Sometimes it just hits you. Not with the lomographic or vintage effect movies use, but real-color, bright, and emotional: a memory. If you are lucky, you can smell and taste it too. That happened to me recently, as I was driving by the neighborhood I grew up in. Our old house still stands out among the others: unpretentious, small, yet isolated and conspicuous, thanks to the garden. A beautiful garden my mother worked on for months. It started with tiny, flowerless plants, but over the years we’ve seen what mom really envisioned: a whimsical array of colors, textures and light. This effect is particularly evident in a 12-foot walkway that connects the front porch with the garage. Small terra-cotta tiles and worn, mossy cement make the cool walkway, while dark green bushes line both sides. Fine-leafed, skinny trees tower along the sides of the bushes, letting light play through as winds push and pull the branches. It was in one of these moments, long ago, that a wind buffeted my face with the smell of mouthwatering stuffed plantains coming from the kitchen window.
Stuffed plantains are the Puerto Rican equivalent of stuffed potato skins. They can be served stuffed as appetizers or empty as sides. Instead of cheese and/or sour cream studded with bacon, the fried plantain vessel is stuffed with pulled, often stewed meat. That means stuffed plantains are best served as soon as they’re made. Otherwise the bottom gets dense and soggy. Perfectly prepared, the vessel should be thick enough to carry some of the juices in the stuffing without immediately absorbing them. The overall size of the stuffed plantain should be such that one could eat it in two to three bites. One bite is not enough to enjoy the flavors and textures, but too many bites can make the process messy with stuffing going all over the place.
My rendition switches the hot’n runny filling for a fresh, crisp’n sweet-savory black bean salad. Colorful, vibrant, and fragrant of lemon-cilantro, these stuffed plantains appeal to the eye, as well as the nose.
Yields: 8 stuffed plantain mini cups + plenty of black bean salad for more goodness.
Tools and Equipment
Mortar and pestle (small, see images)
Cooking thermometer (optional)
2 Large green plantains
Plenty Vegetable oil
1 1/2 C Black beans, cooked and drained
1/3 C Corn, cooked and strained
1/3 C Green pepper, chopped
1/3 C Red pepper, chopped
1/3 C Yellow pepper, chopped
1/3 C Orange pepper, chopped
1/4 C Red onion, finely chopped
1/4 C Shallot, finely chopped
1/4 C Fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1 Tbsp Olive oil, fruity and flavorful
1 Tsp Lemon or lime juice
Salt to taste
Black pepper or pepper medley to taste
Black Bean Salad
- To prepare the black bean salad, combine all the veggies in a nonreactive bowl (avoid metal or weak plastics).
- Drizzle with olive oil and squeeze in the lemon juice. Mix and taste. Season and mix again. If you are eating this right away, add enough salt to taste. If you are refrigerating for more than 4 hrs, add very little salt first and and a little more just before serving, this will prevent vegetables from exuding too much water. I like letting the flavors combine for at least 5 – 6 hrs, so I generally follow the latter.
- Seal tightly and store in the refrigerator, while making the plantain vessels.
Plantain mini cups
Fill a bowl with water and add salt as if for pasta. Stir.
- Cut the plantains into large 1 1/2 – 2 inch long rounds and add them into the water. Soak for 15 mins.
- Meanwhile, fill the frying pan/pot with sufficient oil, you want enough to cover the rounds.
- Place the thermometer near the middle of the distance between the surface of the oil and the bottom of the pan.
- Heat till the thermometer reaches about 250°F, you can test with a small piece of bread to ensure proper frying conditions. The bottom of the pan will be at a higher temperature and it should keep increasing, granted you don’t add to many pieces of plantains at a time.
- Pat-dry the plantain rounds and place them in the oil by batches. Fry for 6 – 8 mins. I suggest frying four at a time, but this really depends on the pan’s material, shape, and oil volume.
- After the first round of frying, place the rounds in a bowl lined with paper towel or some absorbent material. While the next batch is frying, use the mortar and pestle to form the semi spherical vessel. Be careful not to over-mash the plantains, to prevent them from loosing their integrity.
- Once the oil is free from the first round of frying the other plantains, transfer the vessels to the oil and fry for 4 mins maximum.
- Remove plantain mini cups from hot oil and let it dry over paper towel again.
- Stuff the plantains with the fresh salad, while they’re hot and crispy. Season to taste.