Coconut and Cumin Fried Plantains

Food Blog June 2014-3874One of my great pleasures in the summer is the hot cooked lunch. I’m a big believer in leftovers, and during the school year it’s easy and delicious (and cheap, let’s be honest) to just pack some of last night’s dinner into a Tupperware and take it to school with me. But in summer, when I’m home and puttering, being able to sashay into the kitchen around lunchtime and cook something quick and tasty is a pleasure I always forget about until suddenly I get to do it again.

Food Blog June 2014-3856This year, I finished my semester a week or so before N., which meant an additional treat when it came to constructing these lunches. We’ve talked before about my bachelor meals. I like to cook for other people, but they don’t always like all the same things that I like, and it’s a sad thing to have to wait for restaurant meals to order some of my favorites. So when I’m eating alone, I try to take advantage of those items my dining partner just isn’t crazy about. Sometimes, Chopped-style, I try to fit as many of these ingredients into my solo meal as possible.

Food Blog June 2014-3858In addition to crustaceans, coconut tops the list of foods N. is just not interested in (this means we never have to squabble over coconut shrimp, the most perfect meal ever invented; I get to eat it ALL). Bananas, too, are an unacceptable item unless they are mashed beyond recognition and folded into quickbread, in which case he’s all over it. Plantains, those longer, starchier relations, look just too much like their cousins to be acceptable as a food product to him. This seemed, to me, a perfect opportunity.

Food Blog June 2014-3878I’m a big believer in the fried plantain. Whether it’s sliced thick, lightly sautéed, and then mashed flat and returned to the oil to become tostones, or just cut into chunks and fried until golden on all surfaces and mixed into fluffy, buttery rice, I would probably be happy eating plantains every day for lunch all summer long, provided the oil was hot, the edges were crisp, and the salt was liberal. They take a while to ripen – most often they are sold in the grocery store still green, and can languish in a fruit bowl for a full week or two before they soften and their skins get brown and stringy. But I think they are worth it.

Food Blog June 2014-3864For this lunch treat, I decided to take a cue from my delight in the green bean poriyal I made a few months ago and add a liberal showering of N.’s other fruit nemesis. This became all about texture. The cumin, sizzling and fragrant, offers a crunch of earthy perfume. The plantain slices themselves, crisp exteriors tearing effortlessly into creaminess, contrast well with the coconut, which stands up for itself in toasty, chewy-crunchy shards. Add a squeeze of lime, and maybe a few torn leaves of cilantro, and lunch is served. Oh sure, you could dress it up or make it a bit more substantial by adding a scoop of basmati rice, or serving this as a side for shrimp or barbecued chicken. It would also play well, I suspect, with a roasted pork loin dressed in tropical flavors like mango or jerk seasoning. It could be easily doubled, or tripled, and if you are serving it as a side, I’d suggest allowing for about half a plantain per diner. But I gave it a solo, starring role, and I ate every single bite.

Food Blog June 2014-3872It’s a simple lunch, when you come right down to it, but it tastes like summer. And that, delightfully enough, is exactly where I want to be. Food Blog June 2014-3867

Coconut and cumin fried plantain
Serves 1 as a main, 2 as a side
1 ripe plantain (the skin should be dark yellow, well mottled with black or dark brown, and the fruit inside should feel tender)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
½ teaspoon salt
Black or cayenne pepper to taste, if you want a bit of heat
½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut (try an Asian or Indian market, or maybe Whole Foods)
Lime wedge, optional
A few sprigs of cilantro, optional


  • Heat the oil and cumin seeds together over medium high heat in a large skillet.
  • While the oil heats, peel and then slice the plantain on a bias into ½ inch slices.
  • When the cumin is sizzling and aromatic, add the plantains to the skillet in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, if using.
  • Fry the plantains for 3 minutes, or until the bottoms of each slice are golden brown and have a crisp crust.
  • Flip each slice, turn the heat down to medium, and fry an additional 2 minutes.
  • Add the coconut and agitate the pan a bit to be sure all of the shreds find their way to the oil, then continue to cook for 1-2 minutes more, until the majority of the coconut is toasty-brown, with only a few white strands remaining.
  • Remove from heat and serve with a squeeze of lime and a few sprigs of cilantro, if desired.

