June 18, 2012

By Way of the Tropics

Ever since I started working at the restaurant, an increasing number of the meals I make at home have been vegan.  Not intentionally, I never really sat down and made that conscious decision, but it's the truth.  First there was the sautee of corn, greens, red onion and zucchini doused in lime juice and Louisiana hot sauce that was so good/easy that I made it at least four times in about twice as many days.  Then there was a lentil and vegetable curry that only reminded me how lacking my curry skills are, but was tasty none the less.  And now?  Now there is this Caribbean delight of coconut scented rice, black beans and fried plantains, accented with a bit mango salsa.

I could eat this. Every. Single. Day.  The slightly crisp skin the ripe plantains get from a light pan fry, their sweet creamy interiors balanced so perfectly with a sprinkle of salt.  The coconut scented rice and spicy mango salsa sending your thoughts immediately to tropical beaches and vacations and fancy drinks that come garnished with umbrellas.  And if you ask me, you can never go wrong with a fresh pot of black beans along with some avocado.  What's even better?  You can probably whip this whole thing up for under $5.

Not only am I all about tasty food, I'm also all about being thrifty.

As perfect as I found this to be - I mean it.  Totally swoon-worthy.  New summertime staple. - there is so much you can play around with here.  You can use any type of long-grain rice, even consider tossing in a handful of shaved coconut while the rice cooks.  Use peaches or nectarines or pineapple in place of the mango.  If you're feeling brave, use a bit of habanero instead of the serrano chili.  Just be sure to cook up your own pot of beans, canned just doesn't begin to compare, and use the ripest plantains you can find.

Coconut Rice, Black Beans and Plantains
Adapted from Herbivoracious

Take the extra time and cook up a pot of black beans instead of buying the canned ones. And don't forget the epazote, they make the beans just that much more magical. Every element of this dish is fantastic on its own, but together they're out of this world. You can substitute any long grain rice here; plain, jasmine, basmati and light coconut milk works too. The Manila mango is great for its creamy firm texture without any of those nasty fibers, but if mango fibers aren't an issue for you, go ahead and use whatever variety smells fragrant and sweet. Also, be sure to select plantains that have a significant amount of black spots, these ones are sweeter and better for a quick pan fry.

4 servings

1 cup dried black beans
1 large sprig epazote
1/2 small onion, finely diced

Mango Salsa:
1 Manila mango, cut into small cubes
1/2 - 1 serrano chili, minced (depending on how much heat you'd like)
1/3 cup red onion, finely diced
a handful cilantro, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 lime, juiced

Coconut Rice:
1 cup basmati rice
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup water

2 plantains (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into 1/4" thick coins
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
avocado, sliced, for topping

For the beans:  Cover beans by about 3 inches with cool water and let soak overnight.  The next day, drain liquid and place beans in a medium pot.  Add the sprig of epazote and diced onion and cover with about 2 1/2 cups water.  Bring to a boil over medium heat then reduce to a simmer and cook, partially covered for 1 hour, adding water as necessary to keep the beans submerged.  After an hour, beans should be soft and creamy, but still hold their shape and there should still be some pot liquer.  Remove epazote and season with about a 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

For the rice:  In a fine mesh strainer, rinse the basmati rice 2 or 3 times in cool water, then drain well.  Put in a pot and cover with 1 cup of coconut milk and 1 cup of water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to the lowest setting, cover and cook for 20 minutes.  Remove from heat and let stand, still covered, for another 10 minutes.

For the salsa: add all the chopped ingredients to a bowl, season with salt and lime juice.  Puree half of the salsa in a blender or food processor until you reach a thick but slightly chunky texture.  Mix back into the remaining salsa and set aside.

Just before serving, peel and slice plantains.  In a large skillet (I used nonstick) over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.  Lay plantain slices in a single layer and cook until golden brown, about 4 minutes, then flip and cook the other side for 3 minutes more, sprinkle with kosher salt.  Serve with the coconut rice, black beans, a big spoonful of the mango salsa and sliced avocado.

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