Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Kenya: spiced red beans

Kenyan cuisine is influenced by its neighbors as well as Indian traders who arrived in the area hundreds of years ago. Consequently, curries and grilled meat are both important. I think everyone's aware, by this point, of how much I love grilled meat. But I had planned to cook this meal on a Friday during Lent, so it had to be vegetarian. I was weirded out enough by the recipe for the beans that I put it off until Saturday lunch, but decided to stick with the vegetarian theme. (Speaking of vegetarian food, if you have any great veggie or vegan international recipes from countries that haven't shown up on this blog yet, please email them to 45sqftkitchen at gmail dot com. I'd love to check them out.) I also decided to make the convenience version of the beans: a can of red kidney beans was ready to go immediately, as was a can of fire-roasted diced tomato. I used the other half of the can of coconut milk to make some coconut rice with which to eat the leftovers.

This is definitely not the best meal I've ever made. Coconut milk in savory dishes made for a pleasant surprise in Cameroon, but I don't love the mix of sweet and savory in this case. That being said, it's a quick vegetarian dish made primarily with pantry staples (the bell pepper really isn't necessary), and it's tasty enough if you enjoy the flavor combination. The chapati is pretty good, but I think I had the heat on a little too high, leading to a richly toasted flatbread.

Note: I gave Kenny the leftovers and he loved them. So try it for yourself!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Plantains and other disappointments

The first time I was in Puerto Rico, my aunt Sandra made the most amazing fried plantains. She called them spiders, and they're made by grating green plantains and dropping little handfuls into hot oil to deep-fry, then salting the crap out of them. Only slightly less amazing were her tostones, which are made by something like frying them twice and flattening them in between. I think there might be a salt water soak in there somewhere too. Whatever the process is, though, they're salty and crunchy and delicious.

Last week I tried a Salvadoran restaurant on Columbia Pike in Arlington. When I saw fried plantains on the menu I immediately thought of my aunt's tostones, and had no choice but to order them. What came out of the kitchen? A ripe plantain that had been sliced in half lengthwise and fried until slightly crispy on the outside and mushy on the inside. Not terrible, but not what I was expecting at all, and a huge disappointment.

Fast forward to Thursday night at Cuba Libre. I saw tostones on the menu and thought they must be delicious, since they had the same name! Unfortunately, what arrived were huge, bland, mealy patties with a slightly crispy crust and some salt on the outside. The sauce they came with was ok, but they were not what I remembered tostones to be. We didn't even finish them.

I love Latin American food, but the pupusas at the first place were only ok, and Cuba Libre was downright disappointing (how do you end up with dry braised short ribs?). Have I become a huge food snob? It's definitely possible, considering the way I turn my nose up at tomato sauce out of a jar and Domino's pizza. But I've had amazing pupusas (at a panaderia in Annandale in the H Mart shopping center. They were out of this world, I swear. Side note: I learned there that a panaderia is not an empanada shop, so don't be surprised if you walk into one and they don't have any empanadas no matter how perfect a snack you think they would be at that moment.), and I remember the ropa vieja I made a few years ago as being delicious (in fairness, the ropa vieja in the arepas at Cuba Libre was decent, if nothing mindblowing).

Does anyone know where to get amazing Cuban food? Or should I just turn to Cuban friends and make my own?

As a side note, does anyone have an opinion about my adding the occasional ethnic restaurant review to this blog?

Friday, April 8, 2011


I picked Barbados for several reasons. For one thing, I was still in an island mood after my amazing vacation in Puerto Rico. But for another, I was in the mood to grill some chicken and I was caught by note in the Barbecue Bible above this recipe that said it's for people who aren't into the spiciness of jerk chicken. DONE. Add an easy and fun looking fruit salad, and you've got yourself a meal (especially with some leftover garlic bread that's just pleading for the grill).

Here's what went wrong:
  • The papaya was not ripe. Grilling it did not help.
  • I didn't have as much time to marinate the meat as I'd hoped.
  • I gave myself a papercut on the bag of charcoal.
  • I burned my thumb on some actual charcoal.
  • The chicken spent most of its time on the grill aflame.
  • My computer got a virus from the article on starfruit.
That being said, it was a pretty tasty meal, and even my charcoal-encrusted leftover chicken incited envy in my officemates. If I did it again, I'd let the meat marinate overnight, and I'd try to get some inside the skin (possibly with the flavor injector I've used all of once). Or I might just poke the other side with a fork to help the flavor penetrate. I'd also add a lot more salt and lime to the marinade. Finally, I'd grill it over indirect heat for longer to prevent the charred coating. The important fruit lesson here was that ripe papayas will give a little bit, which I guess should have been intuitive. But I was in a hurry.