going to cook.
What I ended up looking to for inspiration was what I could find in the fridge. That happens more often than not. Some days there are special trips to the grocery to pick out unusual ingredients, or exactly just the thing I want for whatever dish I've got in mind.
This was not one of those days.
I've made a quick trip a day or two before to a new international market in town. And while I didn't come away with as much as I often do. I did find myself with a couple of plantains. While they weren’t technically in the fridge – well, come to think of it most of the ingredients in this week’s menu don’t actually reside in the fridge, they were the spark.
It’s sort of centralsouthamericarbibean. I know that’s not a word. This week’s menu isn’t meant to reflect or represent a specific cuisine. It’s a mashup, a “hmmmm”, a “well, this is what we’ve got.
I grabbed rice and dried black beans from the pantry, onions from the cellar, those plantains from the counter, a can of tomatoes, a jar of olives, bay leaves and some other stuff from the spice rack, and from the fridge a hunk of bone in beef … and some orange juice.
Things could have gotten weird. Instead, they got pretty good.
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Fried Plantain Chips with Green Sauce
You know those fried plantain chips you see in sandwich shops? The ones that basically look and taste exactly like those dried banana chips you feed kids on long road trips but with all of the flavor and sugar and crunch and anything that makes them taste good removed? The ones that aren’t pretzels but still suck ever bit of moisture out of your mouth, that taste like packing material but somehow for some reason you ate the whole bag?
These aren’t those.
There are a lot of ways to prepare plantains - both sweet and green. The plantains on my counter were - if I’m going to be honest- somewhere in between. Too green for the fried sweet plantains I love, too ripe for other preparations like tostones. So, I made tostones. Yeah, I just said that they were too ripe to make tostones. Usually, those delicious crunchy twice fried plantain chips (that are most certainly not the ones described above) are made with green plantains. These aren’t. They’re sweeter, and texture wise somewhere between crunchy and a little chewy.
I love ‘em. Plus, you get to smash. Smashing is fun.
These can be made in a deep fryer, or shallow fried.
4 semi-ripe plantains (yellow, but not soft)
Crunchy finishing salt
Green Sauce (see Below)
Oil for frying
A smashing thing
Trim, peel, and slice the plantains into ½ inch thick disks.
Bring your oil to 350°F.
Fry the plantains in batches, turning once, until light golden brown.
Remove from the heat and allow to rest for 2-3 (or while frying additional batches)
Using a kitchen mallet, the bottom of a pan, or really anything flat, hard, and food safe, smash the fried plantain disks into ¼ inch thick disks.
Return the freshly smashed disks to the fry oil and cook until crisp and brown.
Serve hot, sprinkled with crunchy salt, with green sauce for dipping.
½ bunch cilantro
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp lime juice
1 jalapeno pepper
½ cup Greek yogurt
½ cup mayonnaise
Combine all ingredients in the container of a blender or food processor.
Process until smooth.
Refrigerate one hour before using for flavors to combine.
Simple Black Beans
I don’t think I need to write much of an introduction for black beans, not in the least because I’ve made them here before. These are only slightly different than other recipes I’ve shared in the past. Basically, they're simpler. Rather than the heavy seasonings I've used in Mexican style beans, these are simply seasoned with salt, a pinch of cumin, and a bay leaf. That's it.
2 cups dry black turtle beans
2 cups chicken stock
2 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp cumin
1 bay leaf
Soak the beans overnight in 6 cups of cool water.
The next day, add beans with their soaking liquid, chicken stock, the salt, cumin, and bay leaf to a thick bottomed pot over medium heat.
Bring to a simmer and cook until the beans are tender.
Taste for seasoning.
I'm certain that any number of cuisines in Central America, South America, or the Caribbean have names for this dish, But I've never heard it described in English as anything other than just “yellow rice.” Just as I'm sure that there are many different names for this dish, I'm also certain that there are many different ways of preparing it. This recipe is simple, it’s based on an easy sofrito - a mix of herbs, tomatoes and aromatics that are sauteed together as a flavor base – in this case one dosed with a. bit of turmeric to give it the signature yellow color. It’s a fairly quick dish to throw together – even more so if you use a food processor or chopper to make the sofrito – and the results are delicious.
2 cups long grain rice (I use basmati)
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp kosher salt
1 medium tomato
1 small onion
1 clove garlic
½ cups loosely packed cilantro leaves and stems – or just stems
Peel, trim, and coarsely chop the onion.
Peel trim, and coarsely chop the garlic.
Trim and chop the tomato.
Add the tomato, onion, garlic, turmeric, salt, and cilantro to the container of a food processor.
Pulse until uniform, but still a little chunky.
Add the oil to a thick bottomed pan over medium heat.
Pour the pureed sofrito into the pan.
Cook, stirring frequently, until the sofrito is almost dry.
Add the rice and stir to coat well.
Add the chicken stock, bring to a simmer, then cover and reduce to low.
Cook for 20 minutes on your stove’s lowest setting.
Uncover, and allow to stand off the heat for 5 minutes.
Fluff with a fork and serve warm.
Beef Shank Braised in Orange Juice with Olives, Onions
I love beef shanks for the same reason I love beef short ribs and beef Chuck and any other big, not very tender hunk of beef. That you can braise for ages until it turns into a meltingly, soft, delicious flavor-soaked piece of well, beef. Cross cut Shanks like those you might use to make ossobuco. Or even more fun because they come with a giant bone in the middle. The bone is cool. It looks cool. It also comes filled with bone marrow that seeps into your sauce, making it even richer and more delicious. That marrow packed bone – and all the bits close to it, also contribute lots of collagen, which helps make give the sauce a fantastic texture.
As I said above, this dish came together as sort of a what do I have in the fridge experiment, which is why I ended up putting orange juice and olives in a in a braised beef dish. It sounds like a weird combination – but of course sour or Seville oranges are a classic braising and marinade ingredient in cuisines that were influenced by Spanish cooking. The orange juice I had was five-day old home squeezed navel orange juice. Not the same thing. So … a little lime juice and I was on my way.
2 large crosscut beef shanks
2 cups orange juice
1 large onion
2 cups chicken stock
1 14-oz can peeled, diced tomatoes
6 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup sliced green olives
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
Preheat your oven to 300°F
Peel, trim, and thinly slice the onion from end to end.
Peel, trim, and coarsely chop the garlic.
Add the olive oil to an oven proof pan over medium heat.
Pat the beef dry, and brown well on both sides.
Remove the beef from the pan and set aside.
Add the garlic and onions to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent.
Add the tomatoes, the olives, the stock, orange juice, salt, pepper, and bay leaf.
Nestle the beef into the sauce and bring to a simmer.
Transfer to the oven and cook until the meat is fall apart tender – 2-4 hours depending on the size of the shanks.
Serve with yellow rice and black beans.
Just a Tiny Little Cup of Coffee
I drink a lot of coffee. Specifically, I drink a lot of espresso. I mean a lot, a lot. It might even explain my run on sentences and my habit of combining words into megalongcompundwords like I was writing German.
I don’t speak German.
I do, as I said, drink a lot of espresso.
From tiny little cups.
So, this week’s menu doesn’t include a dessert. I thought about making a flan, but instead I’m just having a tiny little cup of coffee. Maybe you should too.
I’m gonna go get another espresso now.