Tuesday, December 2, 2014

My Machuca....

About two years ago, I visited Roatan, Honduras.  I went on a tour of the island, expecting the usual photo opps and shopping stops.  I didn't expect one of the best culinary experiences of my life...but I sure got one. Our last stop was at a little Garifuna village where the women were making a traditional soup called Machuca.  I've dreamt about it ever since.

I remember asking our tour guide on the way back how to make it, and she gave me her basic recipe; I've not forgotten it: mashed plantains, coconut milk, fish stock, peppers, onions, cumin, coriander and fish.  Of course the Garifuna women don't have Trader Joe's or Whole Foods, so they make their own coconut milk from shredding and soaking coconut meat, and their own fish stock from simmering fish heads, shells, bones, conch, etc.  I'm sure this is why their Machuca was so delicious and memorable.  This weekend was cold and rainy, and my thoughts ventured to sunny vacations, so I figured it was time to bust out a little Machuca.

Here's what you need.....

Black plantains (they're sweeter and so ripe that they need very little cooking), coconut milk, seafood stock (I'm not buying fish heads, sorry), onion, bell pepper, Serrano pepper, garlic, cumin, coriander and fish (preferably snapper, but any white fish will do).  Traditional Machuca also contains yucca, but it takes a long tome to cook and it wasn't in my guide's recipe, so I left it out, but if you're looking for authenticity, go for it - just boil that first until soft, then add to the soup later.

Start by slicing the plantains in half, peeling the flesh from the skin and chopping.  Place in a pot of boiling water along with about a teaspoon of chopped garlic (boiling the garlic helps mellow the bite of raw garlic).

My plantains were super ripe and soft, so I only had to boil for about 5 minutes.  When done, drain really well (cook the rest of the soup while it drains) and mash with the garlic and a pinch of salt.

To prepare the soup, sauté the onion, bell pepper, Serrano, and garlic in coconut oil until softened, about 3-5 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop the fish into bite-sized pieces.  The Garifuna often will fry fish and place that in the bowl with the soup poured over, but I opted for just simmering fresh fish pieces in the soup before serving.

When the onion mixture is soft, add cumin and coriander and sauté an additional 1-2 minutes. Then add coconut milk and seafood stock, and bring to a gentle simmer.

Add the fish and cook just until opaque and cooked through, stirring often to turn the fish, keeping it in the hot liquid.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and just before serving add a splash of lime juice.

Now the  presentation..... take a handful of the plantain mash and form into a ball.  Place that in the middle of the bowl....

...then pour the soup mixture all around the plantain ball.  We had ours served like this, but often the Garifuna people will serve the mashed plantains in a separate bowl on the side.  I really prefer it all together, taking a little spoonful of the plantains in each sip of soup.  The combination of sweet, spicy, creamy and tart (from the lime - so don't be stingy) is incredible.

Man, I need another culinary vacation......

Machuca (Suzanne Style)
Serves 4

2 black plantains, peeled and chopped
2 teaspoons chopped garlic, divided
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 Serrano chili pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 can coconut milk
2 cups seafood broth
1 lb snapper or other white fish, cut into bite-sized pieces
1-2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste
  • Place the chopped plantains and 1 teaspoon garlic in a pot of boiling water.  Boil until softened, about 5 minutes.  Drain well while you prepare the rest of the soup.
  • Heat coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add onion, Serrano, bell pepper and remaining 1 teaspoon garlic.  Sauté stirring occasionally until softened, about 3-5 minutes. 
  • Add cumin and coriander and cook an additional 1-2 minutes.
  • Stir in coconut milk and seafood stock, and bring to a gentle boil.
  • Add fish and stir occasionally, turning the fish pieces to keep under the liquid until opaque and cooked through, about 5 minutes. 
  • Meanwhile mash plantains in a bowl with a pinch of salt.  Form plantain mixture into 4 balls and place in each of four bowls.
  • When fish is cooked, season soup with salt and pepper and add lime juice to taste.
  • Pour soup around plantain ball and serve immediately.
Cook Happy!

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