This recipe came about because I had made an enormous pot of stock using a whole chicken to make a chicken soup for my sister straight after she gave birth to her son. Space constrained me, though, so I could only make soup from half of the chicken. Before I knew it, the rest of the poached chicken and stock had been sitting in the fridge for five days and it was definitely time to do something with it.
I prefer eating chunky soups to smooth ones, but smooth soups are way easier to make because it doesn’t really matter what you put it in and how you chop it as it all gets blitzed anyway. For chunky soups you need everything uniformly sized so they cook at the same rate, are easy to fit on the spoon and look nice. So much more effort. But I knew I wanted a tomatoey chicken soup and I knew I didn’t want to blitz the chicken so this had to be a hearty chunky soup. Using a tin of chopped tomatoes is ace because someone’s already done the effort for you!
Plantain tostones is one of those things I’ve been keen to master but never really spent much time trying it out. I guess it’s mostly because you have to double fry them and even with the best oil in the world it’s still an incredibly high temperature on a high starch food which can form a chemical called acrylamide which may be harmful to health. I asked my grandad – an oils and fats scientist – about this and he said that the levels of acrylamide are very low, and I’m hardly eating french fries three times a day. I delved a bit deeper to see what the Internet says about the matter and, like many things, we just don’t know the extent of the risk. There is not sufficient evidence that it is carcinogenic and harmful to health, but we also don’t know that they aren’t and studies are ongoing. Mark Sisson suggests that as we have been cooking for many thousands of years we may have developed detoxification pathways for acrylamides. Overall the consensus seems to be don’t worry too much about it. Almost all food we eat can be optimised in some way or, conversely, can form chemical compounds that are harmful; any starchy vegetable that we roast or fry will form acrylamides at some level. Ultimately it’s about being sensible with consumption, and that’s true of the way I approach all things Paleo.
With that in mind, I played around with different cooking techniques and although you can boil and bake them, ultimately hot oil does need to be involved. The effort involved, the fact that plantains are hardly local to the UK and they’re not that easy to find near me means I’ll keep them on my occasional (but yummy!) list.
Ingredients. Serves three.
For the soup:
- 1 small onion
- 2 small carrots
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 red or orange bell pepper
- 1 mild red chilli or 1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 tin of crushed tomatoes
- 1/2 chicken or 4 chicken thighs, poached (or leftover from a roast) and shredded
- 1 litre chicken stock
- Large handful of coriander and chives, chopped
- Coconut oil, ghee or animal fat
For the plantains:
- 2 green plantains
- Coconut oil for frying
- Coarse sea salt for sprinkling on top
Method. Cooking time: 30 minutes.
- Melt the fat over a medium-high heat. Once hot, add the vegetables and stir well. Allow to cook until softish, about 10 minutes.
- Add the tin of tomatoes and bring to a bubble. Add in the cooked chicken, stir to coat. Add the stock.
- Bring to a boil and allow to cook for 15-20 minutes, until the vegetables are soft.
- Ladle into warm serving bowls and serve with the plantain tostones on the side.
- Slice the plantains into thick slices, about the length of the first knuckle joint of the little finger.
- Heat up enough coconut oil so it’s about an inch deep in the frying pan. When it’s very hot, add in the plantain slices. Don’t overcrowd the pan, just put in a single layer. You will probably need to do it it in two batches, depending on the size of your pan. The oil should bubble up over the plantain; turn them over after a minute.
- Take the plantains out of the oil after 3 minutes (they will have turned a slightly more golden yellow) and drain in a sieve lined with kitchen paper. Turn the oil off while you move on to the next step to avoid burning the oil.
- Brush the bottom of a bowl with some melted coconut oil (take it from the pan you’re frying in!). Lay your plantains out on a board, place the oiled bowl on top and gently press down on the plantain so they spread out and double in width.
- Heat up your oil again and fry the plantains for a second time until golden brown and crisp. Sprinkle with salt and eat immediately.
- As I mentioned, I tried cooking the plantains in three different ways – double fried as explained above, boiled then fried and boiled then baked in the oven. They were a lot harder to smash evenly after the boiling and I couldn’t get them thin enough without falling apart. All cooking methods came out crispy by the end, but they were nowhere near as pretty as the double fried ones. However, the double fried ones weren’t so good half an hour or so after cooking – they really need to be eaten fresh. They start going a bit starchy and mealy in texture. The baked ones came out the crispiest but also the oiliest.
- You could jazz up your soup with some guacamole and drizzle on some sour cream or grate some feta over if you’re eating primal. You could also make crispy plantain chips which taste uncannily like nacho chips by slicing them thinly (a food processor does a good job of doing it evenly!), coating in coconut oil or ghee, laying them out in a single layer on a lined baking tray and baking for about 45 minutes, flipping them over halfway, until they’re golden brown and crispy.