Snacks

Baked Ripe Plantain with a Miel de Caña and Orange Drizzle

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I’m not much of a baker.  I think it’s probably for two reasons.  One, I cannot follow a recipe to save my life.  It’s a very real problem.  Even when I try to force myself, I just can’t.  Two, the changes I always want to make are healthy changes.  Sugarless quinoa and avocado cookies anyone…anyone?  So, long story short, when someone asks me to bring a dessert I usually say, “can I just bring a salad”?

Here’s the dilemma.  I LOVE sweet stuff!  I love sweet, starchy, ooey, gooey, warm and saucy desserts!  If it’s a special occasion, it’s just a bite or two of a sweet (usually chocolately) indulgence that I crave to cap off the meal perfectly.  But on a regular day I like to stick to healthy whole foods.  A baked plantain is the answer.

Biting into a ripe baked plantain is like taking a bite of warm banana custard.  It’s crispy and carmelized on the outside and sweet and silky on the inside, all the while maintaining it’s structure to have something to bite into.  And since it does that with just the help of an oven, well, it’s the ultimate whole food dessert if you ask me!  Even though I regularly enjoy a baked plantain all on it’s own, saucing it up with just a few more clean ingredients will take the decadence up a notch!

The sauce for this recipe has only four ingredients but when they come together it is a real pop of flavor.  Miel de caña is something that I’m just recently allowing myseld to keep at home.  Why?  Because it is A.M.A.Z.I.N.G.  It is the fine wine of natural sweeteners and since it reminds me of wine, well, I was just a little scared that at some point I’d end up putting it in a glass and drinking it.  But so far, no such incidents.  Miel de caña is technically molasses.  I haven’t tasted or cooked with molasses in years but I just don’t remember it being as complex and having the florally and citrusy notes that the miel de caña of Ecuador does.  At any rate, if you are looking for a substitute I’d suggest light, unsulphured molasses and as usual, please let me know how it goes.  If you are living in South America, please don’t hestitate to start incorporating this awesome indgredient in your recipes!  I’d love to hear from you and all your creative ideas for miel de caña too!

IMG_1846 (3)IMG_1865 (6)1/4 cup miel de caña (sugar cane honey) or molasses
1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1/2 teaspoon real vanilla
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1 ripe plantain
coconut oil or butter

Start by wisking together the first 3 ingredients in a small saucepan.  Move the saucepan to a medium flame and stir frequently as the sauce comes to a boil.  Once the sauce has reached a boil, turn the flame to low and stir frequently for 12-15 minutes.  The sauce will reduce down to about 1/2 cup.  Remove the sauce from the flame and transfer to a glass storage container.  Allow to cool.  Once the sauce has cooled down, add the chia seeds and cover with a lid.  Give the sauce a little bit of a shake and place in the refigerator to let the chia do their chia thing.  Keep the sauce in the refrigerator until ready to use.

To make the roasted plantain, first preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Then cut off each end of a ripe plantain and remove the peel.  Quarter the plantain and brush with a little bit of coconut oil or butter.  Bake the plantain on foil which has been placed directly on the oven rack.  Bake the plantain for 25 minutes or until it starts to get dark and crispy around the edges.  Serve the plantain warm with a drizzle of miel de caña sauce.

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Melloco Salad Bruschetta

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My first experience with a South American root veggie called melloco was at a family style Ecuadorian restaurant here in town.  The restaurant atmosphere is quaint and homelike.  It’s traditionally decorated but has such a classy feel at the same time.  Let me just say, you feel special going there.  The server brings you a big piping hot, family sized serving of the main dish along with all kinds of fun salads and sides to accompany it and the delectable sauce it’s served in.  Not only that, he actually serves each individual portion of the main dish directly to your plate.  As for the sides, well, those are randomly scattered around the table and meant to be passed.  Keep in mind this is a family style restaurant and the food is DEEEEE-licious!  So while on the outside you are politely accepting what the person to your left has just passed you and politely dishing out just a small little portion of whatever it is to your plate, on the inside your heart has started to skip beats while your eyes follow your favorite side sloooowly make it’s way from person to person all the way down at the other side of table.  Feeling desperate you try doing some quick math in your head.  If the next 4 people only take one spoonful I think that couscous salad will make it!  You just want to plead, “save some for me”, but since this is not your actual family, that’s not going to happen.

