Early in our relationship I took Amy to a restaurant that I really like. It is this tiny place in what is a not very good neighborhood of St Louis. The place is called Fritanga. It is a Nicaraguan restaurant, and they serve some of the most fantastic food I have ever eaten. It is not a fancy place, and you don’t ever want to go if you are in a hurry. On a busy night all of the tables will be full of people eating, drinking and talking, enjoying the food and relaxed atmosphere as well as the company of the others at their table.
Once I went gluten-free I knew that there would be some sacrifices that I would have to make when dining out. Imagine my surprise when I found out that Fritanga is almost entirely gluten-free!!
Amy likes the pollo al achiote, and I like the lomo de cerdo asado. The two dishes are actually pretty similar, either chicken or pork, marinated in achiote or annatto paste. Annatto seeds are ground with various spices such as cumin, and oregano. It is a very tasty combination, but not hot. I was at Global foods the other day and ran across a container of achiote paste. After seeing how easy it was to use the achiote when I made my chili at work I decided I would try my hand at the pollo al achiote from Fritanga.
The first step for this dish is to marinate the chicken. Pork loin could also be used. The lomo de cerdo asado that I frequently eat there is a thick pork loin chop that is marinated in achiote and grilled. To make the marinade combine a tablespoon of canola oil, and a tablespoon of the achiote paste. This stuff goes a long way, and it will impart a fantastic color and very nice flavor to the chicken.
Combine the achiote and your chicken and allow it to sit for several hours in the fridge. You could grill or bake the chicken. In this case I decided to just bake it.
At Fritanga this would be served with gallo pinto or black beans and rice, with a side of a really tasty slaw, and plantains. The Plantains are served one of several ways. They give you a choice of either chips, tostones or maduros. Any of those are fantastic choices. I personally really like tostones! Unfortunately, I didn’t think to pick up any plantains. When you have them what you do with them depends on how ripe they are. You can make chips when they are green, tostones when they are yellow, and maduros when they are pretty well black.
Ok, so this dinner has its genesis in a couple of places. The first was a truly disappointing tamale pie I had from a well known manufacturer of organic foods. I don’t have a big problem with the fact that it was vegan, but it didn’t taste like anything at all. I really liked the idea, but the execution didn’t do anything for me. Then, I had some leftover chicken. I had cut up a chicken to make dinner a couple of nights ago, and we only ate the breasts. This left wings, thighs, and legs to use. Amy doesn’t care for them much, so they needed to be handled in a way that would make it less obvious what we were eating. The truth is this would be a great way to use up leftover beans, and rice as well as chicken. On the other hand since I was cooking the chicken, beans and rice I could season everything exactly the way I wanted it for this dish. I guess what you do will depend on what you have laying around, and what state it is in.
1/2 cup dry black beans soaked over night
2 cloves garlic minced
1/2 large onion finely diced
2 chicken leg quarters, cut into leg and thigh
salt and pepper
1/2 cup rice (uncooked)
1/2 large onion finely diced (yes, the other half!)
2 cloves garlic
1 poblano pepper finely diced
1 red bell pepper finely diced
1 can enchilada sauce (I used Old El Paso. They have a very strict policy on labeling for gluten containing ingredients)
Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free corn bread mix
1 1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup canola oil or melted butter
Obviously you should soak your beans ahead of time to cut down on the cooking time. Combine the first half of the onion and garlic with the black beans and cover with water. Bring to a boil, and simmer for 30-45 minutes, until tender. Just fish one out and try it. If it is not tender give it a little longer.
While the beans are cooking, preheat the oven to 350F. Season the chicken on both sides with salt, pepper, ground cumin, and paprika, and bake until cooked through. Allow the chicken to cool a bit, and pull the meat off the bone, and chop into small pieces.
Cook your rice. This is a fairly easy step, I just made some plain white rice for this.
In a large skillet sweat the second half of the onions and garlic until tender, add a little salt to draw out moisture, and help move this along. Then add the poblano and bell peppers, and sweat until they are tender. Add the chicken, beans, rice and enchilada sauce, and bring the mix up to a boil, and then simmer for a few minutes. Stir frequently. Pour this mixture into a 13×9 inch pan. Turn the oven up to 375F.
Prepare the cornbread mix according to the directions on the package, and then spread on top of the chicken and bean mixture. Try to spread it as thinly and evenly as possible. Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes until the cornbread is golden brown on top and the filling of the pie is bubbling, and hot.
I ate mine topped with a bit of shredded cheddar cheese, and a nice gluten-free beer! It was a great dinner, and the kind of thing that is even better the next day!
Now of course if you wanted to make this vegetarian you could just leave out the chicken, there is protein already with the beans, and you could even add some squash and zucchini or whatever other veggies you wanted to. This kind of dish gives you lots of options to make things your own. Hope you enjoy it!
A while ago, I wrote about rice, and made some risotto. Ok, so what else can you do with rice? How about pilaf? Rice pilaf isn’t a specific dish exactly. It is more like a method of cooking, kind of like risotto. A lot of the specifics will depend on the type of rice that you decide to use. For example, if you make pilaf using the plain old long grain rice that we all have in the cabinet you’ll use a 2:1 ratio of water to rice. Basmati? 1.5:1 Now, do you have to use water? No, of course you can, but it will be kind of plain. There are almost limitless options when it comes to cooking. In fact there are a number of dishes from around the world that use more or less the same method for cooking the rice. Depending on what part of the world different varieties of rice, cooking liquids, and other ingredients will be used. How you want to flavor it will dictate how you will add the different ingredients. The basis for pilaf seems to come from the Middle East. I have a Persian cookbook that has some really interesting rice dishes that are based on a pilaf. I’ll try to come back to some of them as I get time, but for now I just want to give you a basic idea.
Lets start with the basics, you’re going to need rice. Long grain works well here. Basmati, jasmine, or even your basic long grain rice will work. Liquid, depending on the kind of rice you are using will be between 1.5 and 2 times the volume of the rice you have. Mirepoix, a small diced onion, a little celery, and a little carrot. A couple of nice versions you can try are saffron, or curry powder. Obviously, you will need something to cook the rice in, and a second pot to heat up your liquid. A rubber spatula, and a little oil.
First, heat up your liquid. Easy. If you are making saffron pilaf, take a pinch of threads and put it in the cold liquid, bring it up to a boil. Meanwhile, in the other pot, heat the oil, and add the rice. With the spatula, stir the rice, pretty much like you did for the risotto. Again you’re looking for the rice to become clear on the ends, and maybe brown ever so slightly and get a nice nutty smell. Taking the curry option? Add that now, roughly a teaspoon(a bit less) per cup of uncooked rice, and stir that in. Next add in your mirepoix, and stir until the onion has become clear-ish. Add the liquid, bring it up to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and let it sit for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, turn off the heat, and let it sit for another 10 minutes. What you will have will be perfectly cooked, tender, and individual grains of rice. It is so easy you’ll wonder why you ever just boiled rice into a sticky mess. (There are reasons to do just that actually, but I’ll get to them later!)