Several years ago I traded tutoring for food with some family friends. I would maintain that I got the better part of the deal, especially since during that time my friend taught me how to make a few of my favorites of her traditional Puerto Rican dishes.
This recipe is similar to lasagna or moussaka and many other layered casseroles from around the world, but the flavor is completely unique, with the faint sweetness of the plantain in the crust and the richly seasoned, garlicky meat filling.
Iris is one of those wonderful home cooks who has been making the same dishes over and over for so many years that it’s hard for anyone else to match her results. It’s also hard for her to put the instructions down as a simple recipe – things like choosing the right ripeness for the ingredients and how you cut them up make a big difference in how this dish comes out.
Fortunately Iris took me shopping with her and let me photograph each step, so I’ve been able to replicate this one successfully a few times – when I follow her steps exactly. I need to reserve some time to do this with her for a few more recipes – her bistec, marinated in a criollo sauce with wine and vinegar and cooked in a tomato/pepper gravy is SO good. I’ve tried it a few times, but I never get the proportions quite right. Sigh.
Most important: buying the plantains at the right ripeness – and they need to be plantains, not regular bananas:
When they’re yellow like this they’ve got a light sweetness and they fry fairly quickly. If they’re still green the flavor will be bit off and it will take much longer to fry them. If they’ve gone all the way dark, they’ll be so sweet the flavor of the whole dish will be completely distorted.
This is a multi-step dish, so getting everything started in the right order will make your life easier and the food available sooner.
Stir it together, breaking up lumps and making sure the seasoning is well distributed. Cover and let it cook until browned. Meanwhile, work on the tostones (fried plantains)
NOTE: Stir in the dry seasonings, but leave the recao on top of the meat. You won’t leave it in for the last step.
Ingredient note: The recao looks like a cross between baby spinach and dandelion leaves. Lay it on top of the meat and let it cook until it has wilted, then remove before using the meat.
Note: if the photo slideshow below doesn’t work, you can view it on flickr here
|Slicing Plantains||Frying Plantains|
|Fried Plantain Strips||Arranging Base|
|Filling with Meat||Arranging Top Layer|
|Egg Topping||Baked and Ready to Serve|
We shopped at:
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3334 W Armitage Ave
(corner of Armitage and Kimball)
Chicago, IL 60647
If you don’t have time to cook, here’s a good Puerto Rican restaurant with take out: