Tapado: Caribbean Coconut Fish and Plantain Soup

 

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Somehow we ended up with a table-full of green plantains last night, which it turns out are NOT the ones you make yummy sweet fried plantains with. Is that common knowledge? I felt totally uninformed and unworthy of my food blogger status. Well, now I know (and so do you!).

The internet told me I could deep fry them, tostones style, or make a dough out of them and stuff them with meat or whatever, bolo style. All options sounded fine, but in a eureka moment, I remembered cooking with green plantains once (I think they were green bananas then, but I believe they can be used fairly interchangeably), at a very steamy cooking class in Livingston, Guatemala.

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I got out my journal, go me for being obsessive about notebooking, and immediately found the recipe I jotted down after the class. It was a very simple affair, made of what was local and available, namely lots of coconuts and fresh fish, with very little else.

Livingston, Guatemala is totally different from the rest of the country. It’s a Garífuna enclave on the Carribean coast, where it is steamy, humid, and damn tropical. Almost all food has to be brought in by boat and is hence pretty pricey. Its budding tourism industry is one of the prime sources of income for the area, but there’s not much to do in the oppressive heat — despite being on the coast, the only nice beach is accessible only by boat and the hostel options are all of the dreaded “party” variety, where invariably some huge Australian dude has slept all day and now has 40s of beer taped to his hands and is challenging other dudes into pull-up contests. #yolo #traveltolearnaboutothercultures #ohmy.

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Some enterprising folks at Rasta Mesa started a cooking class to teach us bumblers how to make the traditional and ubiquitous soup of the region, tapado. It was a laid-back, steamy afternoon, with children running around and intermittently (and impressively) playing drums. “Class” was in the loosest sense of the word — I got the feeling the instructors were just making themselves dinner and we were around to help chop some vegetables and maybe babysit. Which was totally fine with me. The experience was only tainted by the one hostelbro who decided to get over his hangover, leave the hostel for the first time, accompany us to class, and flirt with all the women present. Despite his presence, it was a tranquil and delicious afternoon that I’m glad has come back to me.

tapado-4Note on recipe: When we made this in Guatemala, we used small white fish, hacked into thirds, with their bones and eyeballs still intact. The versions I saw around town had all sorts of seafood; I decided to use just shrimp but use whatever you prefer. For a vegan meal, you could use roasted sweet potatoes or green pepper chunks instead of fish. If you don’t have access to green plantains, don’t use bananas or yellow plantains, they’re too sweet and soft. The green variety is not sweet at all — it’s very starchy. Try subbing potatoes or yuca.

one year ago: rice noodle salad with carrot-ginger dressing and unstuffed eggplant with yogurt sauce 
two years ago: kale Caesar salad and black bean mango corn salad
three years ago: easy rhubarb cake and roasted beets + greens with mint yogurt sauce

more Guatemalan food: rellenitos de plátano (for when you need to get rid of yellow plantains) and quichon de verduras (Mayan veggie stew) 

Tapado

adapted from cooking class at Rasta Mesa

2 tablespoons olive oil
½ pound raw shrimp (mine were tail-free but either way is fine)
Pinch each of: garlic powder, granulated onion powder, cayenne
Salt
1 onion, diced
2 medium tomatoes, chopped (save the juices)
1 jalapeño, diced
2 cans full fat coconut milk
Small handful fresh basil leaves
2 green plantains, peeled and in bite-sized chunks
Juice from ½ a lime
Chopped basil and/or cilantro, to serve (optional, but nice)
Cooked white rice, to serve

Heat a big saute pan (for which you have a lid) over a high heat. Toss shrimp in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of oil, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne, and salt. Add to very hot pan and cook on each side for just 2-3 minutes, or until they just turn pink. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add 1 tablespoon oil to same pan. Lower to medium heat. Add onion and a bit of salt, and scrape up any bits left by the shrimp. Cook onion for 3-4 minutes, or until it’s just turning translucent. Add tomatoes and their juices and jalapeño. Cook for another 10 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until the onion and tomato have broken down and become somewhat jammy.

Add both cans of coconut milk, one can’s-worth of water, small handful whole basil leaves, the green plantains, and bunch of salt. Bring to a boil, then partially cover and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for about 20 minutes, or until plantains are totally cooked. Partially mash some of the plantains with the back of a wooden spoon to thicken the soup. Add lime juice and shrimp — cook for another 2 minutes or so until shrimp are reheated.

To serve, ladle into a bowl, add a spoonful of white rice, and sprinkle with fresh basil and cilantro.

