As I’ve never visited Mexico before, I eagerly decided to join Joan of Foodalogue on her latest installment of Culinary Tour Around the World, Culinary Tour 2010–South of the Border, the first stop of which is Mexico. If you haven’t already heard of Joan’s culinary expeditions around the world (and she’s an amazing tour guide I must add), please take a look at her site and join in the fun … the more the merrier!
Spanning almost 2 million square kilometers, Mexico is the fifth largest country in the Americas with an estimated population of 111 million. According to sources, the various regions of Mexico differ greatly in their cuisines. For example, in the Yucatan a unique sweetness (as opposed to spiciness) exists in the widely used local produce along with cooks’ affinity for achiote seasoning; while in the Oaxaca region savory tamales and heavenly moles reign.
As beans and rice have long been a staple in general Mexican cuisine, I was drawn to working with those two ingredients as well as my favorite, plantains. Popular spices in Mexico include cumin, oregano, saffron and various chilies. My dish used many of those (cumin, saffron and chipotle chiliesto be exact) and the result, Saffron Rice with Lentils topped with Queso Fresco alongside Fried Plantains, was pretty darn good!
Saffron Rice and Lentils Served with Fried Plantains
1 1/2 cups rice
8 oz. lentils
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 chipotle chili, seeded and finely chopped
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
4 to 5 cups water/broth
Salt and pepper, to taste
Parsley or cilantro, for garnish
In a large, deep skillet heat oil over medium-high heat. Stir in onion and garlic and saute until soft. Add the lentils and saute, stirring until they are coated well, for a minute longer. Add the saffron, paprika, cumin, chipotle and cayenne. Stir in the tomato paste, salt and pepper and add 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, re aduce heat to medium and simmer lentils for about 15 to 20 minutes.
Add the rice to the skillet and a little more water as necessary; bring the mixture to a simmer, cover and cook until the rice and lentils are cooked through (about 25 minutes).
Meanwhile, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Peel the plantains and cut into rounds. Fry the plantains in the hot oil until well browned (a couple of minutes on each side). When the rice and lentils are done, remove skillet from the heat and set aside for five minutes then uncover the skillet and fluff the rice and lentils with a fork. When ready to serve, mound rice on a dish, top with some Queso Fresco by crumbling it over top, add a sprinkling of chopped fresh parsley or cilantro, arrange plantains alongside … and enjoy!