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.

 

Cilantro Quinoa Soup with Spicy Pan Seared Shrimp and Corn

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One summer when I was in college, my sister and I went to Ecuador. Highlights of the trip included an Amazonian tour guide singing “My Heart Will Go On” in Spanish as he rowed the two us back to civilization, playing barefoot volleyball on a deserted stretch of beach and needing to continually run into the sharp “pica pica” plants to fetch the ball, and peeing from a composting toilet in the Andes, where the mountains and fields literally sprawled out from the bathroom’s edge.

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a pee with a view!

The trip was all roses until the last night, when our evil hostel-mate in Quito stole Rachel’s cell phone. After Rachel had continuously berated me the whole trip for misplacing passports, money, cameras, bus tickets, etc. I would like to state for the record that even though my things get disorganized, I don’t lose them. Preach it.

The culinary high point of the trip for me was consuming the world’s most perfect scrambled eggs in a rundown roadside inn outside Papallacta. This is not a knock at the food I ate in Ecuador, it’s just that those eggs were SO GOOD. I would give anything to know the secret (probably minutes-old eggs and more butter than I want to think about.) I also fondly remember dinner from the night we stayed at the hostel connected to the World’s Most Beautiful Bathroom. It was a simple brothy quinoa stew, probably made with vegetables from the yard and quinoa from the neighboring hilly farm patches.

This version is similarly simple and delicious. We used spicy pan-fried shrimp and corn from the cob, but you could easily add stewed chicken, avocado, little potatoes, cotija cheese. Etc.

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Quinoa Cilantro Soup with Corn and Spicy Pan-Seared Shrimp
from palate/palette/plate

olive oil
1 red onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 box (4 cups) veggie broth
1 cup chopped cilantro leaves (1 big bunch, or 1.5 smaller bunches)
1 T ground coriander
1/2 t ground Ancho chili powder
s&p
1 lime
3 ears of corn
1/2 pound of raw jumbo shrimp (about 10)
1 t dried chili pepper flakes
1 t smoked paprika

In a medium large pot, add enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Add onions and garlic and cook on medium-high heat until the onions start to soften and everything smells good, about 5 minutes. Add the quinoa and stir constantly for a minute, until the quinoa is incorporated, toasty, and evenly coated. Next add broth, cilantro, and a good sprinkle of salt and pepper. Bring mixture to a boil, and then simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes, until quinoa is cooked. Keep an eye on it, and add water or extra broth if too much liquid evaporates.

Meanwhile, cook corn in desired methods. We simply husked the ears and boiled them, and then cut kernels off the cob and it was delicious. Feel free to roast or grill instead.

Five minutes before soup is ready, prepare shrimp. Heat a large pan til it’s super steamy hot. Meanwhile, shell shrimp and rinse. Coat with olive oil, pepper flakes, and smoked paprika. Pour into pan and cook for about 2 minutes on each side, or until just pink and cooked throughout. (Perhaps a wise idea to disconnect your fire alarm before attempting.)

Before serving, add chili powder, coriander, and juice from a lime. Spoon into bowls and top with extra chopped cilantro, shrimp, and corn!

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SIDENOTE: This is the artichoke we ate as an appetizer. It’s just so darn cute.

Also it was only $1. Somehow, I’ve never made myself artichokes before and had to call my Mom to ask a) how to cook them, and b) her amazing sauce recipe from my childhood. Turns out it’s just mayo + lemon juice. But ya know what tasted great as a 10 year old also tastes great as a 24 year old. Thank goodness.

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LIKE, OMG, DON’T YOU WANT TO EAT THIS?! cooking quinoa ain’t a pretty task but someone’s gotta do it