One 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.
This 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.
In 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.
I’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.
For 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.
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.