Have I ever told you the story of Fiesta Rice and the Fried Plantains?

Posted on May 6, 2011


Stories often follow a formula. There is the “once upon a time,” the big bad exciting plot, and the “happily ever after” ending.  Kind of like a recipe… Once upon a time, there was a list of ingredients. They all jumped together into pot. Then they were always and forever the most delicious meal of all time. Isn’t that sweet (or savory, depending)?

I was thinking about the fact that as the author of my dinner, I have been enjoying getting to know my central characters. It’s important for an artist to know the flavors of their characters’ souls, to understand what brings out their sweet side, to observe what really makes them simmer…

That’s I think why I don’t mind taking a hands on approach in the kitchen. I have been mentioning in recent posts my lack of kitchen equipment. I think I was starting to develop some kitchen envy of those with electric mixers and food processors and special cake pans and zesting equipment. I mean, I enjoy a blender and toaster, and I definitely need my pots and pans, but I only have so many (and they are not Le Creuset!).

Then I read a post by the Yummy Mummy. She quotes a book, which I intend to read, that eloquently puts to words the role of mindfulness in the kitchen — what it means to be the agent that transforms ingredients into a meal, what it means to be the author of your own yummy story.

Every author uses certain literary devices, and I also have my kitchen devices of choice, but I like that most of them force me to stay  close to my ingredients, like this mortar and pestle, which we brought from Ghana and couldn’t serve me (nor my triceps) better in grinding up hot peppers, garlic, and ginger…

I realized that I like beating up butter and sugar with only my own strength. I like learning how to wield a knife to chop up an onion. I like to observe a plain old plantain turn to golden deliciousness in a hot frying pan because these processes of cooking are beautiful stories that I can design to take any plot or twist that pleases me.

So, I thought I would tell you the story of my dinner last night in a little different format. While recipe writing is an art, sometimes it seems the meals for which I follow no recipe, use no measuring cups, and consult no cooking times, turn out the best… I guess when I just let the characters do the talking, the story comes out just as it should.

What do you do to encourage mindfulness in the kitchen? Which kitchen gear do you think helps you get to know your ingredients? Which gadgets do you think can I continue to get away without?

Shrimp Fiesta Rice
with Fried Plantains

In a large pot, I splashed in a a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. I removed my bag of frozen raw shrimp from the freezer and shook out a good helping. I ran cold water over the shrimp until they were defrosted, patted them dry with a paper towel, then added to to the oil with a little salt.

While they turned to a lovely pink, I got to chopping half of a humongous, fragrant onion.   I removed the cooked shrimp to a plate and covered them to keep warm. Then I tossed the onions into the pot and gave a stir.

While they sizzled, I got out my mortar and pestle. I peeled 2 cloves garlic and a 1/2-inch slice of ginger and removed the stem of 1 hot green Jamaican pepper. I threw them into the mortar and pestle and got to grinding. When the spices started to look broken down, I kept grinding another minute or two until they transformed to a watery green paste, then added to the onions with a stir.

As the heat from the peppers reached my nose, I chopped 1 small green bell pepper, and added it to the onions. Then I got to chopping up 4 small Roma tomatoes. I threw half into the pot, and the other half into the mortar and pestle to grind down before adding to the onions.

I threw in some salt to taste and a splash or two of chicken stock and covered the pot to let it simmer until tomatoes broke down and thickened into sauce.

I searched the cupboards from some tomato paste to thicken the sauce further, but found none, so I drew out about 1-1/2 cups of rice and rinsed with cold water. We only had basmati rice, and I think Jasmine would have been better, but I had to work with what I had. I added the rice to the tomato sauce and stirred to entirely coat the rice in the sauce.

Then I started pouring in cups of water until the rice was covered by about one inch. I added a few more dashes of salt, until the water had a slight salty flavor, and covered the pot to let the rice cook, reminding myself not to peek until about 15-20 minutes has passed.

And then I turned to find 2 lovely ripe plantains waiting for me on the cutting board. I first set my frying pan on the burner over medium-high heat and added enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan entirely.

I could tell the plantains were just ripe enough because the skins were a dark yellow and nearly entirely covered in black marks. At 4 for a $1, they were definitely a good deal!

I made a slice down along the width of the back of each plantain to peel of the skin. Then I placed the plantains so that they were on the cutting board curving to the left, and sliced on the diagonal.

I sprinkled a little salt over the cut slices, then took the first batch the frying pan, carefully slipping each slice into the hot oil from the side of the pan. They slid into the oil like divers into refreshing water and started to sizzle, so I knew my pan was good and hot.

As the plantains browned, they color started to change around the bottom of the edges, and I knew it was time to get them flipped. Using a fork, I turned each one over to reveal a golden brown crust.

After the undersides were beatifully cooked, I removed each piece to a paper towel-lined plate, and started the second batch.

While they started cooking, I sliced up 1 avocado and set the table. My husband also arrived home from work and said he could smell dinner from the street! He was very excited that I had broken out the mortar and pestle and decided that is why the meal was so fragrant.

As I returned to flip the second batch of plantains, I noticed that the slices on the right side darkened more quickly. Then I noticed that my pan is a little lopsided, and the oil had kind of pooled to the left side of the pan. I guess with less oil, the slices on the right had more contact with the heat of the pan. I like my plantains a little black, but my husband likes his golden…so this kind of worked out!

As I removed the last of the plantains and turned off the burner, I opened up the rice and gave a stir. I added the shrimp back in and tasted for salt. With everything set, we sat down to enjoy a lovely dinner.