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Cook Naija: Plantain Salad Imoyo

by on February 8, 2012
 

National  pride. Patriotism. What you might call it. There was a certain feeling of absolute ownership and total knowledge I had about my country, Nigeria – its people, its culture, its habitat…and especially its food.

Surprise, surprise..for it turns out ladies and gentlemen, that my knowledge of Naija, while authentic is not as all-encompassing as I thought.

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Tree squirrels were a pleasant surprise to me, spotted one morning while (angrily) waiting for my driver to turn up for work. Tiny feet prancing down trees and there they were – African pygmy squirrels – a real delight to the eyes, I tell you.

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Squirrels communicate with a series of chirps, expressing alarm or locating family members.  They twitch their tails for emphasis!

The smallest squirrel is the African Pygmy. They are 5 inches long from their heads to the tip of their tails. They are found in Nigeria, Cameroon and Gabon.

Plantain Salad Imoyo? An even bigger shock. I’ve written about the food bridge between Brazil and Nigeria, with the ‘export’  of Akara  but what I hadn’t discovered was the ‘return’, the importing of Brazilian ingredients and flavours to Nigeria.

Imoyo dishes are a fusion of West African and Brazilian cuisine. They arose as a result of the Portuguese slave trade which, during the 15th Century took many West Africans to Brazil. Then, in the 19th Century some freed slaves returned and settled on the coast of Nigeria, bringing with them green bell peppers, olive oil and garlic, which were added as a component of Nigerian cuisine.

I first came across a recipe in Elizabeth Jackson’s fantastic  1999 cookbook ‘South of the Sahara’, which shares delightful recipes from the lands of West Africa.  She says, rather poetically ‘Imoyo dishes combine the sultry and spicy West African foods with Brazilian ingredients and cooking methods….Imoyo dishes often feature vegetables marinated in vinegar, lime or lemon juice’

Plantains belong to the Musa genus, which is the same family as the banana, but they are a different species from the banana. Plantains are longer, with a thicker skin, less sweet and are never eaten raw. They are a staple food of many tropical countries and can be boiled or mashed and served with a sauce, fried up into delicious snacks, mashed and fried in golden cakes, or roasted. Plantains are a great source of potassium and Vitamin A, and also have substantial amounts of Vitamin C, magnesium and phosphorus. They have smaller amounts of a long list of other minerals and B vitamins. Because of their low sugar content they are a good choice of a complex carbohydrate.

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There are various versions of Imoyo meals,  made with seafood in the manner of escabeche, combined with chicken and even incorporated into a recipe called Imoyo eba, cassava (or grit) dumplings cooked in a  broth. Very often onions, peppers, and tomatoes are not cooked but added raw at the last moment.

Deciding to shock myself and others, I made this for a New Year’s barbeque that featured family and friends – to great reception. Why the need to surprise? Well, growing up, plantains  were and still are a staple but I am used to having them a certain way.

Boiled with pepper soup, fried and roasted but to pit them against ‘salad’  ingredients seemed taking it one step too far, especially as it was supposed to be a recipe from Nigeria. My country. Which I know. So well.

Boy, was I sold……..I loved the look, the ‘newness’ of the combination and the fact that i had learnt something about my very own homeland. And so the minute I was done, I started plotting a re-make. What I would do the next time to up the flavours and textures.

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First of all, I would definitely add some herbs to garnish, cut up the ingredients into smaller bits, than recommended in the recipe and finish off with some smoky, toasted cumin seeds.

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Plantain Salad Imoyo, adapted from South of the Sahara by Elizabeth Jackson

Ingredients
2 plantains, very ripe
¼ cup (extra virgin) olive oil
2 tablespoons lime juice , fresh
½ teaspoon salt, to taste
¼ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
Caster sugar, to taste
1 small green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 small hot red pepper, seeded and diced
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
1 teaspoon of cumin seeds, toasted and roughly crushed
Coriander (Cilantro) leaves, chopped
 
Options: you could add sweetcorn, chopped tomatoes, and lettuce

Tips

Ripe plantains will cook faster than green ones and will be much sweeter too. Use them if you can find them – they ‘make’ the dish.

I prefer to use ripe, not very ripe plantains though

Boiling the plantains in their skin intensifies the taste of the the plantain, and may preserve some nutrients.

Directions

Wash the plantains then top and tail them. Using a knife, make a slit along the length of the plantain but do not peel/remove the skin – this slits will make it easier to remove once cooked. Cut into 3 or 4 pieces.

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Place the  plantains in a medium saucepan with enough water to cover; bring to a boil and simmer for about ten to fifteen minutes or until plantains are soft enough to allow a fork or tip of a sharp knife pass through with ease.

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Once cooked, drain the plantains and set aside to cool.

Whisk the oil, lime juice, salt and pepper together until creamy or shake together in a jar. Taste and adjust seasoning with a pinch of sugar if it needs it.

Once the plantains are cool, remove the skins.

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Dice by cutting lengthways then across till you have small semi circles. Combine with the vegetables and add the dressing.

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Allow to rest for half and hour to an hour, at room temperature to allow the flavours ‘marry’.

Just before serving, sprinkle a pinch of toasted cumin and garnish with coriander leaves.

I served mine with some diced smoked chicken and yogurt, spiced with ginger garlic, cumin, salt and sugar.

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This is a vibrant salad – I love the wonderful contrasting colours and textures – the softness and smoothness of the plantains, warm heat from the de-seeded chilies, the crunch of the green bell peppers and the coolness of the cucumbers. And the finish of cumin and coriander leaves brings smokiness and herbiness that I enjoy in Middle Eastern meals.

