Different fruits have different rates of ripening. This is not so much a newsflash as it is a thump on the head, my head, actually, to keep me focused when planning out a recipe. You may think a peach, hard as the stone buried in its center, will come to a sweet, juicy, yielding blush if you put it in a brown paper bag with enough of its own kind, expecting the collected hot gases to speed the pleasures of rivulets dripping down your chin. You may think that the bumped and shiny skin of an avocado is as impermeable as an armadillo, a simple case of waiting it out for that firm press of thumb to leave its imprint before you tear the brittle parchment from the unctuously sublime green flesh. You may think you know the ripening cycles of countless other sweetmeats plucked from branches, brambles and boughs long before they land, mostly off-season, at your greengrocer. You may, of course, be right. I, however, have never, ever had any luck whatsoever predicting the run on even a single, solitary cherry. It’s all a matter of hit and miss for me.
And there is no fruit that has given me more quarrel with its ripening than the banana. If I am like most other U.S. shoppers, it is the rare occasion when I will actually find a glowing yellow hand of long, curved fingers to be whisked away by my own hand, ready to be peeled and poised for a quick nosh as early as taking the register receipt from the check-out cashier. They are usually as green and mean as the face of the Wicked Witch of the West, useless as a quick-fix roadblock of complex carbs and potassium to keep you from that pint of ice cream that has warmed to the most seductive scooping texture. So I do what I always do, dump them into the fruit bowl and forget about them. Scott, on the other hand, knows exactly when they have arrived and starts doing the math so that he can eat one a day with his breakfast, until there are no more. After over two years of living together and not remembering exactly when I last ate a banana, I knew it was time to do a few calculations of my own.
When many Americans think of bananas, they are immediately referring to the dessert banana, the Cavendish variety, widely popular and bannered most often under the Chiquita brand. These fruit are not only a great out-of-hand treat, but they are the first choice for babies, invalids and those suffering from a bout of belly rumbles.
Recently, though, I decided to abandon my quest for a perfectly ripe banana and go green, totally green, with the common banana’s larger, sturdier relative. The plantain, with its bland, starchy flesh, is one of the staple crops in Latin, African and Asian cultures. As revered and depended upon as the potato, the plantain has the added advantage of full versatility as it can be prepared in any state of ripeness, from vivid green to yellow to black, becoming progressively sweeter the more its color changes. While many plantain recipes rely heavily on heavy frying, I found one, a Latin soup, that used far less oil and specified that the plantains be cooked when green. No more fussing and fretting for me. I snuggled two vividly verdant specimens in my shopping cart with the weekly hand of their Cavendish cousins. I would be brewing up my soup the next day.
The ingredient list and preparation were easy enough, a simple stewing of plantain chunks in stock, then the addition of an aromatic sofrito, followed by a quick whiz in the blender. Done. Well, not so fast. I pulled the plantains out of the fruit bowl; they were going yellow. Already. Puzzled, I tossed them in the freezer for future use, and set out for another green pair a few days later. Sure enough, these plantains were also on a crash course in thumbing their thick fingers at me. How could this be? A northern winter’s climate is hardly hot and humid. Completely frustrated, yet determined, I dropped everything and headed to the store once again for replenishments.
As soon as I got them home, I made for the kitchen and got the saucepan going. I was working against the clock now; there would be no more of these bananas making a monkey out of me. Two hours later, while tipping my spoon into the savory soup pot, adjusting the seasoning, I felt a mild sense of accomplishment, but my overriding feeling was one of humility. When it comes to ripening fruit, I will always be a little green behind the ears.
Sopa de Plátano Verde – Adapted from the Las Culturas recipe
2 large green plantains, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
[Make deep vertical cuts in the plantain skins with a sharp knife to facilitate peeling.]
1 tablespoon salt
4 cups of vegetable stock or water
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ cups canned tomatoes, diced
1/3 cup pickle relish, rinsed (for garnish)
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large bowl, mix the plantain pieces with the salt and set aside for 1 hour, then discard the extracted water, rinsing the salt off, if desired. In a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat, sauté the plantain pieces in 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, turning until they are evenly, moderately browned. With a potato masher or wooden spoon, crush some of the plantain pieces into a coarse crumble. Add stock or water, then lower heat to simmer until plantain pieces are tender, about 45 minutes.
Prepare the sofrito. About 15 minutes before the plantain stock is ready, sauté the onion in a separate saucepan in the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil until soft and translucent, about 7 minutes over medium-low heat. Turn off the heat and add the garlic, mixing it with the onion so that it cooks slightly with the stored heat of the saucepan. Stir in the tomatoes, then simmer the mixture over low heat for about 5 minutes.
Pour half of the plantain stock into a blender and whip until smooth. Return it to the rest of the stock. Transfer the sofrito into the blender and also whip it until smooth. Pour the sofrito into the plantain stock, stirring to mix. Simmer over low heat for 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish each bowl of soup with a tablespoon of relish. Serves 4. --
This post is being submitted to Zorra of Kochtopf, hosting Weekend Herb Blogging for Kalyn Denny of Kalyn's Kitchen, the creator of this very popular weekly food blogging event.
Been There, Done That ~
Other People's Eats ~