Courters' Kitchen: Plantains, chilies, island spices add taste of Caribbean to vegetarian lasagna

Courters' Kitchen: Plantains, chilies, island spices add taste of Caribbean to vegetarian lasagna

March 6th, 2013 by Barry Courter in Life Entertainment

Kelley Courter's vegetarian lasagna uses plantains in place of noodles, along with kidney beans, peppers and queso fresco cheese.

Photo by Connor Choate/Times Free Press.

COURTERS' KITCHEN

This monthly cooking series features husband and wife team Barry and Kelley Courter.

BARRY SAYS: Ever since seeing the documentary "Forks Over Knives," we have tried to eat more of a plant-based diet than meat-based and, while it hasn't been easy on Kelley, she has taken the challenge to heart. We have not completely given up meat or cheese because, well, we like them a lot, but we do try. It's easier to do in the summertime, when local gardens are turning out lots of fresh produce.

This lasagna proved to be a hit with us and a couple of fully committed vegetarian family members. It was full of complex flavors and protein, and I would definitely eat it again.

KELLEY SAYS: My search for different cuisines led me to the Caribbean. With the weather still cool, I was looking for comfort food, and this dish certainly did the trick.

Basically, the filling is something we have often, usually served with nacho chips. The picadillo usually contains beef or pork, but I substituted the vegetarian burger and added the red beans for additional protein.

I had never cooked nor eaten a plantain before, so making this dish was another adventure. I don't even want to know how many calories this dish stacked up, but it served its purpose of being a full and comforting winter meal. I also made a fresh mango salsa and batter-fried a couple of the plantains with cilantro dressing to go with field greens.

BARRY: The cilantro dressing was amazing. Pretty similar to the chimichurri at Congo on Main Street. But, we are focusing here on the plantain lasagna, and it was great. The four of us tried to break it apart and offer thoughts on how to improve it or do it differently, but we all agreed there wasn't much in the way of improvements. We could think of things to do differently but not many.

KELLEY: I would have spiked up the heat level with some more jalapeño and chipotle, but toned it down for guests. My next attempt with plantains will be mashed with some sort of jerked steak and the cilantro dressing.

Oops, I wasn't supposed to mention the meat thing.

BARRY: You know I'll eat it.

Vegetarian Plantain Lasagna

1/2 cup peanut oil

5 moderately ripe plantains, peeled and quartered lenghthwise

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1 large onion, finely diced

1/2 green bell pepper, finely diced

1 jalapeño pepper, minced, diced

5 medium cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves and fine stems

2 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground all spice

1/2 packet sazon

2 tablespoons fresh oregano

2 tablespoons canned chipotles en adobo, peppers and liquid, peppers chopped

1 (15.5-ounce) can red kidney beans, drained

A 12-ounce packet of Yves ground meat substitute

1 small (8-ounce) can tomato sauce

2 cups water

2 bay leaves

3 ounces golden raisins

1/2 cup chopped green olives

2 (12-ounce) block queso fresco, crumpled

2 roasted poblano peppers, peeled and sliced lengthwise in quarter-inch wide strips

4 roasted small red peppers, sliced in circles

3 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup milk

Heat peanut oil in a medium skillet and sauté onions and peppers until wilted. Add garlic and cook for one minute. Add spices, fresh cilantro and oregano. Add water, Bay leaves, chipotles, beans, vegetarian burger and tomato sauce. Cook for about five minutes, add raisins and olives and simmer for about 20 minutes. Season to taste.

Heat one inch of peanut oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until the oil simmers. Working in batches, fry plantains until lightly browned on each side. Three to four minutes per side. Drain plantains on paper towels. Repeat with all plantains, adding oil to pan as necessary.

Spray a four-quart glass casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray. Place one layer of fried plantains in the bottom. Spoon half the bean mixture over the plantains, then sprinkle half the cheese over the beans. Repeat with one additional layer of plantains, then remaining beans. Finish with a final layer of plantains, then top with remaining cheese. Crisscross roasted poblanos and red peppers on top of lasagna.

Beat eggs with milk and pour over top of casserole. Bake lasagna at 350 degrees until cheese is melted and browned, about 40 minutes. Let cool for about 15 minutes.

Cut lasagna into squares and serve. Serves six to eight generous portions.