Summer is early and the rains are reluctant. Chameleon-like, green plantains change colour in less than twelve hours as I think of ways to cook with them before they go to mush. Although, ripe plantains and bananas make great milkshakes, banana bread and cupcakes, my palate craves something savoury. In Kerala, in South India, they have countless ways of cooking both green and ripe plantains – from crunchy, completely addictive chips to mildly sweet fritters, quick stirfries tempered with mustard seeds and curry leaves and rich, coconut-laden curries. And happily, marriage to a Malayali has meant that I had great many meals dedicated to savouring and even learning to cook many of these delicious delicacies.
But today I want a completely new experience of cooking plantains, perhaps with an exotic combination of ingredients to feed my sense of adventure and anticipation. Maybe a taste of Brazil. I had never heard of its cuisine until recently when I became good friends with a bunch of warm-hearted Brazilians, and like our friendship my love for their beautiful cuisine continues to grow. The Brazilian Kitchen by Leticia Shwartz is now a proud member of my cookbook collection and I’m dreaming to try its recipes.
A quick scan through the cookbook and my fridge decides that it’s going to be Chicken and Plantain Moqueca for dinner. A moqueca is traditionally a fish dish but this one with chicken sounds just as delicious. It looks like classic comfort food with coconut milk, plantains, peppers, onions and tomatoes. It’s the kind of dish that you cook for a large family gathering or a Sunday lunch – hearty, wholesome, satisfying and one that must be followed by a nap.
Although the list of ingredients is long, most are easily available. The only thing I am missing is dende oil, which is a rich, red tinted oil similar to palm oil. I took consolation in the fact that many moquecas in Brazil are cooked even without dende oil. This means that the authenticity box remains checked for me! The moqueca turned out to be a velvety mix of sweet and savoury flavours. The plantain and chicken go surprisingly well together and even seem naturally complimentary to each other. And the coconut milk harmoniously binds the two together. Overall a great dish to cook for casual dinner parties when one big dish forms the centrepiece of your menu.
Chicken and Plantain Moqueca
- 1 big chicken with skin, chopped into 8-10 pieces
- 4 tbsps dende oil I used sunflower
- 1 medium onion thinly sliced
- 2 green onions sliced on the diagonal
- 1/2 green pepper thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 4 cloves of garlic minced
- 1 small piece of ginger grated
- 3 cups chicken stock
- 11/2 cups coconut milk
- 3 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 kg ripe but still firm bananas
- 3 plum tomatoes peeled, deseeded and sliced
- 4 tbsps fresh cilantro chopped
- Marinate the chicken in salt, pepper and 2 tablespoons of dende oil for 30 minutes at room temperature.
- Heat the remaining oil in a Dutch oven and brown the chicken (skin side down first) on both sides and set aside on a separate plate.
- Sauté both types of onions and peppers in the same pan till softened before adding the wine. Reduce the wine by half and put in the garlic and ginger and cook for a minute. Now stir in the stock, coconut milk, tomato paste and bay leaves and bring to a boil.
- Reduce to a simmer and add the chicken. Season, cover and cook for about an hour.
- Peel and cut the plantains into 1-inch thick chunks and add to the pan after the chicken has cooked for 30 minutes. Cover and cook for 5-7 minutes till plantains are cooked but not mushy. Take off the lid and simmer for a few more minutes till the gravy is slightly thicker. Then add the tomatoes a few minutes before serving, garnish with cilantro and serve with white rice.