Within Caribbean culture, a plant-based diet seems to garner a lot of attention and curiosity. For example, after stating that I don’t eat meat or that I’m vegan, I’m usually bombarded with questions and concerns about my health, and my access to protein, and vitamin B12. Within our communities, the culinary culture views meat as the central focus of each meal and the other dishes as merely sides which complement the meat. Since my transition to a vegan diet, I’ve had to explore ways in which I could highlight some of these plant-based ingredients while creating an experience that would make the person eating rethink their ideas of what we traditionally think constitutes a good and complete meal.
However, disagreements aside, I firmly believe that if one ingredient could unite vegans and meat-eaters alike, if only just for a moment, it would be plantain. Plantain is not just a delicious addition to a meal, but also a great source of fiber, vitamins A, C, and B6, in addition to potassium and magnesium. Within many Caribbean households, plantain is a staple starch which, depending on the level of ripeness, can be used in the creation of several delicious dishes.
While a full-time plant-based diet typically falls victim to numerous misconceptions such as being bland and lacking flavour, I always find joy in applying a creative spin on local dishes or using local ingredients that I think are sometimes underutilized to create something new. I created this “Tropical Plantain Salad” recipe, inspired by the popular dish “Green Fig Salad”, as a means of combining sweet and savory ingredients with tropical vegetables while employing the familiar style of the traditional green banana dish. Tropical Plantain Salad makes use of vegetables such as tomatoes, red onions, red and green bell peppers, garlic, celery, and chives as well as spices such as turmeric and cayenne each of which boasts unique health benefits ranging from anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties from the turmeric and digestive support from the cayenne.
This recipe takes a starchy fruit with which people are usually content being served boiled plainly or simply fried. It adds more bold flavours and colours to it while maintaining the essence of what people love about it: the taste and texture.
Tropical Plantain Salad
- 5 Plantain (medium sized)
- 1 Red onion
- 1 Red bell pepper
- 1 Green bell pepper
- 1 cup Red cabbage (chopped)
- 5 stalks Celery
- 4 Tomatoes (Medium sized)
- 1 tsp Sea salt
- 1 dash Cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp Turmeric
- 1 tsp Cumin
- 8 leaves Basil
- 5 cloves Garlic
- 6 stalks Chives
- 1 tbsp Brown sugar
- Begin by cutting the top and bottom edges off of the plantain while in the skin and then adding it to a pot of boiling water. Typically, when the plantain is sufficiently boiled, it will begin to burst at the seams of the plantain skins. It is most ideal to take the plantains out while they are cooked but still fairly firm.
- Secondly, you allow the plantains to cool before cutting them up into small to medium-sized dice.
- Next, you start to make your tomato sauce. Add roughly two tablespoons of coconut oil to a saucepan on a medium heat. When it begins heating up, you add your spices: turmeric, cumin and cayenne pepper. After about a minute or two, your garlic and chives can be finely chopped and put into the pan to caramelize to extract their flavours and blend in with the spices. Subsequently, your tomatoes can be finely chopped and added to the pot with a dash of sweetener. The contents of the pan can then be covered to maintain the moisture and occasionally stirred. After the structure of the tomato begins to break down and forms a more thick liquid, you add your sea salt according to your taste, along with the chopped basil leaves. Within a minute, the burner can then be turned off and the sauce left to cool.
- The fourth step is to prepare your fresh vegetables that will not be heated at all for this recipe, These would include your bell peppers, red onions, red cabbages and celery.
- Lastly, combine all ingredients and chill before serving.