Plantain Soup

It’s the time of year that my mind wanders off to Honduras, Ecuador and Mexico. I dream of warm weather, tropical foliage and platanos! Platanos are particularly important in the diet of Coastal Ecuadorians, and I don’t believe I ever had a meal that did not include them in some form. They usually eat the plantains green either fried, baked or mashed to make empanada dough. My favorite way to eat the platano is fried and smashed in what they call, “Patacones.” In other parts of Latin America fried and smashed plantains are called, “Tostones.” They are an acquired taste as they tend to be quite dry, but the minute I tasted them topped with hot and spicy Aji, I couldn’t get enough. Aji is a hot chile, cilantro and lime condiment served everywhere in Ecuador.

An Ecuadorian custom from the highlands  is to serve a light soup as a first course for the mid-afternoon meal, and it’s common to see a few platanos floating around the broth with diced potatoes and a sprig of cilantro. Slices of avocado, toasted hominy and Aji were always served with the soup.

Today’s recipe combines an Ecuadorian platano fetish with my never-ending quest for maximum nutritional value. Here you will find copious quantities of kale! And don’t even think about eating the soup without the Aji. Yes, it’s a condiment to be served on the side, but it without it, you’ll feel like you’re eating mashed potatoes without the gravy.

Ingredients:

Soup

  • 1 Tbs. canola oil
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large sweet potato, diced
  • 1 large Yukon gold potato, diced
  • 2 plantains, peeled and sliced
  • 1 bunch curly kale, deveined and chopped
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 Tbs. cumin
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • avocado and lime as garnish

Aji

  • 4 Serrano peppers
  • 1 small bunch cilantro
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 lime juiced
  • salt to taste
  • splash water

Blend together in food processor or blender.

Directions:

Be careful not to overcook this soup. Serve immediately.

Heat oil in a stock pot. Add onions and cook until they are crispy. Next add the garlic and stir it until fragrant. Add water, cumin, salt, potatoes. Bring to a boil and cook until the potatoes are almost tender. Add plantains and cook for a few minutes until the potatoes and plantains are tender. Add the kale just before serving. It should just wilt and turn bright green. Serve with Aji, avocado and lime on the side.

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Llapingachos – Cheese Stuffed Potato Patties

Potatoes? I have a love hate relationship with potatoes. They are starch, carbohydrate, heavy, and can be dry. They are time-consuming to cook and often need so much added “stuff” to make them palatable. Jeff loves potatoes – especially french fries, but it’s not really the potato he loves – they’re just a “vehicle for ketchup!” They are delicious though, aren’t they? Especially roasted with garlic and lots of salt. I loved them in the Vindaloo Roasted Potatoes and Cauliflower dish I made a few weeks ago, and I am always happy to toss a couple of diced potatoes into any winter stew.

If you get a CSA or shop the farmer’s markets, you know fresh potatoes are rolling in from the fields daily right now. They are dense, creamy and still full of water as the starches haven’t had time to convert to sugars yet. They cook more quickly when they are fresh, and in my opinion, taste better in this state.

When I was in college I had an internship in Ecuador, where in the highlands, folks enjoy a cheese stuffed fried potato patty called a “Llapingacho (ya ping gacho). This dish stands out as having a lovely yellow color, a rich flavor, and creamy texture that is nearly impossible to recreate in the United States if you shop at conventional grocery stores. Why is this so? Well, I learned through trial and error, that the Llapingacho will not cooperate with a potato whose starches are overly developed. It simply will not. It can be made, but the texture and flavor never match that of those served in the Andes. Unfortunately, potatoes in the U.S. spend lots of time in storage which allows water to evaporate and starches to form.

Since returning from my internship in 1991 I have tried to recreate the smooth and creamy texture of the Ecuadorian Llapingacho but was not successful until I used the Yukon Golds from my Wisconsin CSA! Fresh from the field they had the perfect consistency and flavor needed to recreate this dish. I assume the potatoes had been dug from the field a day or two before delivery so spent little or no time in cold storage. I don’t think most of us can find potatoes fresh enough in most grocery stores to make the Llapingacho. Even the Yukon Golds that I have tried from the co-op haven’t worked. In addition to needing a completely fresh potato, there are other tricks to making a perfect Llapingacho: 1) wash the starch off the potato cubes before you cook them, 2) let the patties cool completely before frying, and 3) make sure your cooking oil is really hot. This is a great recipe to prep one day and cook the next.

Of course, even fried this potato is still a vehicle for other goodies. In South America the Llapingacho is served with a peanut sauce. Many enjoy a zesty salsa to top, or a grated cabbage coleslaw. We ate ours with a side of yesterday’s Zucchini Salad, chopped fresh jalapenos, cilantro and a squeeze of lime. Delicious!

Take advantage of the fresh Yukons coming out of the fields to make this dish that can only be fully realized in Minnesota right NOW! You’ll love it!

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds Yukon Golds, peeled and diced into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 cup leeks, thinly sliced (any kind of onion may be used)
  • olive oil to saute leeks
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • peanut or canola oil to fry patties
  • 1 cup grated cheddar or mozzarella cheese

Directions:

Start a large pot of water to boil while you peel and cube the potatoes. After they are diced, swish them around in a big bowl of water to wash off some of the starch.

Once the water begins to boil, spoon the potatoes into the pot and cook them until they are just tender. Drain the potatoes from the cooking water and allow them to cool before mashing.

While the potatoes cool, saute leeks on low heat until they begin to caramelize. Mash the potatoes, mix in the leeks and add salt and pepper to taste. Allow the mixture to cool completely until it can be handled.

Form the mashed potatoes into a ball a little smaller than a tennis ball. Press your thumb into the center of it forming a small indentation. Fill this with cheese then close the potato mixture around the cheese to form a ball again. Press the ball into a patty making sure that the patty is about 3/4 of an inch thick. Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and cool in the fridge for at least an hour. (I covered mine with wax paper and fried them the next day.)

Heat peanut or canola oil on a skillet until it is very hot. Fry the patties until they are browned on both sides. If your patties are not completely chilled or thick enough, they will be very delicate for flipping.