When I arrived in the U.S. in the late eighties, the culture shock was much more intense than I had anticipated. I guess if it weren’t, they wouldn’t call it “culture shock.” The first movie my ex-husband took me to see was Howard the Duck (a couple of months earlier I suggested Paris, Texas with Nastassja Kinski and his response was akin to WTF?). Coming out of the theater I was trying my best to find even slightly entertaining moments, questioning myself, and wondering if there was more depth to this duck movie than I perceived.
I experienced the same uncertainty with food. The first dinner with my new American family was take-out BBQ ribs and chicken. I was reluctant at first to mix sweet and savory in the same bite, but my adventurous spirit prevailed. I decided to embrace the new culture and to meld it with the established one I carried from Europe.
Many years have past. My ex is a chef in one of the best restaurants in Bradenton, Florida. We are friends on Facebook. As a matter of fact, he is friends with most people I know on Facebook, including Mother and Husband.
I have moved on with my insecurities about food. This salad that I found at ‘s blog Forks, Fingers, Chopsticks proves my point. There are lentils that I was not familiar with until I crossed the ocean. There is wild rice that does not exist in Europe. There are plantains that I savored for the first time in the spring of this year when I took a bite from my daughter’s Huevos Motulenos in La Cueva del Chango restaurant in Playa del Carmen.
Everything seemed weird when I read the recipe. But, again, everything made sense. I served it as a side dish to some tasty enchiladas, and after some raised eyebrows trying to ascertain if the ingredients worked, a thumbs up appeared, reassuring me that this dish was a winner.
LENTILS AND PLANTAIN SALAD
- 1/2 tablespoon butter or oil
- 1/2 cup onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup wild rice
- 1 1/3 - 1 1/2 cups water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup green lentils, sorted and rinsed
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 small bay leaf
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, optional
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 cup red, yellow or green bell pepper, diced
- 1 stalk celery, diced
- 1 green onion, diced
- 1 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
- Fresh serrano chile, deveined and finely chopped (optional)
- 2 ripe plantains*
- 2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
*Ripe plantains have a dark, almost black exterior. Fully ripe plantains are sweeter and make a nicer contrast in the salad.
Wild Rice: In a small pot, over medium-high heat, melt butter; saute onion and garlic for 1 – 2 minutes. Add wild rice, 1 1/2 cups water and salt. Bring to boil, cover with tight-fitting lid, reduce heat to low and simmer for about 45 – 50 minutes. I prefer rice grains slightly split with a chewy texture. If you prefer yours fully split, cook a few minutes longer (you may need to add 1 – 2 tablespoons water). When done, fluff with fork, drain off any excess water. Let cool.
Lentils: Sort lentils to remove debris; rinse well. In small pot, bring all ingredients to boil; cover, reduce heat and simmer on low for 35 – 40 minutes or until lentils are tender but still in tact. Drain lentils, remove bay leaf. Let cool.
Salad: In a small bowl, whisk olive oil, balsamic, garlic, cumin and cinnamon. In a medium-size bowl, add cooled and drained wild rice and lentils and the remaining salad ingredients – bell pepper, celery, onion, cilantro and chile. Add oil mixture; mix well.
Plantains: With a knife, trim the ends off the plantains. Cut in half, leave skin on then slice each piece lengthwise; peel. Heat oil in skillet until hot, use tongs to place plantains flat side down. Fry in oil about 2 minutes on each side until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. When cooled a few minutes, cut lengthwise and cut into bite-size pieces (about 1”). Add to salad and lightly toss.
Serve at room temperature or chilled. Platanos taste best when freshly fried.
Variation: add pineaple; grill fruit instead of frying