Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Recipe #1: Green Plantain Chips

I hope you read yesterday's post about my new challenge to myself. I calculate that if I put up a recipe (at least a draft) every day, taking Saturday and Sunday off, for the rest of the year, that will be 171 recipes. That should cover most of the book. I'll begin with a very popular item throughout Sub-Saharan Africa: green plantain chips. I make these frequently--twice in the last week: once with a cooking class on "The meaning of food" (see the photo on the right) and once for the local Chamber of Business and Industry "Spotlight" for members. Both times we had them with bissap, a hibiscus iced tea, but that recipe is for another day.

BTW, green plantain chips are a great way to impress your friends if you're from Pennsylvania where they're exotic (but not so if you're from, say, Florida), they're cheap and easy to make, and I never have any left over! Our local African Market owner says they're the one sure seller in her store, too. Freshly made chips have it over those packaged ones in the stores any day.

Start with big green plantains. Since they sell them by the "each" in our stores here, I always buy the biggest, greenest ones I can get, but that's not necessarily the most flavorful. Most people won't know the difference. If you plan to use a vegetable peeler to make them into strips, it's a good idea to try and find plantains that are fairly flat as opposed to really curved.

Here's the basic recipe:

1. 2 or 3 large plantains will make enough for several people for a snack

2. vegetable oil for deep frying (I usually use canola)

3. salt to taste


1. a sharp knife a sturdy vegetable peeler (I'm partial to my Farberware one) or mandolin or grater
2. a strainer basket or colander lined with paper towels for draining

3. a heavy deep pan for frying (I use a deep fryer or my large cast iron skillet)

4. cutting board (optional)

5. a long-handled slotted spoon

Rinse the plantain and peel it by slicing off each end, then make a long slit along the length without cutting into the plantain itself. Make a cut around the circumference of the center of the plantain peel, also avoiding the actual plantain. This allows you to remove the peeling in pieces.

Use the tip of the knife to pry the peeling loose to get started. Scrape off any fibrous strings on the plantain with the knife.

There are different ways to slice the plantain: some like to cut them into thin circles or ovals on a cutting board. I prefer to make elegant long slices using a potato peeler (or you could use a grater or mandolin). These are easy to make very thin and crisp.
Fill the pan or deep fryer not more than half full, then heat the oil to about 365 degrees Farenheit (185 degrees Centigrade). [If I'm using my stove top, the medium high setting will give me approximately the correct temperature, but I do have to turn it up and down to keep it from getting too hot. If you drop a piece of plantain into the oil and it sits on the bottom, the oil is too cold. If as soon as you drop it in it comes to the top and almost immediately begins to brown, the oil is too hot.]

You can either make a bunch of slices and then drop them one by one, or drop them in as you slice each one. I usually get about 1 1/2 dozen slices ready and then put them in. Don't add them all at once or they'll clump. I usually keep nudging them as I put them in to keep them from sticking to each other. Stir with a long-handled spoon to make sure they cook evenly. After a few minutes, remove the chips when they are golden and drain them on a lined colander. If the chips "bend" they're not fully cooked: they should be crispy, like potato chips.

Salt the chips while they are still warm. After they cool, store them in an airtight container.

Hints: I often just lie a plantain on a cutting board and run the peeler along it a few times, turn the plantain over and do the same thing, then turn the plantain a quarter turn to do it again (and finally rotate it one more time, then repeat as necessary. This keeps the slices nice and even and it works for me. If it's too complicated for you, do whatever is easiest. Also, if you don't want to fuss with long slices (or they won't fit in your fryer/pan), just cut the plantains in half and make shorter slices.

Variation: if you prefer spicy, sprinkle the chips with salt AND ground red pepper to taste.

Chips go well with any cold drink, from beer to iced tea.
Also, you can make these from plantains that are somewhat yellow, but not soft. They'll look a little darker, and be just a little sweeter. School children particularly love to help make plantain chips (just make sure an adult handles the deep fryer, and that young fingers do not go into the oil or splash it when adding the plantain slices). Oh, by the way, when you get as many plantain slices as you can before the plantain begins breaking apart, don't throw out those odd pieces: fry them up and enjoy them yourself them or hand them out to an observer! If you try this recipe or have any other tips, suggestions, etc., please let me know here (comment) email me (, or twitter me.

Here's a not-so-great plantain I have in the kitchen right now. At least it will give you the idea.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

They say it's impossible. Is it? I'd like to see.

Today's blog posting is more personal than usual. I need some advice.

I've spent almost 40 years preparing to write a certain book. Along the way I've written other books, and parts of books, but not the one of my dreams--the book to cause Americans to fall in love with one African cuisine: Ghana's. Over the years, every time I've approached editors and agents I've gotten similar responses: "Regrettably, after discussing this carefully and considering potential publishers, we feel that the topic is narrow
and will likely be met with reluctance by publishers." "I don't know where I could place this book." "There is, unfortunately, no market for single-country African cookbooks." "African cookbooks traditionally do not sell well."

With the recent decline of cookbook publishing, even an editor at Hippocrene, a press noted for its regional African cookbook series, had this to say "In this current economic climate, we have just not been able to take on all the projects that we would like. Since our cookbooks are the most expensive to produce and more of a risk in terms of marketability/sales, we have slowed down cookbook acquisitions considerably this year. . . if you are still looking in a year or so, please touch base . . . "

I've been thinking a lot recently, and decided that this negativity is unacceptable. My blog audience and presentations before culinary groups convince me that there are many people out there who ARE interested in more in-depth coverage of the cooking of a specific African country (e.g., Ghana). And the time is NOW to get the cookbook Barbara Baeta have collaborated on since 2002 in print. I'm thinking that I'll turn to you, my blog family, to help with the recipe testing. I'd like to post a recipe a day (gulp--what do you think? is that realistic? there are about 200 recipes) from the cookbook (there are lots of possible titles you can advise me on, too, from The Good Soup Comes From the Good Earth: Regional Cooking of Ghana
to Fran Cooks With Flair: Essentials from Barbara Baeta's West African Kitchen to
Cooking of Ghana: Akara to Tuo Zaafe.)

My children recently encouraged me to read some of Chris Guillebeau's writing (including his free pdf's for "279 Days to Overnight Success" and "A Brief Guide to World Domination," both available at the link above. As I stare age 60 in the face this month, in the back of my mind is the memory of Susan Boyle's brave "I'm going to make that audience rock." Ms. Boyle and Chris are my examples. What do you all think? Would you be ready to support me, test my recipes, give me feedback, and help me live my "impossible" dream? To finish this book, publisher or no, by the end of this year? And to get it into print.

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