For some, the plantain might be the exotic part of this dish. But to me, the milpero were the little nuggets of exotic, tangy perfection that inspired this concoction. If you’re debating whether to read on, let me just say that my trusty taste-tester Mike threw his hat on the floor and cried out “this might be the best one yet!” So I suggest you hop on board his enthusiasm train ’cause it’s headed for Yumsville.
First, a bit about the milpero, which is a baby brother variety of the tomatillo. About a third of the size of a tomatillo, it is quite a bit sweeter and more flavorful, but still with a delightful tartness that makes it perfect for salsa verde, green mole, and other tangy green salsas. It’s native to Central America and Mexico, and was an important part of Aztec and Mayan cuisine.
The fruit can be green or purple-hued and, like tomatillos, they are covered in a papery thin husk. I love peeling the husk away because it reminds me of peeling away the tissue paper to reveal the gorgeous green pears my aunt used to order from Harry & David every Christmas.
For those of you who have fooled around with milpero or tomatillos before, you know that they’re covered in a sticky film that you have to rinse off. This sap contains withanolide, a phytochemical that bugs find disgusting but that has anti-bacterial and anti-cancer properties for us, so these bug-free antioxidant balls are a win-win! Plus, they’re low-calorie and a good source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, niacin, potassium and manganese. Boom.
So, onto this delicious dish, inspired by milpero salsa verde…
What could possibly could go better with tangy milpero than the sweet richness of fried plantains and earthy black bean purée, topped with a bit of cotija cheese? Nothing, I tell you. And best of all, making all of this is quick and easy. The hardest part is not eating up all the salsa verde while you fry up the plantains. And then the hard part becomes not eating all the fried plantains before you plate them with the salsa and black bean purée. Make sure you save some to enjoy all together in the trifecta of flavors, because it’s worth it.
Fortunately, I made extra, and it makes GREAT leftovers. I felt a little guilty eating my fried plantains and black bean purée with milpero salsa for lunch next to my co-worker who was eating Subway. So, get outta here and go make your co-workers jealous!
Fried Plantains with Roasted Milpero Salsa
For the salsa verde:
- 1 pound milpero, husks removed and washed well
- 3-4 small cloves garlic, skin still on
- 6-8 scallions, ends trimmed
- 2 jalapeño peppers, halved and seeded
- 1 green pepper, halved and seeded
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 lime
For the black bean purée:
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 red pepper, seeded and diced
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 cups cooked black beans
- 1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
For the plantains
- Oil for frying
- 2 large ripe plantains (peels should be almost completely brown)
For the salsa, place all the ingredients (except the lime) on a parchment-lined roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Place under the broiler and broil for 5-8 minutes or until the vegetables begin to lightly char in places. Flip vegetables over with a spatula and broil for another 5-8 minutes on the other side. When done, remove from oven and let cool. Then, place all the contents from the roasting pan (including any liquid that has oozed out) into a food processor (removing the peels from the garlic), add the juice from 1 lime, and pulse until you have a chunky salsa verde. Taste for salt and lime and adjust seasoning.
For the black bean purée, sauté the onion and garlic on medium heat for 7-8 minutes or until the onion is nice and soft. Then add the pepper and sauté for another 3 minutes. Add the cumin and cayenne and let toast in the pan for a minute to release the flavors. Next, add the tomato paste, black beans, and vegetable stock and let simmer for 2-3 minutes to meld all the flavors. Purée with a hand blender or in a food processor until you have a smooth black bean purée. Adjust the seasoning and thickness to your liking.
For the plantains, pour oil into a skillet until it is about 3/4″ inch deep. Heat the oil over medium heat. Peel and slice the plantains at a diagonal angle into 1/2″ thick slices. Add the plantain slices to the pan and fry for about 2 minutes until golden brown. Turn the slices over and fry an additional 1-2 minutes until golden on both sides. Remove plantains from the oil and place on a paper towel to drain excess oil.
When ready to serve, place some black bean purée on a plate and top with the fried plantains and the salsa verde. Garnish with some crumbled cotija cheese and cilantro, if desired.