We spent the holidays in New York; the last time we were there was more than a year ago. I am always amazed that even in below-freezing weather there seems to be the same number of people on the streets as during warm, balmy summer days. The same number of people on Time Square, the same number of street-food vendors, the same number of people patronizing those vendors, the same number of people in the subways, in theaters, shopping. This is one of the things that defines a visit to the city for me: the hustle and bustle of the masses, each person with their own agenda, each a part of the rhythm of the city. That, and all the good food!
New York is definitely a food lover's paradise, with its seemingly endless number of restaurants, fruit stands and street vendors. And I always make sure to get my fill of Trinidadian food. (Queens, New York has the largest population of Trinidadians outside of the Caribbean, and therefore a sizable selection of such restaurants.) Besides the cooked stuff, I also like to take a few vegetables back home. This time: bhodi (a type of long string beans,) cassava (yucca,) and plantains.
Plantains are one of my all time favorite foods. I grew up eating it a lot of it. Usually, it was boiled and served as a base for meats and vegetables, or fried and eaten with roti (Indian flatbread.) The fried version is my favorite- not hard to imagine since everything fried seems to taste so damn good. It's not very common that you see plantains in Minneapolis grocery stores - no surprise there either - although I have found it on occasion. And I know of only one restaurant that has it on the menu: Victor's 1959 Cafe, a Cuban restaurant. Tostones is their fried green plantains but what I would specifically make a reservation for their platanos maduros - fried sweet plantains. Crispy on the edges and soft, chewy, and sweet on the inside. I'll have two orders, please.
Three days after we returned home, I set out trying to find a way to fry my plantains. Only, I didn't want to fry them; plantains are starchy so they can absorb a good amount of oil, a fact a wanted to get around. The obvious choice was to cook them in the oven. To be honest, I half expected that they would turn out rubbery and dried out. But it worked! I got almost the same results: crispy around the edges, and totally cooked through in the center. Not only does this method require less oil, it takes less time. Here's what I did, using four (4) ripe plantains:
1. Set oven to 450 degrees F. Peel and discard the plantain skin.
2. Cut each plantain in three equal pieces, cross-sectionally, then cut each cross-section into three equal slices, length-wise.
3. Lightly brush with vegetable oil* on each side, place evenly spaced on a baking sheet, and bake in a 450 degree F oven for 6 to 8 minutes on each side.
* Three tablespoons of oil was more than enough for four average size plantains.
Happy New Year!