Smoky Summer Spice Rub

Let’s talk about your spice cabinet.  No?  Okay, then let’s talk about mine.  I really started cooking when I moved to Oregon, and that first Christmas, coming back home to Northern California after three months of what seemed like non-stop rain, the gift I wanted more than anything else was a spice rack.  This, I was sure, would be the essential catalyst in my longed-for transition from college-graduate-experimental-cook to full-scale domestic goddess.  Mom and I went to kitchen store after kitchen store, looking for the right one.  It needed to hang, so it couldn’t be too big.  It had to have a fair number of bottles, but I wanted them empty, not filled, because I wanted to choose my own spices.  We finally found it in Cost Plus World Market, which was convenient, because it was immediately adjacent to their spice selection.  We picked out ten or twelve of the usual suspects, and then Mom said “okay, now turn around while I put it in the cart, and forget what you saw here,” which has, since the days of Santa Claus, always been our funny way of buying presents for each other in full view of the giftee.

Food Blog June 2013-1526This little spice rack worked fine, and hung proudly from a nail above my stove, until my spice requirements exceeded the twelve little bottles the shelves would hold.  Suddenly whole AND ground cumin were necessary.  Tumeric and cayenne and cream of tartar and even the dreaded pre-mixed pumpkin pie spice found their way into my kitchen and demanded homes.

So I’ve ended up with something I am going to guess looks familiar to many of you:

Food Blog June 2013-1529This is not a good system.  There, I said it.  It’s just not!  It holds the whole collection nicely, but it’s dark back there, and things fall over, and sometimes I don’t feel like digging around to see if I have any poultry seasoning, and then it’s Thanksgiving and I’m in a dark, cranky place and I think “screw this noise!” and buy a new bottle.  So then I have four.   What I really need, what I covet and dream about, is something like Aarti’s magnetic spice wall.

In the absence of space or motivation to build something that fancy, though, I stick with my system.  Every once in a while, I summon the courage and the patience to investigate the dark reaches of the cabinet, to get a sense of what’s in there, what needs replacing, and what deserves a space in my weekly menu.  The early days of summer are a good time to do this, because they offer a prime opportunity to make a smoky, spicy, aromatic rub for grilling.

Food Blog June 2013-1532Food Blog June 2013-1534I started with a recipe from Fine Cooking originally designed for beer can chicken, and then I tweaked and adjusted and adapted for what was, as you might have guessed, in my spice collection.  It’s got cumin, it’s got crushed red pepper, it’s loaded with garlic powder and mustard seeds and sea salt and just a hint of ginger for an intriguing and different kind of heat.

Food Blog June 2013-1535This is a tasty rub for grilled meat, obviously (we like it for chicken, patted on before a liberal slather of equal parts Dijon mustard and apricot jam), but I think it would also be great on slabs of pressed tofu, or buttered corn, or potato wedges (you make your steak fries on the grill in the summer, right?).  And if you were really feeling adventurous, you might even add some to a light, lemony vinaigrette to carry the flavors through your side salad.

Food Blog June 2013-1540This recipe makes enough for several applications, which means you’ll have enough to last part of the summer.  It keeps well in a sealed zip top bag.  And in between grilling, you can just store it… in… your spice cabinet.  Oh.  Well, just jam it in at the front, for easy access.  Maybe it will help you forget the mess nightmare treasure trove behind it.  Plus, it’s got so many tasty flavors in it, you surely won’t need anything else for the rest of the summer, right?  Right.

Food Blog June 2013-1542Happy grilling!


Smoky Spice Rub
Adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine
Makes about ¼ cup
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 TB coarse sea salt
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp ground ginger


  • If you are feeling especially ambitious, toast your cumin, coriander, and mustard seeds in a small, dry pan over medium-low heat for 5 minutes, or until the cumin starts to pop a bit and look just a touch oily.  Once that has happened, turn the heat off and let cool before moving on.
  • If you are feeling lazy less ambitious, skip the toasting step and put the cumin, coriander, and mustard into a spice grinder (or your husband’s coffee grinder.  If there’s a little residual ground coffee in there, all the better!  Extra shot of flavor you didn’t have to work for!) and pulse until the seeds become a fine powder.
  • Mix together ground seeds and all remaining ingredients in a small bowl or, if you are lazy especially efficient, the zip-top bag you’ll be using to store your mix in.
  • Ta-da!  Apply liberally, patting and massaging for good coverage and adhesion, to whatever you’ll be grilling for a smoky, slightly spicy kick.