I'm finding myself wanting to write about food with profound observations about the culture and social structure of my host country and realizing, sadly, that I just can't do it - at least not all the time. Despite being surrounded daily by Dominicans - we don't live on a compound, my kids go to a local preschool, I'm out and about all day long - I find myself still on the outside looking in. I am certain that Dominicans include topics like race, slavery, imperialism and social justice in their daily gabs (Right? Right?), but I'm not getting invited to those discussions so where does that leave me?
I wonder if that is where the food thing comes in - it's not difficult to access the food. Dominicans love Dominican cuisine. They talk about it like I talk about tacos. So, I'll keep writing about the simple, simple food in this complicated place and hope that some day I will have something more profound to say. Maybe if someone teaches me how to make something I'll say, "So, do you have any thoughts about the African origins of this dish?" Or, maybe I'll just stick to the fail-proof, "Aye! Que rico!"
In my endeavor to make the rounds with Dominican cooking, I have opted to start with tostones. It may be cheating - I learned how to make them right after we moved here. They're easy and delicious and I guarantee, if you have friends who haven't tried them, you can pass them off as some sort of culinary masterpiece and they will never know the difference. They'll say things like,"Wow! How did you learn to make these?" and "Oh my god, I had these one time in this little Dominican restaurant in the Bronx. I love them!"
Tostones are a staple of the Dominican plate - they're served as an appetizer or a side dish…or you can just eat some with a Presidente and call it a meal. My love of food includes the healthiest of the healthy (I love a warm salad of gently sautéed spinach and grilled tomatoes) and the seriously worst of the worst (I eat marshmallow Peeps and no matter where in the world I am, my mom sends me a box for Easter). I would rank tostones somewhere in the middle - you fry them in oil (twice), but they don't absorb much of it and they are rich in fiber and vitamins and aren't as sugary as bananas. Come to think of it, they may even be pretty healthy. I don't really know.
Here’s what you do to make enough for four people:
Peel and slice 6 green plantains into 1-inch thick chunks. Do not buy bananas. Not that you would. But, I just have to stress - plantains are not bananas. Get ones that are super green. FYI - in other parts of Latin America (especially central Mexico, if I remember correctly) they make sweet plantains using plantains that are very, very ripe (blacker than any banana you would ever eat). Tostones are completely different from that - so, remember, go green! By the way - they are pretty difficult to peel - you'll need a paring knife.
Heat oil about two inches deep in a skillet. I always use canola oil, but probably anything except olive oil would work - most Dominicans use corn oil.
Once the oil is heated, drop the plantain chunks into the hot oil (you may have to do this in batches). Don't crowd them too much and make sure you move them around a bit at the beginning to make sure they're not sticking to the pan. Fry them until they're golden and then remove them and let them cool for a couple of minutes on a paper towel lined plate. After they have had a minute to cool place them on a cutting board and mash them with the bottom of a glass. They actually have this little masher thing that they use here. I came to the assumption that it was for mashing plantains and I still think it is, but I used one this time and it didn't work as well as using a glass (they weren't perfectly round like they usually are), so next time I will go with the glass.
After you have all the plantains mashed (they should look like little starbursts), put them back in the oil and fry them until they are golden all over. Remove them from the oil and drain them on a paper towel. Add salt.
That's it! It's very easy. Being from Texas I like to dip my fried things in something creamy so just out of curiosity this time I made an aioli for dipping - it was super tasty - although, presumably it canceled out the healthiness. But, you know, to each his own. They're also really tasty with a little lime juice squeezed on top. Enjoy - you're one step closer to making an entire Dominican feast!