Friday, January 17, 2014

Foodie Fridays: Chicken Soup with Plantain Dumplings

My husband has been doing field work on the island of Puerto Rico for years.  While I have not been there in a while, I used to go with him fairly often.  There is so much to love about Puerto Rico -- the beautiful beaches, historic San Juan, and the amazing tropical rain forest to name a few, and of course the food.  My preference is not for expensive restaurant meals (although they are excellent) but for simple, well prepared, and tasty local dishes.  Freshly squeezed orange juice and a sweet, just-baked quesita from a corner store for breakfast, a loaf of warm Puerto Rican bread from the local panadería, a roasted chicken right off the spit from one of the many roadside vendors, fresh fish or seafood caught that day and prepared with local flavorings -- these are some of the most memorable foods I have had.

My idea of a perfect meal was one I had at a small restaurant just outside of the El Yunque National Forest where my husband does a lot of his research.  It consisted of a bowl of homemade black bean soup with a side of mofongo (a mash of fried plantains*, pork, oil, and lots of garlic) and a serving of cheese flan for dessert.  Certainly nothing fancy, but this is the sort of food I could live on!  I have only tried to make mofongo once.  It is hard work, because mofongo is traditionally made by hand in a Puerto Rican mortar and pestle called a pilón, and plantains are not easy to mash:

Puerto Rican pilón
(from Caribbean Trading Company)

Mofongo is often served in the mortar of the pilón
(from Trip Advisor)

Plantains are rarely served here on the mainland, probably because people tend to prefer the more familiar potato.  I haven't had them in a very long time, except for the occasional bag of plantain chips, so when I discovered this recipe for Chicken Soup with Plantain Dumplings I knew I had to give it a try.  The dumplings are similar to mofongo but easier to make, and the Chicken Soup reminds me of traditional Puerto Rican chicken asopao (although the dried cranberries are a new twist!).  While this dish may not be quite the same as a trip to Puerto Rico for black bean soup and mofongo, it does bring back fond memories of island flavors and fun times.  I think it may be time to plan a trip back to Puerto Rico soon!

Chicken Soup with Plantain Dumplings

2-3 T. olive oil
1 pound ground chicken
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. smoked sweet paprika
1 T. oregano
1 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
salt and pepper to taste
2 cans (14.5 oz. each) Muir Glen diced tomatoes
1 can (4 oz.) Old El Paso chopped green chiles
8 C. chicken stock
3 yellow plantains
1 cup dried cranberries
1 bunch kale, stems removed and leaves chopped
1 egg
1 C. flour
Olive oil and salt as needed

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, sauté the chicken, bell pepper, and onion in the olive oil for about 20 minutes until lightly browned.  Stir in the garlic and spices and cook 2 more minutes.

Stir in the tomatoes, green chiles, and chicken stock.  Bring to a simmer.  Peel the plantains, cut them in half, and drop them into the simmering soup.  Cook 15-20 minutes, depending on how ripe they are, until tender.  Remove them from the soup and add to a mixing bowl.  Stir the dried cranberries and kale into the soup and continue to simmer.

Mash the plantains and add the egg and flour to the bowl.  Mix well and add as much oil as you need so that the mixture comes together and holds a dumpling shape.  Depending on how ripe the plaintains are and how much moisture they have this could take just a splash to more than a 1/4 cup.

Form the dumplings into meatball-sized balls.  Drop the balls into the simmering soup.  Simmer for about 20 more minutes until the flour in the dumplings is cooked.  Stir the soup gently to mix, then ladle the soup into bowls, making sure to give everyone a few of the dumplings.  Serves 6.

Note:  As usual, I modified the original recipe to suit my tastes and according to what I had on hand.  Instead of ground chicken, I used shredded rotisserie chicken and added it at the same time as the cranberries and kale.  The original recipe calls for paprika, but I substituted smoked sweet paprika which I absolutely love.  I had a microwaveable bag of chopped kale which I zapped to use in my soup.  I used fire-roasted, unsalted Muir Glen diced tomatoes and unsalted chicken stock because that is what was in my pantry.  Since almost none of my ingredients contained added salt, I stirred in 1/2 tsp. salt with the seasonings.  You might also want to add some salt to the dumplings.  The recipe does not call for it and I liked them without salt, but some may find them a bit bland.  I may add some garlic or garlic oil the next time I make the dumplings so that they are more like mofongo.  For an even more mofongo-like flavor, try adding some crushed pork cracklings or cooked crumbled bacon as well.

*Plantains, which are a type of banana, can be an interesting food to cook because their preparation depends on the degree of ripeness.  Green plantains, which are quite hard and starchy with no sweetness, are best sliced and fried (these very popular fried slices are known as tostones in Puerto Rico and are served like French fries, only without the catsup).  As the plantain ripens and the skin turns yellow, it softens a bit and gets a little sweeter.  Plantains at this stage are perfect for boiling and mashing, as in this recipe.  A very ripe plantain whose skin is almost completely black becomes even softer and much sweeter.  The ripest stage is best baked and can be used as a dessert.  I happen to think they are delicious at any stage of ripeness, and would love to see more restaurants offer plantain on the menu!

From Healthful Direction

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