The first time I tasted plantains was a bit of a pivotal moment for me. The combination of the sweet, tender insides and crispy, salty outsides is revelatory. My friend Tara introduced me to the combination of spicy green chiles, sweet plantains, and filling black beans, but I truly became converted after spending a recent summer in Costa Rica (where I was taking classes on Human Rights and the law).
We spent little time in the touristy parts of the country—which seem to be isolated from the areas where everyday people live. Instead, we lived in a little apartment-hotel, with a tiny kitchen, in the middle of the city. Each day, after my classes, we wound our way through downtown Heredia, past one of Catholic cathedrals filled with crowds singing mass in Spanish, and through Los Angeles Parque, with its spouting fountain covered in pigeons (and, although this will ruin the picture, pigeon poop). Down in the heart of the city, we would duck into the Mercado. This huge market had a ceiling but no real walls. Like the other mercados we visited in Costa Rica, it was a mini city of its own, with long rows of stalls, filled with every type of food. Some offered bins of beans and spices. Bananas and pineapples hung from the ceilings above other stands, and stacks of tomatoes, mangoes, green beans, and onions lay on tables below. A bit less appetizing to me were the butchers’ stalls, with piles of raw meat (and accompanying flies). Other vendors stood behind chests of cheeses or stands of clothes and sandals. My favorite were the bakeries, with their cone-shaped pastries filled with dulce de leche and orejas, flaky pastries the size of large tortillas, covered in a caramelized sugar that resembled the crust on crème brûlée. We bought all our groceries in the Mercado and other little street shops, and cooked as much like the locals as we could. And that, as far as I could tell during my time there, consisted almost exclusively of rice, beans, and plantains, with a variety of additions: maybe a meat of some sort, or a vegetable, usually a salad that reminded me of picco de gallo. The meal is simple and delicious, cheap and healthy. Since then, we’ve eaten some variation of casado, the Costa Rican name for this combination, on a regular basis.
This recipe takes all of those delicious ingredients, adds spicy green chile (which you wouldn’t find in a traditional casado dish), and puts them into a chewy, soft pillow of whole wheat dough. It resembles a calzone from the outside, but the burst of flavors inside is anything but Italian. These are fun to eat and equally delicious. I think they also make tasty leftovers for lunch. Plus, they’re a unique dish—I’ve never had anything like this before. So, if you find you’re stuck in a recipe rut, this might be a good one to try.
If you haven’t used plantains before, and you have a tendency to experiment like me, don’t be tempted to substitute bananas. It will be awful. Trust me, I did it once. Also, they should be used in this recipe when they look about like this:
Speed it Up: You can, of course, make this dish in a bowl without the calzone business, but I think it’s worth a try to make it hot-pocket style at least once or twice. Also, you can make all of the filling ingredients in advance and have them ready to stuff in the dough when it’s ready. You can also make the dough ahead of time, punch it down after it has risen, then put it in a tightly-fitted and tightly-sealed plastic bag in the fridge for up to one day. (make sure it’s tight and well-sealed to keep the dough from continuing to rise and drying out.) Then take it out about half an hour before you plan to assemble the calzones to take off some of the chill. If you do this, you will need to increase the baking time to about 12 to 14 minutes, depending on your oven.
Special Diets and Allergies: Nut free. Vegan and dairy free if you omit the yogurt from the dressing. It really will be just as delicious, just more runny. You can also try substituting some firm tofu for the yogurt and blending it in a food processor. I have had great success with this in other recipes.
Costa Rican Calzones
These crescents of bread hide a surprising combination of intense flavors. The bold cilantro and spicy green chiles highlight the sweetness of the fried plantains, with undertones of chewy rice and mild black beans. I have put in amounts for each filling ingredient, but it’s hard to mess this up—you can add more or less of any of them. I am particularly partial to increasing the proportion of plantains, which I can’t get enough of. However, if the calzones are too dry, they won’t be nearly as good. To avoid this, make sure the pureed beans are fairly runny and don’t skimp on them—put at least 3 T in each calzone. The sauce is also fairly vital, as it gives the calzones moisture and a delightful squirt of lime.
1 C warm water
2 T yeast
2 T honey
¼ C oil
2 T flaxseed, mixed with 3 T very hot water
3¼-3½ C whole wheat flour
½ t. salt
- Mix flaxseed and water and let sit for 5 minutes, or until gelatinous.
- Mix water and yeast and beat with a fork until foamy.
- Mix honey, oil, flaxseed mixture, and salt. Add 2 C flour. Mix.
- Stir in yeast mixture.
- Mix in remaining flour, ½ C at a time, kneading once it gets too stiff to stir, until dough reaches a nice, elastic consistency. The dough should be soft, but not sticky. Let rise 1 to 1½ hours.
- While the dough is rising, prepare the filling ingredients.
3 large plantains, ripened until yellow brown
about 4 T vegetable oil
1/2 t garlic powder
4-6 T water
2-3 T agave
1 1/2 C black beans plus some cooking liquid (or one 14 oz can, undrained)
1 C cooked, short-grain brown rice
1 1/2 C chopped Roma tomatoes (about 8 medium)
1/2 C fresh or canned green chiles, chopped (remove seeds if you have a low spice tolerance)
1/2 C cilantro, chopped, plus some for garnish
- Peel the plantains and cut lengthwise. Then rotate and cut lengthwise again (so that when you slice the plantains, you will get four pieces from each slice, instead of just two crescents). Slice the plantains 1/4 to 1/2″ thick.
- Heat 2 T of the oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Add the plantains, making sure not to crowd them. If your skillet is not large enough,cook them in batches. Cook until golden brown, then flip and continue cooking until both sides are dark yellow with brown edges. (If working in batches, remove the plantains, add more oil and repeat until all the plantains are cooked. Then return all of the plantains to the pan.)
- Turn off the heat. Sprinkle the garlic over the plantains and salt to taste, stir, then add 4 T of the water and 2 T of agave. Stir, scraping the bottom of the pan to get up any brown bits. Taste. If desired, add more water, agave, or salt. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- Puree the black beans with enough of their cooking liquid, or the juices in the can, until they achieve a smooth and slightly runny consistency. It should not be as thick as a paste, but not so runny that it’s like a liquid.
- Set aside 1/2 C of the tomatoes.
- Combine all of the filling ingredients in a large bowl.
- Preheat the oven to 450 F. Grease two large cookie sheets.
- Punch down the pizza dough and separate into 8 pieces. Keep the pieces covered with a damp towel while you work.
- Take one piece out from under the towel and roll it out until it is about 8″ in diameter.
- Place about 3/4 C of the filling in the center of the dough and smooth out until it is about 1 1/2″ from all the edges of the dough on the half of the dough circle closest to you. Carefully pull the far edge of the dough toward you and place over the filling, matching the edges of the dough together to create a half-crescent with the filling inside. Crimp the edges. Place on the cookie sheet. Repeat until you have 8 calzones, 4 per cookie sheet.
- Place in the oven and bake for 9-12 minutes, or until golden brown. Keep a close eye on these—they brown quickly and, depending on your oven, may need more or less time.
- While the calzones bake, prepare the sauce:
1/2 C plain, low-fat yogurt (opt.)
1/2 C salsa verde
1/2 to 3/4 t salt
1/4 to 1/2 C cilantro
1 1/2 t lime juice
- Allow the calzones to cool for 10 minutes or so after taking them out of the oven. (Otherwise they will be so hot inside you won’t be able to taste the combination of flavors.)
- Place a calzone on each plate, drizzle with sauce, and sprinkle with the reserved chopped tomatoes and some minced cilantro. Pass more sauce at the table.