 

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Key Lime Pie with Salty Cracker Crust

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Real life interference: I meant to post this recipe in mid-October, right after Daniel’s birthday. But then a Malta conference happened, a trip to Japan was embarked upon, a crazy man was elected president of my country, and I was eyebrows deep in a directing project until last week. So, big sigh, things will continue to keep spinning (sometimes out of control) and I’m still trying to figure out what this crazy man means for the future of my country, my loved ones, and myself. But hey, we can still eat pie. And so, a post.

Growing up, birthdays meant chocolate. In the form of cake, frosting, ice cream, or all of the above. A birthday was only successful if it had sticky fingers and smudgy cheeks. I remember when I switched to vanilla frosting atop my chocolate cake — the horror! I had betrayed my chocolate brethren. And to this day, for me, a birthday must have a modicum of chocolate to be considered successful — perhaps this is just a hot fudge drizzle or one bite of dark chocolate bar — but it’s still lurking. Birthday = chocolate. Simple math.

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Daniel, on the other hand, can’t seem to care less about chocolate. We obviously don’t interpret math the same way. I have made him an orange caramel birthday cake and a blueberry lemon cake and a berry cheesecake, which honestly were all delicious but didn’t scream birthday. I mean, no chocolate crumbles on the floor to sweep up or white shirts to get frosting stains out of?? What is this!?

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And this year he goes on to request a pie for his birthday. “Yeah, I’ve always liked pie better than cake.” …who are you?! So now not only no chocolate but also no frosting?! I need someone else to bake birthday things for.

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This request spawned a truckload of research of about key lime pie. Does it count if it isn’t actually made with key limes? (Mostly yes, except for a few diehard Floridians.) Do all recipes use sweetened condensed milk? (Yes.) Should you put merengue on top or whipped cream? (Up to you, whipped cream is a whole lot easier.) And in this research I found a deviation from the traditional graham cracker crust — a salty, buttery sub that swaps the ubiquitous grahams for Saltines! As I recently had some issues with a graham cracker crust, I figured why not give it a go?

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It reads like a recipe from my elementary school PTA cookbook that someone’s Grandma makes every year for July 4th . And yet, it’s a beaut! …although a beaut I didn’t completely conquer. The recipe said not to crush your crackers until they were sand-like, so I stopped at pea-like crumbles, which didn’t hold together so well after baking. This lead to luscious lime curd atop … well, buttery, pea-sized cracker crumbs, not exactly a coherent crust. Which, don’t get me wrong, is delicious! Just not particularly easy to serve. I recommend crushing the crumbs for longer than you think is necessary, and don’t be afraid to add more butter. When you pre-bake the crust, really bake it until it’s golden and keeping its shape. (I didn’t let it go quite long enough.) And yes, despite, a crumbly crust, Mr. Weirdo Birthday Boy was totally, totally satisfied. (and so was I!)

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one year ago: Guatemalan rellenitos de plátano (fried plantain heaven)
two years ago: buttermints and Indian-spiced cabbage heaven

Key Lime Pie with Buttery Cracker Crust

From smittenkitchen and food52

1½ sleeves of Saltine crackers (the salted variety) (or try Ritz!)
3 tablespoons sugar
1 stick butter (½ a cup), room temp (or more)

Zest of 2 limes
4 egg yolks
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
A generous ½ cup fresh lime juice (for me, this was 6 puny limes)

One small carton (1 cup or so) heavy cream, chilled
1-2 tablespoons sugar, to taste
Zest of 1 lime, more or less

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Crush up your crackers using your hands (or banging them with a can) until they’re uniformly small and crumb-like. Toss in sugar. Cut butter into small pieces and mix into the cracker crumbs with your fingers until well-incorporated and dough-like. Press crust mixture into an 8- or 9-inch pie pan. Let sit for about 15 minutes.

Bake for 21 minutes, or until lightly browned. Set aside and keep oven on.

Beat together lime zest and egg yolks with an electric beater for five minutes, until thickened and slightly lighter. Add sweetened condensed milk and beat for an additional three minutes. Gently stir in fresh lime juice with a spatula. Pour into cracker crust and bake for 12 minutes, or until top is set. Let cool completely.

Pour chilled heavy cream into a bowl, add sugar and beat until it’s fluffy! (It comes together very quickly using electric beaters, but sometimes it’s fun to make Daniel do it with a whisk :).) Add more sugar if you want a slightly sweeter cream. Lovingly spoon whipped cream atop your cooled pie. Decorate with zest. At this point, it is recommended to chill the whole shebang for a while, but I think that’s mostly so you can create clean lines when you slice your pie, and who the heck has time for that? We ate it immediately and were none the worse. Keep pie in the fridge, loosely covered with plastic wrap, for a few days and try not to have a spoonful with your morning coffee.