The vinagrette/dressing is full of fresh, clean flavours  that work well to provide overall a well balanced, rounded dish.

Not to mention, destroy the ‘Plantain’ mindset and remind me that though I may be Nigerian, the totality of what Nigerian cuisine is about does not reside with me. Rather humbling but refreshing nonetheless.

Lesson well learnt.

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What are your favourite ways to have plantains if you’ve tried them?

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  • June 29, 2012 at 12:56 PM

    Looks delicious. I must try this sometime, maybe with a white burgundy.

    Reply

  • Yvonne
    April 7, 2012 at 6:15 PM

    Wow! This is really awesome. I love what you do with food, and the way you apply creativity to your cooking. I’m Nigerian – born, bred, and buttered, but I’ve never seen a plantain salad, and honestly, I can’t wait to try it!

    Reply

  • March 10, 2012 at 1:59 PM

    The salad looks fabulous. You know me and my “platanos”…one to keep.

    Reply

  • Orode
    March 8, 2012 at 2:54 AM

    Hi Ozoz

    By way of fluke, though I don’t believe in that, I have discovered your blog and you’ve kept me up an extra 40 mins reading through and I just had to leave a comment before I go to bed. I’m Nigerian, in the UK, moving to Nigeria soon. I’m also a pescetarian and so have really liked the plantain recipes you have posted. I have experimented with making vegetarian versions of Naija dishes using beans and veg to the dismay of y relatives. I make afang soup using mung and aduki beans and made pepper soup with chick peas and sweet potatoes, although that’s still an experiment in finding the right combination. Anyway, I will try the steamed plantain recipe. I’ve already used plantain in salad so its good to know that its an authetic Nigerian dish that I can hit back at my family lol.

    Thanks again, I’m sure you’ll hear from me again
    Orode

    Reply

  • February 13, 2012 at 1:33 AM

    What a vibrant salad with an inspired combination of flavors! I so enjoy your posts as I always learn something new and find your stories intriguing.

    Reply

  • February 12, 2012 at 11:29 AM

    I love how food is a discovery. As I get older, I’ve come to appreciate more about Chinese (in particular, Cantonese) food and why it is the way it is. It is also an important part of understanding my own cultural heritage.

    Reply

  • February 12, 2012 at 5:50 AM

    What a gorgeous salad! I love plantains, but have only had them fried. I would love to try them this way:-) The flavors sound amazing:-) Take care, Terra

    Reply

  • February 12, 2012 at 5:37 AM

    cool nice salad, and fun to learn from you as always

    Reply

  • February 11, 2012 at 3:32 PM

    This is beautiful. I am familiar with plantains as they are abundant here. Love the squirrels too…I would be happy to send you all my grey squirrels from yard to you (smile).

    Take care.

    Velva

    Reply

  • February 11, 2012 at 12:44 AM

    Lovely photo’s thanks Oz, and a gorgeous salad.
    I think a lot of people might be surprised at how food has moved around the world over the centuries.

    Reply

    • February 11, 2012 at 10:07 PM

      I agree Amanda – it was a pleasant surprise for me, and a humbling experience. But it is for this very reason I love food – the variety and variability, the exploration and combinations. Endless possibilities.

      Reply

  • February 10, 2012 at 1:30 AM

    Great recipe, all of the fresh ingrdients you use make this a beautiful recipe! Great site and beautiful pictures. I look forward to seeing more!

    Reply

  • February 9, 2012 at 9:09 PM

    I’m going to try this one Oz! I like plantains and use them often. I slice them thin and make plantain chips…my husbands favorite so I do that for him. I also like them sliced, cooked, then smashed and pan fried…I believe it’s Cuban called tostones. My favorite is when they get very ripe and sweet, I will saute them with butter and molasses with some cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and if I have some gingerbread liqueur or Cointreau…

    Anyway I love this recipe and hear of the history and stories of regional foods. Your posts are always so interesting and full of information.

    I often hear the squirrels squawking at the neighbor’s cat when visiting the bird feeder. :)

    Reply

    • February 11, 2012 at 11:06 PM

      I will have to try them your way – expand my plantain horizons – its the sound of the Cointreau….that has me :-). Thanks for your kind words – so sweet you are to me. I think I like red squirrels best but….

      Reply

  • February 9, 2012 at 4:37 PM

    I’ve never seen plantains prepared this way. I love that these bananas are incorporated into such a bright salad.

    Reply

  • Krista
    February 9, 2012 at 6:02 AM

    I have never cooked with plantain, dear Oz, and I don’t know if I’ve even tasted it before! You have me intrigued. I shall have to see if I can find some around here. :-)

    Reply

  • February 9, 2012 at 2:17 AM

    Isn’t it wonderful that you are still learning new things about your country? I’m a fan of fried plantains, however you have made me eager to try them in a salad. I personally like your addition of toasted cumin seed and the cilantro, they are a couple of my favorite seasoning/herbs.

    Reply

    • February 11, 2012 at 11:16 PM

      Rhonda – you know my heart and mind. I find it refreshing and very exciting to learn. Coming home is such a mixed, interesting bag……..I hope you enjoy the salad if you try it. Thanks and take care

      Reply

  • February 8, 2012 at 11:54 PM

    What a beautiful looking salad. Such wonderful colours. I haven’t cooked bananas in that way before nor do I have squirrels in my trees! This would be a great dish to try.

    Reply

  • February 8, 2012 at 8:54 PM

    What a beautiful and unusual looking salad, Oz! I’m glad it went down well! It’s always nice to present an old staple in an unexpected way.. :)

    Reply

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