Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking
It is very easy to get into a rut with our cooking, churning out the same old stuff week after week because we know how to do it and we know people like it, but it can get predictable.
One way to freshen things up without overtaxing the brain is to do similar things with different ingredients.
For instance, chuck a bit of meat in a casserole dish with some carrots and potatoes, add a stock cube and some water and you’re making a stew.
But if you use chicken and some less common vegetables, it’s just as easy but tastes completely different. Tropical vegetables are easy to find in most places these days, and people don’t use them because they don’t know what to do with them.
Today we’re going to make a tropical chicken stew with aubergines, okra and plantain.
Aubergines, the smooth, shiny purple things also known as eggplant, are a doddle. Cut off the green bit where the stalk is, cut them up and they’re ready to go. We used to be told to lay salt on them to remove the bitterness, but I don’t find them bitter at all. They’re not fantastically flavourful, in fact, but they add texture.
The same is true of okra, which some may find a bit slimy when you have them as a bindi bhaji. In a stew, though, they make it succulent.
Plantains, the macho big brother of the banana, can be cooked when they are still green (we did that months ago as the Venezuelan dish tostones). As they ripen they get sweeter and when they’re very ripe and you fry them they are very much like bananas, funnily enough. For this recipe we’re going to use them in a medium state, on the verge of turning yellow but nowhere near the black state (at which they are still perfectly edible, by the way).
Chicken thighs or drumsticks
One large aubergine, sliced crossways into half-inch rounds
Half a dozen okra, chopped into half-inch pieces
One large or several small plantains cut in half lengthways and into chunks
One green pepper, chopped
Root ginger, not grated but chopped into small cubes
Marinate the chicken in soy sauce and garlic for at least one hour.
Fry the chicken quickly just to seal it, and sprinkle a little chilli powder on it.
In the same pan, put the plantain in first and give it a minute or two on its own, then do the remaining ingredients – you will probably have to do them one at a time.
Put all the vegetables and the chicken into a casserole dish and add half a pint of chicken stock plus a splash of red wine and a sprinkling of celery salt (not too much).
Cook in a medium hot oven for two hours, checking occasionally. If it is drying out, add more stock and wine. When it’s ready, squeeze some lime or lemon juice over it
The plantain provides the carbohydrates, but by all means use potatoes or sweet potatoes for bulk – or mash and serve separately. You could also use yam, dasheen, cassava or one of the other tropical root vegetables, peeled and chopped.
Spice it up with some sort of hot sauce if you like. Chefs in the Caribbean often use white vinegar to liven up this sort of thing. Try a dash and see if you like it.