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Costa Rican flavors: coffee and plaintains
This past summer, Darin Fenger from the Yuma Sun traveled to beautiful Costa Rica to attend a Spanish immersion school through Arizona Central College.
While visiting Costa Rica, Darin and fellow Arizonans stayed in local homes, with breakfast and dinner cooked for them by their host families. His meals ranged from a variety of delicious fresh fish from the factory where his host dad worked to the same “bland” rice and beans served with most every meal. Interestingly, the kitchens of the houses that Darin stayed in were equipped with a hot plate, microwave and Crock Pot — not an oven to be found!
From hearing about his experience, it would seem that Darin was most impressed with the rich coffee and sweet plantains that are both native to the area. On returning to Yuma, he asked me if we could cook together. He brought his experiences, his new Costa Rican coffee maker and some fresh plantains. All I had to provide was the butter.
When looking for the history of coffee, I found the story of Kaldi, a goat herder in the Ethiopian highlands. Coffee bushes grew there and Kaldi noticed that when his goats would eat the red berries from the bushes, they would become very high-spirited and did not want to lie down to rest at night.
He picked some of the berries and brought them to the abbot at the local monastery. The abbot threw the berries into the fire, saying they were not good. The monks noticed the aromatic smells coming from the fire and raked the berries from the ashes. These were then put in hot water to soak, which produced a brown liquid that tasted wonderful. Hence the first cup of coffee was made.
There are so many ways to brew coffee, but mainly you need ground coffee and hot water. My first taste of coffee was sitting around the campfire. My Dad called it cowboy coffee. It was hot, dark, bitter and had coffee grounds floating around in it. My cousins were all drinking coffee that had been doctored up with milk and sugar.
Somehow, I missed the add-ins. I took a big drink, burned my mouth and spit out that hot, bitter stuff. I handed the coffee cup to my laughing Dad, not understanding at all how anyone could like that stuff. It was not until college that I started to develop a taste for coffee. Maybe it was the caffeine that I developed the taste for more than the coffee on those late study nights.
Darin brought home with him a chorreador, the type of coffee maker he found in use in those small Costa Rican kitchens. The white filter basket is simply a piece of flannel sewn into a sock-like shape, hung from a hole in the top of the chorreador. The water for the coffee is heated to almost boiling and poured slowly though the filter. From that, a wonderful rich cup of coffee brewed.
The chorreador could be made out of most anything that will hold your filter above the cup. I have seen them made of clothes hangers using a child's small sock as the filter. The filter only needs to be rinsed out after use and hung back in your chorreador, ready to have the coffee added and a new cup of coffee to be brewed.
Along with Darin's chorreador, he brought some plantains, which look and smell like a large banana, but if you bite into one you will quickly know it is not a banana! Plantains must be cooked to be eaten. They are always ready to cook no matter what stage of ripeness, from green to yellow to black.
The plantain is a fruit, but many consider it vegetable. When green, they are bland and starchy; medium ripe will find the plantains yellow. The starch will be turning to sugar and they are slightly sweet. When the skins are almost black, the plantains are fully ripe and very sweet.
Darin arrived in my kitchen with slightly ripe plantains and a recipe that was told to him by his host mom while she prepared the meal. This is how we prepared the plantains:
Cut the plantains into three pieces, leaving the peels on them
Put in microwave and cook on high for approximately 3-4 minutes. The skins will have darkened to mostly black, and the meat of the plantain will be soft.
Cut the skin off the plantain and slide meat into bowl. Using a potato masher, mash the meat and add about a cup of soft white cheese (we used queso blanco) and ¼ cup melted butter. I also added a pinch of salt to bring out the sweetness of the plantain.
Mix this all together, form into patties and cook in a frying pan of butter, turning when golden brown.
After we finished Darin's recipe, I showed him one that was taught to me by a client that I chef. My client grew up in Puerto Rico and this was a favored treat.
Taking the cooked plantains (out of oven or microwave), peel them and slice into ½-inch rounds. Smash with a meat tenderizer on the flat side. Put these into your hot butter and sauté both sides till golden brown. I love mine with a drizzle of honey, but they can also be flavored with seasoned salt.
What fun we had cooking and brewing together. We talked of travel, eating great food, restaurants we have visited and ones we want to try. We also talked about his plans to lead a group of Arizonans back down to Costa Rica in the spring.
Darin is a true foodie and I will happily share a meal or spend time cooking in the kitchen with him anytime he wants to. I also think he needs to bring the Yuma Foodie on his next travel to exotic locales.
Karla Billdt owns Karla's Kreations: A Personal Chef and Catering Service in Yuma. She can be reached at www.ChefKarla.net or email@example.com.