It was about noon at our house on a Saturday, and our son, Marcos, was hungry, nosing around in the kitchen.
Like a sixth sense, his dad came barreling down the stairs and called out, “No American lunches for my boy today!”
In Latin America they don’t eat peanut butter, one of our little guy’s favorites. Latin palates far prefer hot midday meals. Parked in front of Marcos, Luis asked, “What do you want? I’ll make you anything. Chicken, steak, fish, eggs, rice, potatoes, chicharitas(Cuban plantain chips).”
They wrangled a little, as he tried to redirect Marcos from the sweet tooth spot he frequently hopes to satisfy and settled on grilled chicken and the chicharitas, a house favorite Luis can whip up in a matter of minutes. I’ll throw in the recipe for these below, but I give you fair warning right now: I’ve never found a way to just eat just one or two. Or 10.
For dinner, Luis often aims the same question he asked of Marcos at me. Many times I’ll go for black-eyed peas with plantains. Called caritas, or ‘little faces’ in Cuban Spanish, Luis made his first pot of the peas last year in the pressure cooker and I have been hooked on the earthy, rich blend ever since.
Black-Eyed Peas With Plantains
*I recommend organic products as much as possible, as the flavor is enhanced dramatically.
2 cups dried black-eyed peas
7 cups water
2 full-size green plantains (readily available in the Latin sections of many grocery stores now), peeled
1 full chorizo (Luis likes Spanish brand, Quijote)
*optional for added flavor: smoked ham hock (I find delicious without, but meat lovers may want the extra punch)
1 large Vidalia Onion, chopped into small squares
2 carrots, chopped in small pieces
1 stick celery, chopped into small pieces
1 green bell pepper, cut into halves and seeded
6 ounces tomato sauce (in a pinch the other day Luis blended fresh tomatoes with a few spices and it was heaven)
4 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Apple cider vinegar (we love Bragg Organic Raw in our house)
Place beans, water, plantains and chorizo (also ham hock if using) into pressure cooker and cook on low heat until it pressurizes.
Once pressurized, continue to cook on low for 35 minutes. Turn heat off and let sit for 15 minutes.
In the meantime, smash the garlic with the salt in a mortar and pestle and put into a pan with the oil heated to medium-high.
Cook for about 1 minute and knock heat back to low.
Throw onions in and cook for about 5 minutes.
At this time, open the pressure cooker and add the carrots and bell pepper halves. Cover pot again.
Back to the onions, when they have changed color add the garlic/salt mix, stir and per Luis, “start thinking about how good this is going to be,” he said, rolling into a great big laugh.
Stir in tomato sauce until once it starts to bubble turn heat off.
From the pressure cooker, scoop up a large spoonful of the black-eyed pea liquid only (no food parts here) and put into the pan mixture.
Stir and then pour the pan mixture into the pressure cooker, boil for 1 minute and remove from heat.
Throw in a splash of apple cider vinegar and salt to taste. Give it all a swirl and it’s ready to eat.
I love a bowlful of this alone, making sure to grab a chunk of bell pepper and several pieces of the plantains, which have broken apart.
If you’re looking for something even heartier, Luis recommends pairing this with black-pepper encrusted rack of lamb and a very cold Corona (no lime here, as it will steal the taste of the beans).
*First and foremost: PLEASE FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY WITH PRESSURE COOKER. They are great machines, but very dangerous if not used properly.
*In Cuba chorizo is hard to come by so they use morcilla, which is widely used in Spain as well. This is typically a thicker sausage, stuffed with pig’s blood, rice, onions and spices. Not my thing, but it has a near cult following. My husband is currently on the hunt for it in Savannah.
Recipe for chicharitas:
2 very green plantains
Canola or peanut oil for frying
Pour oil 2 to 3 inches deep in a dutch oven or heavy skillet and heat to 350 degrees.
Peel the plantains and slice in round chips, as thinly as possible, using a mandolin if you have one.
Slide them into the hot oil in small batches. You don’t want them to clump together.
Fry until golden brown and crispy, about 1 to 2 minutes, turning with a metal skimmer.
Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and serve immediately.