Arturo likes to say he has the “higher vision,” while I am his “lovely assistant,” executing his brilliant ideas. He says this to make me crazy of course, but the truth is, he does have some great ideas. His most recent stroke of brilliance was to ask our Costa Rica friends to share a favorite recipe and cook it with us when they visit. So I will be sharing these recipes with you, dear readers, in the weeks and months to come!
Last weekend we had a great visit with Jose and Carolina, along with baby Jose Alberto. They shared a wonderful recipe with us, which will surely become a staple not only here but also back home.
First, the recipe – then keep reading for some fun facts and variations below.
Plantain Ceviche (Ceviche de Plátano)
4 plantains (plátanos)*
2 bell peppers (chili dulce)
½ cup cilantro
1 large onion (cebolla)
6-10 limes, to make about 1 cup juice
1 tbsp salt for boiling water, and more to taste
Ground black pepper to taste
2 tbsp Salsa de Ingles**
Tabasco or other hot sauce (optional) to taste
* Just like bananas, unripe plantains are green and ripe ones are yellow, then they turn black. Our chefs prefer to use plantains that are in between green and yellow color (here in Costa Rica that’s called “pinton”). They are still firm enough to withstand the cooking process, but a little softer than the very hard green stage.
** Salsa de Ingles is a staple and popular ingredient in Costa Rica. Luzano is one of main brands you will see in the stores. You might be able to find it in a Latin market in the US. If not, Worchestershire sauce probably the closest substitution. Worchestershire is a bit more tart and tangy, while the Luzano salsa de ingles has a more well-rounded flavor profile. So I would use less Worchestershire, or at least add slowly and taste as you’re adding.
- Fill a large pot with enough water to cover the plantains by a few inches. Add 1 tbsp salt to the water. Bring to a boil.
- Cut the ends off the plantains and then chop them in half width-wise. Keep the skins on.
- When the water boils, add the plantains to the pot and continue to boil. The plantains will take about 30-40 minutes to cook. They are ready when the skins start to come off. Or, if the skins don’t seem to be coming off, you can pierce the inner (white) part with a knife – if it easily goes in, they are done.
- While the plantains are cooking, prepare the rest of the ingredients. Dice the onion and pepper in small pieces, and finely chop the cilantro. Combine these ingredients.
- Juice the limes and add to the onion-pepper-cilantro mixture. The mixture should be very juicy.
- Add the Salsa de Ingles, hot sauce (if using), along with salt and pepper to taste.
- When the plantains are ready, transfer them to a colander (you can discard the water) and run them under cold water for a couple minutes.
- Peel the plantains, and dice into small pieces. Add them your ceviche sauce.
- Refrigerate for at least two hours. It will easily last for a few days in the fridge, if you can stop eating it!
So, what’s the deal with plantains?
Plantains look similar to bananas, but when they are not fully ripe, as in our ceviche recipe, they taste more like potatoes. A cooked, ripe plantain is sweet like a banana, and here in Costa Rica this version is served at breakfast as a common side dish accompanying your eggs, rice and beans.
A medium plantain is about 120 calories – ours were pretty big, so they may have been closer to 200 calories, which would put the plantain part of our recipe at about 100 calories per serving. (The rest of the recipe is low in calories – just the vegetables, lime juice and a little flavoring.)
Plantains are rich in beta carotene, the same form of Vitamin A that you find in carrots. They also a good source of Vitamin C and potassium. Like a potato, the plantains in our recipe are mostly carbohydrate and low in protein and fat. So, like the smoothies I wrote about recently, you’ll want to pair this dish with some protein and healthy fats. In our case, we enjoyed our ceviche with delicious, fresh fish!
Mix it up!
Here’s the really great thing about this recipe – it teaches you the basic ceviche “sauce,” and you can substitute many other foods for the plantains.
- Add a raw white fish, such as red snapper, to make classic fish ceviche (ceviche de pescado). You don’t need to cook it in advance, just add it to the sauce raw. The acid from the lime juice “cooks” the fish. Depending on the thickness of your fish, you will want to leave it in the fridge for several hours or overnight. The key is to wait until the fish is opaque and soft, rather than translucent or chewy.
- Green papaya or mango could also be substituted for the plantain. Again, Jose recommends selecting these in between green and yellow, for a softer texture.
- Add tomatoes and, voila, you have ready-to-eat pico de gallo. This is a popular fresh, chunky salsa that you can put on anything!
Thank you again to Jose and Carolina for sharing this healthy and delicious dish with us!