Saturday, August 6, 2011

Gloria's Quimbombo (Cuban Okra with Plantains)

Quimbombo is a traditional Afro-Cuban stew made with okra and plantains, and seasoned with pork. Some cooks will use ham and others prefer bacon or fatback, and some heartier recipes will even add ground pork or chorizo, a highly-seasoned Spanish sausage. When properly prepared, the okra is not slimy and the flavors of this stew are rich and satisfying, like any good comfort food. When made the old-fashioned way, the plantains are boiled separately, then mashed and rolled into little balls called "fufu" and added during the final few minutes of cooking. To save time and effort, however, I simply peeled and cubed the raw plantain and cooked it together with the okra. Also not traditional is the red jalapeno pepper that I use in my version for a touch of zesty spice without making the dish "hot" (red ripe jalapenos are mellower than green jalapenos). When it was time to serve dinner, I stuck with tradition and served the quimbombo over white rice.

Make sure to use half-ripe plantains, which are yellow with some black splotches. Mostly-black plantains are fully ripe and too sweet for this dish. Green plantains are unripe and too tough. For easy peeling, I trim the ends off the plantains and then cut just through the skin lengthwise with a sharp knife. The skin should then pull off easily in one or two large pieces, while the plantain flesh remains intact. I start cooking the white rice a few minutes before adding the okra and plantains to the pot, so that the rice will be ready when the quimbombo is ready to serve. This recipe makes 4 to 6 generous servings, and you can halve it to make less--or make the big batch and enjoy leftovers.

2 lbs okra
1 lemon or lime
4 thick slices of bacon
1 large bay leaf or 2-3 small
2 cloves
1 onion, diced
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, diced
Optional: 1 red jalapeno, de-seeded and minced
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained
2 cups beef or chicken broth
2 half-ripe plantains
Salt & pepper to taste
Cooked white rice for serving

Cook the bacon in a large skillet until crispy, then remove from skillet onto a paper towel covered plate to drain and cool, reserving up to 4 Tbs of the bacon drippings. While the bacon is cooking, wash the okra and trim the ends. Slice into 1/4" rounds, place in a bowl and cover with water, then squeeze in the juice of one lemon or lime and stir to mix. Let the okra soak while you continue with the recipe - this soaking process will prevent the okra from becoming slimy in the finished dish.

Add the bacon drippings, bay leaf and cloves to a large pot and cook over medium heat for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the onions, garlic and pepper, and saute until tender (if too dry, you can drizzle in a little olive oil or add a dab of butter). While this is cooking, start the rice and peel & cube the plantains. When the vegetables are tender, drain the okra in a colander and add the okra to the pot (don't worry if you see "slime" draining from the colander--the cooked okra will not be slimy). Stir to combine, then stir in the broth. Bring to a gentle boil, add the cubed plantains and crumble in the bacon. Stir to combine, cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for about 20 minutes or until the okra is tender. Taste and add salt/pepper if desired. Serve over cooked white rice.

Zestfully yours,

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