Sunday, April 27, 2008

Of Plantains and Avocados

Last night I cooked a pork mole using pasilla peppers, baked yellow plantains, did rice a la Fidel, and put together coleslaw with a vinaigrette dressing. I was quite impressed with it all, especially the mole, as it was from scratch.....

Where is this post going ? I'm not bananas - just keep reading.

I have developed a passion for Latin foods, which is way beyond what I grew up eating as a kid. I don't know where I acquired this love, but acquire it I did.

In 2001, on a road trip, I passed through Albuquerque, New Mexico. I rememeber purposely getting a TexMex meal there because I figured it was the closest I was ever going to get to real "Mexican" cuisine, and it would be much more authentic than the TexMex here in Paradise.

I ate and the hook was in.

In Albuquerque I also discovered my love of tamarind candy, which absolutely astounded my Mexican friend when I told her this.

Chu know what tamarind candy is ? And chu like it ?

In 2003, I spent a week in Mexico City with the Mexican family of that friend. That is where I finally started to realized what Mexican food is about, as well as the culture of eating there ~ and I found the market town of Tepoztlan.

Marrying Fidel helped make it "hook, line and sinker", between him introducing me to what he grew up eating and taking me to the fabulous Cuban restaurants of L.A. (Los Angeles, not Louisiana).

So I have been busily reading and learning and cooking Latin. However, its been hard getting certain ingredients, until recently.

I've just found two Mercado Latinos that are easy to get to, so its been lots of fun dropping into the stores to see and touch what I have been reading about. I'm at the point where I can walk in and actually almost appear to know what I am looking for - like getting the dried pasilla chillies for last night's meal. My repertoire has now expanded.

We were in the second Mercado yesterday, looking for Oaxaca queso, more out of curiosity than to buy. In front of the queso case was a box of plantains, all grouped into bunches of green, yellow, and black - the various stages of ripeness which also characterizes how you are going to cook them and for what reason.

"Look !! Ripe plantains!!! We better get a couple for dinner while we are here because 'big grocery store' won't have any ripe ones."

We left the store with our humongous purchase of two yellow plantains and a small bag of plantain chips.

What's the excitement about finding ripe plantains? Its about the same as finding ripe avocados.

Fidel and I love both foods and they are staples in Latin cooking. However, because of lifestyle and all sort of other factors, they are not consistently part of our regular diet. But when we do want them, we want them "now". "Now" also means ripe. Ripe is not a state that "big grocery store" supplies either as.

Thus buying avocados and plantains here in Paradise means buying them green and leaving them on the counter for over a week to ripen. When they finally ripen, its not a case of eating them within a few days; they have to be eaten "now", or they are way too mushy to do anything with.

So what is the problem?

We don't sit and plan our meals for a week; we're much more spontaneous in what we cook and eat because we "can". We don't buy plantains or avocados in anticipation of eating them in a week's time. Getting ripe plantains and avocados when we want them is like hitting a jackpot.

Hence my frustration with plantain and avocado supply in Paradise and the joy of finding ripe plantains yesterday. Oh yes - we also hit the jackpot with avocados.

(the picture at the top of this post is not that of bananas - they're plantains)


I am growing an avocado plant. We have fondly named this plant "bruce". Don't ask me why, but it seemed to be funny at the time and it stuck.

Some Mexican recipes call for avocado leaves. I never really put "two and two" together until I saw a package of dried avocado leaves in one of the mercados.

"Do you think that package actually contains real avocado leaves?"

"I don't know."

"'Cause - duh - we have bruce at home. Crap ! I have my own source of avocado leaves right in the living room."

On getting home ....

"Bruce - you may not be providing us with any fruit, but every time you drop a leaf I will lovingly save it."

Just to be safe, I did some reading.

As it turns out, there are some toxic effects to avocado leaves, but it all depends on the type. Guatemalan avocado (Persea American) leaves are believed to contain a toxin to humans, whereas it is believed that Mexican avocado (Persea dryminfolia) leaves do not.

Bruce is a Hess avocado. Though the origin of the Hess is not very clear, DNA testing has shown Guatemalan ancestry. I'm not going to take a chance; bruce won't be a part of our diet for a very loooonnnggggggg time.


Olga, the Traveling Bra said...

I've never tasted plantains...seen 'em in the stores but don't know what to do with 'em! Now avocados on the other hand, I eat alllll the time....luv 'em! :)

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

wow! Informative post.

MedStudentWife said...

Olga - Eating avocados all the time... that is why you look so young with tight support..avocados are good foy ya !!

When you come to visit, you and I will spend a bit of time in the kitchen and I'll show you how to make them.

LGS - Thank you :) Who would have thought there was so much to know about avocados.

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