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Chopped Summer Salad with Feta, Mint, and Lime

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Obviously not the salad of which we speak; just keep scrolling… (But doesn’t that look goooood?)

Well, if lack of posting on here means that my professional life is busy and flourishing, I guess that’s a pretty good sign. I’m embarrassed that my last post was over two months ago… but it has been a two months full of performing, directing, project investigating, grant writing, travel booking, curriculum planning, and creative endeavors. So, perhaps a gap here but my heart is full and my brain is active and my calendar is full of scribbles (and my bank account is … feeling its new role as belonging to a creative freelancer).

But I didn’t go hungry! This was the summer of chopped salads, usually involving corn and radishes and whatever else the CSA bequeathed to us. See end of post for a loose recipe for my go-t0 salad of the season, repeated in many variations during the summer. Also if anyone else has a better way to use up CSA corn, please enlighten me. Who eats this much corn on the cob?!

In the spirit of summer wrap-ups and my absence, here are 10 more-memorable food moments from the past months. Complete with profesh iPhone photography (ha) — fitting for a busy summer, weeks of an over-stuffed backpack, and late-night dinnertimes.

1. Oh, strawberry shortcake. Cloud-like, slightly sweet, and convince-yourself healthy-ish. (If you didn’t make the pound cake and beat together all that butter, that is.) Potentially the most summery of summery foods. Definitely made this past July 4th more legit.img_5945

2. Labor Day weekend was spent motoring around the Northern coast of Long Island, where we found sailboats, mansions, and a pretty darn good brewery complete with varied flights. Also I taught Daniel mancala. And we ate oyyyysters.img_6232

3. Heddy and I celebrated our opening show of “Amelia and her Paper Tigers” with airplane cupcakes! I’m so proud of our little show and the responses we received from audiences at the Fringe Festival. (Thanks, Darrill!)cupcakes

4. These little mushrooms could be my favorite thing I ate this summer, though they were covered in butter and garlic and lemon juice, so its sorta unfair to their competition. But more importantly, they made Daniel change his mind about mushrooms! Victory!img_6227

5. Got TWO amazing off-menu dinners from chef-babe Nichole at Runner & Stone. Spoiled me good, missy. Also, loooook at all that foooood…. (this was just one course of three!!!)
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6. Lots of Texas- (okay, Mexico- but don’t tell Daniel) — inspired breakfasts, like these huevos rancheros that I ate for a week straight. Also I now make pretty perfect soft scrambled eggs, if I do say so myself. (The secret? Uh, it’s butter. Surprise.)img_6051

7. A New Hampshire pilgrimage with friends, dogs, hiking, grilling, and this fun game — catch the cheez ball in your mouth. Hilarity ensued. Top quality eatz of the summer.cheez-ball

8. First time making tater tots! If you’re going to big, GO BIG and stuff those babies with cheddar cheese before frying. Uh, yum. img_6123

9. I love our tradition of making each other birthday cakes 🙂 This year Daniel followed my chocolate-peppermint wishes to a T. And it was perfect.img_6158

10. And behold, it’s not much to look at it, but tada! …don’t be too overwhelmed. Here’s the base of the Chopped Summer Salad with Mint, Feta, and Lime! Make, eat, repeat = Summer. (Also, maybe just click on the link to see Deb’s beautiful photos. Since she, you know, planned to blog this salad someday and I super didn’t.)img_6169

one year ago: roasted green pepper and smoked gouda pasta
two years ago: caramelized fennel with dill and goat cheese

Chopped Summer Salad with Mint, Feta, and Lime

Not really adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Dressing
Juice of 2 limes
¼ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon chile powder
s&p

Other Stuff
1 cup or so quinoa, Israeli couscous, or other grain, cooked and cooled
⅓ cup toasted sunflower seeds
Big handful fresh mint, chopped
At least ½ cup feta cheese, crumbled
About 1 cup lettuce ribbons
2 scallions, chopped or 1/4 of a red onion, sliced thin
3 cups crunchy veggies: corn, radishes, cucumber, peppers, snap peas, tomatoes all good options
1 cup chickpeas, if desired (though unnecessary!)

Stir all dressing ingredients together with a fork in a small bowl. Put all other ingredients in a big old bowl, pour in the dressing, toss it around a couple times, and try to save some for tomorrow.

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…dessert?!