consumingcostarica

Cooking and eating through a new culture

The First Meal…

Seriously, where do you begin?

We rolled into San Jose on a bright, lusciously warm day, pie eyed at my new surroundings. The city sprawls through the valley and creeps up the mountain sides. Neighborhoods morph from shanty towns to suburbia and back again.  The apartment is cute: a second floor flat with red-tiled floors and big windows. Oddly enough, it is pretty bare bones, lacking any appliances including a fridge.  I am anxious to unpack and settle in. Moving from a three thousand sq foot home to a tiny two bedroom, it’s curious to see what you deem essential. In a nutshell, I brought clothes, artwork and cooking supplies squeezed onto four pallets and the back of a Subaru. A vintage milk crate held my prized and most beloved kitchen utensil: my cast iron frying pan.  It felt sacrilegious to place it on (gasp!) an electric stove. But beggars can’t be choosers and unless I wanted a propane tank to take up what little space I had in the kitchen, electric will just have to do.  Love makes you do crazy, wonderful things…including cooking on electric stoves.

A quick run to the store nabs the fixings of the first meal. Now, we are still fridge-less  so we stick with what can fit in the cooler and what stays relatively good at room temperature.

Fried green plantains with avocado and mango and papaya salad:

Take two good size green plantains and peel them under running water. Cut them into chunks about an inch thick. In a well oiled frying pan, brown them on all sides being careful not to burn. Remove and flatten the pieces between two greased plates so they form into discs. Return to the pan and fry both sides. About one minute each side. Mash one or two ripe avocados with salt and pepper in a bowl. Add a dollup of avocado mash to each plantain. Delish!

Papayas come in many sizes so be conscious of your portion size. I usually use one half cut lengthwise. Remove the seeds with a spoon. Now, be careful here. Know your boundaries because I am going to tell you how I cut fruit and yes, I do still have all my digits. Holding the fruit in one hand I cut a grid pattern being CAREFUL not to pierce the outer skin. Then run the knife between the skin and fruit. This should allow cubed chunks of fruit to fall away (in a bowl preferably, and not the floor). Sometimes I re-cut more fruit out if I leave too much on the skin. Discard the skins.  Now mangos are tricky and sticky. If you are not mango savvy, there is a large flat pit in the center that can be a challenge. What I like to do is slice away the two fleshy sides of the mango and basically do the same thing I did with the papaya. A good mango will be quite juicy, so be prepared to get sticky. After you cut away the sides, you will have a pit with a ring of rind and more fruit. Cut the rest of the rind away and pare off the remaining fruit. If you love mangos as much as I do, you might want to nibble away the goodness off the pit, just be sure to roll up your sleeves, do it over the sink, and make sure you have dental floss handy. It’s worse than corn on the cob. To finish the salad off, I squeeze in one lime. It adds a nice zest and keeps the fruit from browning too fast.

This is one of my favorite meals. Really. The starchy plantains are lovely with the creaminess of the avocado. Add to that the papaya/mango salad and you have one beautiful meal. Nummers!

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