It’s the season of Lent, which means the season of vegetarian (and occasionally pescatarian) eating around here at the Walbacz homestead. For me, it’s a fun, challenging way to rethink my meals for about a month and a half, as well as be extra grateful when meat comes back on my plate.
Last year, Husband and I were reading an article about eating and foods to make on Lenten Fridays. (If you’re unfamiliar, practicing Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent, the season of fasting and penitence 40 days before Easter.) We laughed out loud at a line that read, “Think beyond cheese pizza and fish sticks!” If you know us, you know we cook a heck of a lot more (and more interesting) vegetarian food than these two standbys, and if you grew up Catholic in the U.S. when I did, you probably ate a heck of a lot of both of those items on Lenten Fridays.
But thinking further, I realized that, within a stereotypical white (yeah I said it) American diet, once you take the meat out, there’s often not much left on the plate except a pile of sad vegetables and a starch (if that), or all you’re left with on a menu is sad salad, fried vegetables and fish, and cheesy bread. Bleck. No wonder people have trouble cutting out meat.
So, how do the Walbaczes do vegetarian?
We draw a lot of influence outside of white American cuisine (think regions of India, Southeast Asia, Latin America, and more), which more than breaks up the monotony of vegetable soup and grilled cheese. And when we’re craving something filthy from the American diner, we replace the meat with plant-based proteins, like beans, tofu, tempeh, and seitan.
We make sure we get a good balance of filling proteins and vegetables with each meal, and generally mix them together, rather than eating them in separate compartments on the plate. This ensures that we’re full and happy and not “missing the meat.” You won’t see a vegetarian meal here without some sort of protein involved.
So, for the coming weeks, I’m here to bring you recipes and ideas “beyond cheese pizza and fish sticks,” whether you’re following Lenten Fridays, or just want more vegetarian recipes in your repertoire. These recipes are designed in the spirit of the season – so, while a fancy lobster dinner is technically following the rules of Lent, it’s not really following the spirit of simplicity and sacrifice. I’ll be using ingredients that won’t drain your bank account, and (hopefully) what you can get from a nearby grocery store and farmer’s markets.
So, without further ado, here’s today’s fasting meal #1:
Tostones, Rice, and Habichuelas Guisadas (Dominican Saucy Beans)
I grew up eating plantains before most people I knew had even heard of a plantain, let alone could go to the “regular” supermarket and pick some up. Whenever we’d visit my family in the Dominican Republic, there were plantains at every meal – mangu (mashed plantain) and eggs for breakfast, fritos (plantain chips) and tostones (twice-fried plantains) at lunch and dinner, as well as, let’s say, “advanced” plantain preparations, like mofongo (mashed plantains with garlic, pork bits, and other tasties) that I wouldn’t touch as a kid, but will tear up as an adult today.
I have yet to find a local fruit or veggie similar enough to the plantain to satisfy my cravings for tostones, so I content myself with buying them on my infrequent trips to the Latin American markets across town.
Tostones are a favorite in our household served alongside a pile of steamed rice topped with habichuelas guisadas (Dominican saucy beans), and it’s what we ate this past Ash Wednesday.
A few things to keep in mind when making tostones:
- Make sure you’re using green plantains (platanos verdes). They should be firm and have a bright to dark green peel, and are not sweet in the least. Do not sub yellow or brown plantains (platanos maduros), as they are sweet and are too soft to withstand the frying and smashing needed for tostones. You can generally find plantains in the produce section of your local supermarket, and find bigger, better, and a wider variety of plantains, often for cheaper, if you’re lucky enough to have a Latin American market.
- The lime juice bath in the recipe below is entirely optional, and I only do it about half the time I’m making tostones. It adds a bit of tanginess to the final product, but fried plantains are good however you do them.
- Eat them immediately, and make more than you think you need. Trust me.
Now go fry some plantains, you saucy person, you.
Tostones (Twice-Fried Plantains)
Make sure you’re using green plantains (platanos verdes) for this recipe - ripe plantains (platanos maduros, or ones with yellow-brown skin) will fall apart, and you will be sad. The lime juice-garlic bath is optional, but adds a little more flavor to the final product.
you will need:
- 2 large green plantains
- juice of 1 lime (optional)
- 1 garlic clove, smashed (optional)
- oil for frying
- salt for sprinkling
- To prepare green plantains: using a good, sharp knife, cut about ½ – 1 inch of the ends of the plantain (this will make slicing through the peel easier to see). Make a shallow cut through the peel, but not through the fruit, down the length of the plantain, and remove the peel. Cut the plantain into 1-inch rounds.
- Prepare the (optional) soak: In a medium bowl, add the juice of 1 lime and a smashed garlic clove, and fill with about 2 cups water. Place the sliced plantains in the bowl, and allow to soak for 15-30 minutes.
- Heat enough oil to fry about ½ inch up a skillet (cast iron is best) over medium heat. (In my 12-inch skillet, this is about 2 cups of oil.) Remove plantains from the water bath, if using, and pat dry with paper towels. Fry the plantains until they are slightly brighter in color and a little crispy on the outside, about 2-3 minutes per side, frying in batches as necessary to maintain even cooking. Drain on a plate lined with paper towels.
- When the plantains are cooled slightly but still quite warm, it’s smashing time! Using the bottom of a drinking glass or other similar heavy, flat item, place each plantain, one by one, under the glass and press firmly to flatten them into disks about ¼ inch in height. Return the skillet to medium-high heat, and fry the plantain disks until golden brown and crispy, flipping as necessary, about 4-5 minutes. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate, sprinkle with salt, and enjoy while hot.