One of the sides turned out to be a melloco salad.  And when it got to me for the first time, low and behold, it wasn’t picked over like everything else.  I had never seen this, what I thought to be, teeny tiny little potato before but I will definitely give it a try!  I was met with something very new to me.  Melloco has a simple earthy taste but it’s uniqueness really comes from it’s texture.   It’s creamy but crisp at the same time.  Even when these little tubers are cooked and cooled down to room temperature they retain a little snap that brings something different to the plate.  I have to say, I was an instant fan of melloco!  But it seems that not everyone feels the same way (must be a texture thing).  While the other sides seem to win out in popularity at the table, these speckled little fingers of earthiness delight me every time!

Melloco is traditionally known for being a frugal and nutritious addition to the family shopping list.  And can I just add, gorgeous?!  They are like beautiful little salad-topping gems!  I mean, who wouldn’t want to add a pop of magenta to a green salad?  I love that color.  For that reason, I slice them before cooking them.  That way the cooking time is reduced and they retain that lovely speckle or bold majenta.  I do realize that melloco is probably not found at your neighborhood grocery.  If looking for a replacement, I would suggest using a very new red potato and increasing the cook time a bit.  If you’re not living in a South American country and you have found melloco, please tell us where.  If you are living here, I’d also love to hear your experience with melloco!  Is it for you?  How do you cook with it?

In this recipe, I’ve added melloco to a vibrant salad that can be layered on top of slices of hard-boiled eggs and served on toasted crusty bread.  The crispness of the melloco constrasts against the silkiness of the avocado in a wonderful way!  And the eggs are thanks to a fond childhood “food memory” of Marcelo’s.

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IMG_1681 (2)1 cup melloco, sliced into 1/4 inch discs
1/4 purpled onion, finely minced
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
a handful of cilantro
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 large avocado, cubed
sea salt
extra virgin olive oil

Add sliced melloco to a small sauce pan of salted boiling water. Boil for 7-10 minutes. Test the melloco around 7 minutes and remove from heat when they are cooked through but still firm. Strain and set aside to cool. Add minced onion, garlic and lemon juice to a mixing bowl. Grab a handful of cilantro and start snipping small bits with kitchen shears, about half or a little more, into the bowl. Toss everything together with a couple of healthy pinches of sea salt. Layer in the cherry tomatoes then the cooled melloco and finally the cubed avocado. Gently toss everything together. Take a final taste and add more sea salt to your liking.  Drizzle slices of toasted crusty bread with a bit of olive oil and top with sliced hard-boiled eggs and melloco salad.

Makes about 3 cups of melloco salad.

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Where Yuca Comes From and a Yuca Fries Recipe

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Everytime I cook with yuca I’m taken back to a very special time in my life.  Exactly a year into my Ecuadorian adventure a friend of mine and I were invited to spend some time visiting our friends who own a cacao farm in Mendez which is a small jungle town located in the southern portion of the Ecuadorian Amazon.  I had been to the jungle before, lots of times, but this time was going to be truly different, something I had dreamed of since I got here, a real experience.  Any other time that I had traveled to or through the rain forest something that always caught my eye were the humble homes made of slats of wood, sitting on their stilts, far off the road, framed by the impressive local flora and fauna.  What would it be like to live there, work there and prepare food there?  My very good friends were about to give me an education that I would never forget.

