Mofongo, just like Mondongo, is a word of African origin. And like Mondongo, I love the word. "Mofongo," pronounced just like it's spelled. Mondongo, as described in a prior post, is a hearty stew. Mofongo is simply a mix of crushed green plantains with fried pork crackling, usually served with a sauce. I know, fried pork gets a bad rap now and then but, from time to time, this is a superb dish. Once you've taste it, you'll be come back for more, I'm sure.

We Puerto Ricans adore mofongo. And we prepare it as individually shaped mofongo balls, similar to meatballs. Cuban mofongo differs from ours in that the mixture is shaped into one large ball which is served in a bowl. Modern variations have this type of mofongo stuffed with beef or seafood. Whatever method you prefer, it is a delicious appetizer, side dish or meal on its own. By the way, the recipe given is from my first cookbook, Puerto Rican Cuisine in America (Perseus Books Group).

Note that plantains these days are very easy to find. Almost every supermarket carries them. We even get them in our summer place in Vermont. They are a traditional root plant well known in the Caribbean, and are quite healthy for one. They are high in Vitamin A, potassium and fiber. They contain similar nutritional benefits as bananas. Can't go wrong there.

MOFONGO (Plantains and Pork Crackling)

5 green plantains
1/2 pound salt pork, washed and diced
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
Vegetable oil for frying

1. Peel plantains and cut into diagonal slices about 1-inch thick
2. Place plantains and diced salt pork in a pot with water to cover. Let soak for 10 minutes.
3. Drain and wipe both plantains and salt pork with paper towels.
4. Place salt pork in a hot skillet or frying pan (no extra oil is necessary). Stir-fry over high heat until pieces are browned and crisp (about 5 minutes) and set aside. This is know as the chicharron or pork crackling.
5. Deep fry plantains in hot oil until golden. Drain well on paper towels.
6. Crush plantains and pork crackling together in a wooden bowl or mortar. This may have to be done in batches depending upon the size of the bowl or mortar. Set aside.
7. Crush garlic cloves, and blend in olive oil. This is best done in a mortar, if you have one, or any small bowl will do.
8. Add garlic-oil seasoning to the plantains and crackling, and mix thoroughly.
9. Scoop up a tablespoon of the mixture and shape into a ball (about 2-inches in diameter, or larger if desired). Repeat until mix is used up.
10. Serve by itself or with favorite sauce or gravy.
Yield: 12 or more mofongo balls.
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