I’ve been wanting to try this one for forever. Ever since I first had plantains at a Brazilian Steakhouse, Chamas, in downtown Durham, I’ve been obsessed with them. I think they were my favorite part of that dinner. And if you’ve ever been to a Brazilian steakhouse before, you know that that is saying a LOT. If you haven’t, let me fill you in. First of all, they have this ginormous salad bar with every single vegetable and side dish you could EVER want. Marinated mushrooms, olives, soups, spinach and roasted veggie salads, breads, cheeses… apparently Brazilians also consider smoked salmon a vegetable?
Then, when you’re already basically full, you get these little cards with a green side and a red side. Waiters (who hardly ever speak English, they only speak “green,” “red” and “meat”) come around to all the tables with these HUGE skewers (no, not like the kind you make kabobs on for your grill- these are like life-sized, “are you sure you are not about to put my body on that stick?” kind of skewers. They mean business! If the green side of your card is up, the waiters know to approach you with these big hunks of meat- lamb, pork, beef, chicken, you name it. Did I mention the meat is unlimited? (I probably appreciated this more in my less red-meat scorning days) And don’t even let me get started on talking about dessert.
Anyway, what was I talking about again? Oh yes, plantains. With all that said, the plantains were still my favorite part of the entire meal. They bring them out on little plates, sweet, soft, and lightly fried. And they are actually just supposed to be for “cleansing the palate” between each hunk of slaughtered baby cow- er, delicacy!
Plantains, for those of you who don’t know, are like oversized bananas that are SUPPOSED to get really black when they are ripe (for all you green banana lovers out there… you know who you are. I will never understand your ways!). They are a bit starchier than bananas and have less sugar, which is probably why they’re used for cleansing the palate. They can range from less sweet to really sweet, depending on the ripeness and variety, but are also used in appetizers and desserts (and for the purpose of this post, main courses!). Typically they are cooked as opposed to eating raw, and are preferable to bananas for this purpose because they hold up much better, even when ripe. I had trouble finding them (even at Whole Foods!) but had luck at Target. Who knew Target was a lover of exotic fruits? I was able to get 4 plantains for $2.94, which I considered a bargain!
Ever since having plantains for the first time (Ben also raves about having them at one of our favorite Cuban restaurants, Gregoria’s, where they are served as “Plátano Maduro Relleno”- plantains fried in butter, stuffed with ground beef, coated with a creamy sauce and sprinkled with ‘Chicharrones’, or fried pork rinds). I’ve considered them quite the delicacy ever since.
So you can imagine my delight when I saw this recipe on Skinny Taste, one of my favorite blogs. I love how Gina lightens up traditional dishes like this Puerto Rican one to make them healthier without skimping on flavor or insisting that being healthy means that you only ever eat kale and greek yogurt and oatmeal. The combination of plantains, ground meat, and cheese in this dish immediately reminded me of those apps at Gregoria’s, and I made it my life’s ambition to try it.
Enter Target plantains and an adventurous-feeling Sunday afternoon. While Ben, aka the sleeping giant, was taking a nap upstairs, I decided to surprise him by making this in advance (I hoped it would save us time on prep later and we could eat outside while it was still 60 degrees and sunny out… but I was wrong. We still ended up eating at 8:30. Oops… But Thor was on!)
I love how this Puerto Rican lasagna-like recipe uses plantains instead of pasta noodles to hold it together and to get that same starchy texture without the extra calories. It also uses ground turkey instead of beef, of which I was a fan! To the meat, you add a ton of yummy spices and herbs, including cumin, oregano, bay leaf, and cilantro, as well as veggies like tomatoes and green peppers. I decided to also add chopped up sweet potatoes to give the lasagna a little more heft (I wanted to make a 9×13 casserole instead of the suggested 9×9 size). And then because I was using sweet potatoes, I decided to sprinkle on a little ginger, nutmeg, and red pepper flakes for good measure. Why not, right?
Layer the plantains on the bottom, followed by the ground turkey and potatoes mixture, a thin sprinkling of Mexican-style cheese, the rest of the meat, and a final layer of plantains and cheese on top. Then, you whisk together one egg with three egg whites with a bit of milk to pour over the top to help the casserole stay together (genius!).
The result? Ha. I’ll let you tell me after you try it for yourself!
All I will say is that I think that I would like to move to Puerto Rico and eat Pastelón for all of my days.
- 1.3 lb 93% lean ground turkey
- 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into small chunks
- ½ cup onion, chopped
- 2 tbsp minced garlic
- 1 tomato, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, chopped
- 2 tbsp (about 3 stems) cilantro, minced
- 8 oz (or about half a 15 oz can) tomato sauce
- 2 tbsp capers, plus 2 tbsp caper brine
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp oregano
- 1 tsp dried bay leaves
- ½ tsp ginger
- ½ tsp red pepper flakes
- ⅛ tsp nutmeg
- 4 ripe plantains, sliced thinly lengthwise
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 3 large egg whites, beaten
- 2 tbsp low-fat milk
- 1½ cups reduced fat shredded Mexican blend cheese
- kosher salt
- fresh ground pepper
- In a large skillet, season turkey with salt and pepper. Cook on medium until lightly browned, breaking up into smaller chunks with a wooden spoon.
- Add potatoes, onion, and garlic and continue to cook until potatoes are slightly tender- about 4 minutes.
- Add tomato, bell pepper, and cilantro, and reduce heat to low. Add capers and 2 tbsp of caper brine, cumin, oregano, bay leaves, ginger, red pepper flakes, and nutmeg.
- Add tomato sauce and about ¼ cup water, and stir well. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, until potatoes are fork tender.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly spray a 9x13 baking dish with oil or cooking spray.
- Slice plantains lengthwise into thin slices. Heat a large saute pan over medium heat, and spray generously with cooking spray or olive oil*
- Cook plantains for about 2 minutes on each side, until golden. Set aside.
- In casserole dish, layer half of the plantains, followed by turkey and potato mixture and about ½ cup of cheese. Add remaining turkey and potato mixture, and finish with the other half of the plantains, as well as the rest of the cheese.
- Whisk together egg, egg whites, and milk, and pour over top of casserole. Wait about 2 minutes before baking for the eggs to seep into the rest, as this will help the casserole set!
- Cover tightly with foil and bake 35-40 minutes. Allow to cool 5 minutes before cutting into squares, as this will help the slices stay together better!
Chop veggies and herbs while the turkey is browning.
Add veggies to skillet and reduce heat to low.
Add tomato sauce, a bit of water, and stir well.
Cover and simmer on low for 15 minutes.
Cook till golden- about 2 minutes each side.
And some of the cheese… and repeat.
Pour beaten eggs over top. Cover and bake!