Thursday, March 25, 2010

Crisp and fresh: Bala de verde

This past summer, I spent a few weeks in Ecuador. In case you haven't noticed yet, I really enjoy food. So, of course, of all my wonderful memories from the trip, my biggest take away was the food.

I absolutely love all the fresh, healthy options that were integral to the diet. Some of my favorites were pan de yuca with yogurt, ceviche (different from Mexican and Peruvian- the Ecuadorian ceviche is a cross between the more commonly-known ceviche, and cioppino) and the star of this blog: the bala de verde. Bala de verde, or "green ball" is a traditional dish prepared with green plantains, cheese and sometimes bacon. Due to its versatility, the plantain is included in many Ecuadorian dishes, including the bala de verde.

Months after my trip to Ecuador, I was craving some of the tropical treats. Despite offering basically every type of ethnic food under the earth, San Francisco has omitted Ecuadorian food from its menus. (Or maybe I haven't hunted deep enough in the Mission to find it yet.) In any case, I was faced with a craving that only I could satisfy.

I'd purchased a plantain a week or two prior when it was still green. In the time elapsed, the plantain had ripened switching from a starchy flavor to a more sweet and closer in taste to a banana. Usually bala de verde is made by boiling green plantains until softened (much like one would prepare mashed potatoes), draining the water, mixing in the cheese and (optional) diced bacon. It was too late to approach the dish the traditional way, so I opted to do some improvising.

The exterior of the plantain is much more course and thick than its cousin the banana and requires a knife to extract the edible portion. the skin becomes increasingly easier to remove as the fruit ages, though even thoroughly browned, I still had to apply a fair amount of pressure. After removing the skin, I chopped the plantain into two inch pieces to reduce boiling time. It took about 20 minutes to soften the plantain.

Since the taste of the plantain was now sweeter, I decided to use mozzarella cheese. After I drained the excess water, I dropped in and mixed in about a handful of shredded mozzarella. I wanted to add a crunch in the mix, so I chopped up a granny smith apple into small cubes and mixed them in. I allowed this to cool for a few minutes before rolling the mixture into small balls. (One plantain, half a granny smith apple and about a handful of mozzarella yielded about six balls.) I sauteed all the balls together in a frying pan with a little bit of canola oil to solidify the shape. I allowed the "balas" to cool in the fridge and then enjoyed them with a little bit of guacamole.

It wasn't exactly what I had been craving, but it was fresh, light and delicious!

Doing this recipe again, I'd like to try a ricotta: I think the ricotta would be add to the consistency and lend itself well to the flavor of the sweet plantain.


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