Monday, July 16, 2012

A little bit of this, a little bit of that...

We passed a nice weekend on the Costa Brava up in Girona, Catalonia. A little escape from the city and the mayhem we experienced this week with the Spanish bureaucracy. All things considered, it's still the good life.

Now when I think of the beach, I still have fleeting memories of lime flavors, black beans and rice, flour tortillas til you cry, salsa that is actually picante, and fried plantains. I don't really know why I think of those delicious things, for I've never been to a Latin American beach, but it is something I am swept away to. Here in Spain, it is all about the flavors of the Mediterranean: olive oil, sea salt, tomatoes so sweet you can eat them like apples, fresh and crispy vegetables, fresh whitefish and mountains of clams, mussels, razor clams, escargot, and various other shelled fish that I cannot translate. I have a little bit of both worlds to share with you today.

My recipe for Garlic Rice and Fried Plantains was in anticipation of this beach trip, and then a Mediterranean Couscous Salad was the welcome home meal upon our return. Both are as simple as can be, and could be used as a side dish for stewed pork (the plantain rice) or some baked Mahi with lemon (the Mediterranean salad). We had them as light lunches with this famously delicious European bread I finally bought at this bakery I have been salivating over for weeks. If you ever find a bakery that actually bakes their bread with all the healthy goodness of whole grains and has pumpkin seeds on the bottom (!!!!!!yesyesyesyesyes!!!!!!!) then go for it and live the good life!

On to the recipes!

Garlic Rice and Fried Plantains

5-6 Cloves of garlic
1/2 Medium onion
1 cup Long-grain rice
2 cups Chicken broth or water
2 T Olive oil

Let's prep first--it will just take a minute. In order to remove the garlic skins easily, smash them when the side of your knife--they'll slip right out of their skins and you can get on to chopping them. Alternatively, you can also throw them in whole-crushed, it just depends on what kind of texture you want. I personally like the surprise of a decent-sized clove of garlic in my mouth, but it might not be for everyone. If you want everything to look uniform, slice the garlic into slivers and you're all set. Chop the onion into a fine chop. Measure out the cup of rice and rinse in a mesh strainer until the water runs clear. You're ready to go!

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until it starts to shimmer. Pop the onion in there and listen to the beautiful music as the onions skip around doing their flavor dance. When they are fragrant and have gone transluscent, add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Next, add the uncooked and rinsed rice and toast it up with the onions and garlic. Keep stirring to prevent burning. Also cook until fragrant and a few rice grains are changing color to a light beige.

Add water or chicken broth and bring to a boil. Continue to cook as you would with normal rice! Part I, finished.

Now to make the plantains. I like to cut mine into chips. The skins of the plantains are different than bananas, so you can't just peel it off like you do for breakfast. What I do is score the skin on four sides and I peel it off in sections. Then I cut the plantain in half to have more manageable pieces. Set the flat side of the plantain on your chopping board, so that it is standing vertically. Take a knife and cut off slices from top to bottom. If you find it easier to do this horizontally, be my guest--whatever makes you feel good (or safer).

Now, normally I would cook these babies up in peanut oil because it brings out a nice flavor from the sweetie plantain, however I only had olive oil and that works just fine. Heat the oil to frying level and slide those plantain chips in the oil and cook until they turn yellow and eventually golden. They are very fun to watch cook. They start off as a sort of orange dreamsicle color and then they fry to bright yellow and then they start to brown. If you aren't careful they will brown to black, which you don't want, but it isn't the end of the world, just keep at it. Fry them up and sprinkle a seasoning mix over them, or simply salt them. I mixed chimayo chili powder, piment├│n smoked paprika, and salt.

I topped the Garlic Rice with the Fried Plantains and it was a great combination. It is a good quick meal and is full of flavor.

Mediterranean Couscous Salad
Ripe tomatoes
Lettuce (butter lettuce would be better than the romaine that I used)
Olive oil
White wine vinegar

This recipe requires a little bit of assembly, but it is a salad, so it will all inevitably end up in the same bowl. Start by caramelizing the onion and garlic in a bit of olive oil, when they start browning you can squirt some vinegar in and when that has reduced, throw a little water in there to deglaze the pan. The water will also help make a more uniform caramelization, so if some onions are burning then the water will take care of that problem. Set aside.

Cook down the couscous as per the instructions and turn off the heat when they're ready. Stir in some chopped tomatoes, but don't turn on the heat again, I like that they remain raw. Season with oregano, salt, and black pepper, and now your couscous is all set.

Wash and chop your lettuce and make a bed of lettuce for each salad bowl. Drizzle some olive oil, vinegar, and a little salt on the lettuce and mix with your hands (don't worry your hands are washable, and once you mix a salad and its dressing with your hands, you'll never do it any other way again) Top the lettuce with the couscous and tomato, and on top of everything the caramelized onions. You can also feel free to add toasted almonds or pine nuts or queso fresco (which we added after I took this picture). Nom Nom!

Eat up and feel good!!

I'm listening to all the goodness of Forecastle 2012, and I'm missing Louisville during the summer! Listening to WFPK Radio Louisville with Kyle Meredith.

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