Sunday, November 9, 2008

Of Politics and Plantains

I'm not going to lie. Ever since Tuesday night I've been walking on clouds. After all, I was standing amidst a crowd of 175,000 elated, jittery supporters in Grant Park in Chicago when the T.V. flashed the breaking news: Barack Obama Elected President. I've spent a lot of time in the days following thinking about what this will mean for Americans in the next four years. A lot of policy change, for sure, but there's something more...something I couldn't quite put my finger on. "Could it be that, for the first time, I'm...I'm...not actually embarrassed to be an American," I asked myself. The little cynic inside my head seemed blind-sided by the revelation and offered no rebuttal.

These were the thoughts that were running through my head as I flipped through a new cookbook yesterday afternoon in search of dinner. If Barack Obama can take on a war in Iraq, America's broken reputation among the international community, environmental destruction, capital hill corruption, a failing health care system, and an ailing economy, I can probably take on a new recipe. See? This man is an inspiration to us all.

And what better way to celebrate America's triumphant return to the international community than by exploring a truly international dish? The dinner decision had been made: Smokey South-American Chipotle Chicken Stew, coming right up.

I found the original version of this recipe in one of my all-time favorite books, GRUB, by Anna Lappe and Bryant Terry. If you've never heard of this book, and you're even remotely interested in sustainable agriculture, food justice, organics and your health, or just delicious recipes, please, please, please check this book out from your local library (sorry, the Chicago Public Library's copy is taken!) While the stew turned out to be quite delicious, especially after re-heating it the next day, it was cooking the plantains that turned out to be the most fun. If you've never fried a plantain before, go out and get one now. Yes, you. Get yourself a plantain and fry it, because I assure you it's an experience unlike any other. Part culinary challenge and part game, preparing the plantains (and working to keep them from burning) was a bucket of fun. Besides, the plantains turned out to be the one ingredient that really made this sweet, smokey stew something different.

Smokey South-American Chipotle Chicken Stew
Adapted from GRUB
Prep time: 20 min
Cooking Time: 1 hour 10 min

5 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup thinly sliced red onions
2 chipotle chilies, canned in adobo sauce, finely chopped
10 garlic cloves, finely chopped
One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
Coarse sea salt
3 medium red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/2 in. pieces
1/3 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken meat (I used the breast meat, but thigh would work well too) chopped into small, bite-size pieces
2 large ripe plantains, cut diagonally into 1/2 inch slices
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Step 1: Cook 2 tablespoons olive oil, onions, and chipotles in a medium saucepan over high heat for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to low and cook uncovered for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook for 5 minutes more.

Step 2: Add tomatoes and stir constantly over medium heat until mixture has cooked down to a thick consistency, about 10 minutes. Stir in the vegetable stock and 2 teaspoons salt (or more, depending on your taste).

Step 3: Add the potatoes and chicken, bring to a boil, cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for about 45 min to an hour, or until the potatoes have softened and the stew has thickened a bit.

Step 4: While the stew is simmering, prepare the plantains. Warm the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add half of the plantain slices and fry until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Drain the plantains on paper towels. Fry the second batch of plantain slices.

Step 5: Add the fried plantains and cilantro to the stew and simmer for 5 more minutes.

This stew is hearty, spicy, and delicious all on its own, but you can also serve it with a grain of your choice (brown rice, quinoa, and amaranth are all good bets).

Nutrition Note

In writing this post, I did a bit of research on the nutritional value and health benefits of the plantain. There seem to be a number of dubious home remedies associated with this enormous banana, and I can't help but share a few of my favorites with you:
  • Banana or plantain has been widely used as an anti-wrinkle treatment. Mash 1/4 banana till it becomes a smooth paste. Cover your face with it and leave it for 15-20 minutes before rinsing with warm water followed by splashes of cold water. Pat it dry.
  • You can use banana peel inside out for treatment of warts. Use the peel inside out and cover the wart by taping it. Once the peel turns black remove and continue this for some weeks to get relief from wart.
  • If you are pregnant, and want to avoid leg cramps, eat bananas before going to bed.
Home remedies aside, the plantain, along with its more conventional banana-cousins, does boast a number of health benefits that are supported by people with an "M.D." after their name. Being rich in vitamin B6, vitamin C, potassium, and manganese, as well as dietary fiber, help give bananas their claim to fame.

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Adriana Willsie and Kylie Springman ©2009