After a peaceful night’s rest and a hearty country-style breakfast it was off to get dressed up in my work clothes, for today I would learn how to harvest cacao, among other things!  Despite the heat and humidity it was important to protect yourself from the sun and bugs so I started rifling through a big bin of clothes to find some gear, a bandana for my head and neck, a baseball hat, a t-shirt and a collared button-down shirt, sturdy work pants and of course rubber boots.  And with that we were off to find out where chocolate comes from!  Once we arrived to the plantation my friend’s mom got out her machete and got to work.  That’s right, I said MACHETE.  That jungle-mama started wacking and hauling big bunches of cacao over to us.  She split each one in half so that we could harvest the seeds, or cacao beans, but in the mean time we learned that it wasn’t just the seeds that are edible.  The juicy, citrusy, cotton candy-like fruit that surrounds them is simply divine!  So there we sat, on the floor of the Amazon, filling buckets full of organic cacao beans and indulging on the fruit as much as we could.  The beans would soon be sent off to Germany where they would be processed and packaged into a high-quality bar.  But at that moment I couldn’t imagine enjoying that cacao any other way – so close to it’s inception.

After we had gathered enough cacao we packed up the truck and went in search of other jungle delicacies.  As we traveled along, evey once in a while the truck would stop and my friend’s brother would disappear into the forest, with a machete of course, and return a couple minutes later with the loot.  At one point we all stopped and went in search of yuca.  Little did I know at the time that this implied going in search of what looks to be a small tree, the Cassava Plant.  Upon identifying it, my friend’s teenage bro bent down the thick stem and started pulling and tugging on it.  After struggling for a few minutes he eventually cried uncle, or should I say mommy, begging the help of his jungle-mama (that lady was awesome and quickly became my hero)!  Between the two of them, out popped a root network which sprouted several nice-sized yuca tubers, ready to nourish us and replenish the energy we had expended that day in the hot Amozonian sun, not to mention delight us with it’s earthy and creamy flavor and texture.

These days when I get the urge for some yuca I just run up to the market at the corner of my street, but preparing it still takes me back to that day.  I love how a chunk of yuca comes encrusted in the soil it was planted in and how even in my apartment I can still get my hands a little dirty when peeling and cleaning it.  I love how that soil turns into mud in my sink because it makes me feel close to the earth and all it has to offer us, so many edible gems, ready to be explored.

There are some things to remember when chosing and preparing yuca.  First, in my experience, it seems that the thinner chunks of yuca are softer and easier to work with.  You want the yuca to be bright white on the inside and plan to prepare it within a couple days of buying it for the tastiest result.  When peeling yuca, I like to stand it up on it’s widest end and slice down.  Off will come a strip of it’s woody outer peel.  From there you will see a division between the peel and the white edible portion.  When the yuca is fresh you can use a paring knife to seperate the peel from the white portion and from there take the peel off in one piece by hand or little-by-little seperate with the knife and pull secitons off by hand.  The most important part is that all that is left is the white part of the yuca, nothing purple, or any other part of the peel.  Yuca also has a small but visible string running down it’s core.  It is best to chop around the string or remove it when chopping.

Yuca can be used in many different ways but I find this recipe is a great intro to yuca and oh SO satisfying ever single time!

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IMG_1392 (2)Two 8-10 inch pieces of yuca
1 T olive oil (aceite de oliva)
sea salt (sal marina)
black pepper- optional (pimienta negra)

Preheat over to 200° C/400° F.  Peel and rinse yuca.  Chop into medium sized fry-shaped pieces, making sure to chop around or chop out the string at the core of the yuca.  Add the yuca to a pan of boiling salted water.  Boil for 15-20 minutes or until just soft enough to easily smash with the back of a fork.  Drain the yuca and toss it in olive oil and a couple of generous sprinkles of sea salt.  Add a dash of black pepper if desired.  Place the yuca fries on a baking sheet ensuring that they are not touching or overlapping.  After baking for 10 minutes, flip each yuca fry over and continue baking for 10 more minutes.  The yuca fries should be golden and crispy on the outside yet soft and creamy on the inside.  Top with a sprinkle of smoked paprika, fresh flat-leafed parsley and yogurt and garlic sauce.

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