I was excited about this dish. It’s a Puerto Rican side dish of African origin, basically a cake of fried plantains, chicharrones and garlic all mashed together and smothered in delicious tomato sauce. When we lived in Ridgewood, Queens, we had a couple of Puerto Rican and Dominican places down the block that served wonderful, wonderful versions of this. (If you’re in the area, try Jorge’s on Seneca Ave., right under the Seneca M stop. It’s the one with the purple neon lights in the windows.) You can also get it with chicken, or with whole garlicky shrimp on the side. They’re all delicious, and in our neighborhood the going rate for a cake of mofongo bigger than the two of us could finish was about $3.50. Did I mention it’s gluten free? I must have eaten this stuff three times a week when I first went on the gluten-free diet. We often had it on the side with some pollo a la plancha and rice and beans, but just as often we’d eat it on our own. Filling! Cheap! Gluten-free!
Mofongo is probably the dish Joe and I have missed the most since moving to Philly. We tried a $15 version at Mixto but were unimpressed, so we decided to make our own. I looked up a couple of recipes but didn’t find anything quite like I remembered, so we decided to pretty much wing it.
3 green plantains, sliced diagonally
6 cloves garlic
1/2 cup crumbled chicharrones, fried fatback or bacon, cooked
Olive oil and salt to taste
Fry the plantain slices until they soften. Crush garlic and grind in mortar and pestle with olive oil and salt. Add all ingredients to food processor and pulse in short bursts until the plantains are in small pieces. (Do not puree. If it’s a paste, you’ve gone too far.) Pack tightly into a bowl or small ramekins to shape. Warm in oven on low heat until ready to serve.
3 cloves of garlic
2 Cups of chopped cherry tomatoes (I used green, yellow and red)
One medium onion chopped
Two chilli peppers or japalenos roasted, peeled, seeded and finely chopped.
One cup of chicken stock
Four scallions chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste
Heat olive oil in a high-sided pan or pot on medium high heat. Add onion, saute for a couple of minutes. Add garlic and saute until soft but not brown. Add tomatoes and stir. Cook for a couple of minutes and add the scallions and chillies. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes. Add chicken stock. Increase heat to high. When it begins to bubble, reduce heat to medium low and simmer for another ten minutes. Use a stick blender or pour liquid into a blender. Blend until you have a thick but soupy consistency. Put back on stove on low heat and add salt and pepper to taste. At this point you could add a bit more stock if is is too thick. You want it to be easily pourable yet it should adhere to the mofongo. Also, you can cut down on the chillies if you don’t want it blazing hot.
We bought three green plantains, but our first surprise was that two of them ripened really quickly. OK, so we’d be unorthodox and mix green (savory) and yellow (sweet) plantains in our mofongo. So far, so good. Joe pounded some chicken cutlets flat, rubbed them with adobo seasoning and threw them on the grill. He fried up some bacon and some fatback (since we can no longer just go to the corner butcher for a cone of hot chicharrones), and threw together a tomato sauce.
Meanwhile, I sliced the plantains and fried them until they got soft and a little bit brown. Then I attempted to mash them with a masher, but they just got stuck in the grooves of the masher, so I threw them in the Cuisinart with the pork. I muddled some garlic, olive oil and salt with the mortar and pestle and threw that in as well. A few pulses later, it looked like mofongo. It smelled like mofongo. And it tasted like mofongo. Score!
Since we didn’t really have a good mold for a big mofongo cake, I pressed the mixture into ramekins to make little single-serving cakes. We served them piled with Joe’s improvised tomato sauce and some chopped fresh scallions, and the chicken, for a bright and colorful meal. (Sadly, my camera ran out of batteries!) The sauce was much, much spicier than the thin, savory sauce we loved in Ridgewood, and the plantains were sweeter. It wasn’t exactly like the Ridgewood version, but it was damn tasty.
And then I had a nasty allergic reaction, the details of which I’ll spare you. I have a long history of negative and scary interactions between my immune system and my gut and have been diagnosed with all sorts of things (see the FAQ for a Cliffs Notes version), and this was the first bad experience I’ve had since my recent stay in the hospital. I made it through half a serving of mofongo and then was pretty much destroyed for the night. I’m not sure which ingredient declared war on my body, but I’ll definitely be discussing this at my next doctor’s appointment.
But! The good news: if you’re not a freak like me, this dish is quite tasty, and much easier to make than I expected it to be.