Among the many favorite Puerto Rican dishes in the Caribbean, there are the usual suspects: arroz con pollo (rice and chicken), pasteles (meat pies), mondongo (a hearty stew), pernil (roast pork shoulder), etc. We also have piñon, which is not that well known. Piñon is a beef/plantain casserole. The word itself, "piñon", is Taino in origin. The Tainos were native to the Caribbean. An they were more peaceful than their other tribal brethren, the Caribs, who were cannibalistic. Our culture is replete with Taino words, such as mofongo (plantains and pork crackling), guanimes (cornmeal sticks), bianda (root plants), gandinga ( a mixed dish of hog's liver, kidney and heart), and my favorite, sambumbia (pronounced sam-boom-biah---basically, any leftovers cooked together in one pot). You'll notice that most of these words have to do with food, that being a significant part of our cultural heritage and makeup.
What makes pinon unique is that the dish calls for ripe plantains, also known as yellow plantains since that's the color they acquire during the ripening process. Luckily for most of us, plantains can be found almost anywhere in urban settings. If you can't get ripe ones, simple, buy green plantains, put them in a cool, dark area and let them ripen (usually 2-3 days). This dish also calls for beans as part of the casserole. My mother always used canned beans. Now, I know the purists out there will balk at this. But let me say, the reason my mom used canned beans is because they were easier, and she always used kidney beans. If you still want to use dry beans, remember you have to soak them overnight before cooking, cover with water and simmer until tender (about 40-45 minutes).
Let me add, this recipe is from my first cookbook Puerto Rican Cuisine in America (Avalon Press - Thunders Mouth Books)
PIÑON (BEEF/PLANTAIN CASSEROLE)
1 pound lean ground beef
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
6 whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
3 ripe yellow plantains
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, or more as needed
1 (16-ounce) can kidney beans, drained
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Put garlic cloves, oregano, peppercorns and salt in a mortar. Pound until crushed. Add olive oil and vinegar, and mix thoroughly. (note: if you don't have a mortar and pestle, just combine garlic, oregano, 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper, and salt in a cup. Then add olive oil and vinegar).
3. Place meat in a bowl and combine with seasoning.
4. Stir-fry the beef in a very hot skillet (no oil is necessary) until meat loses its red color. Set aside.
5. Peel the plantains and cut at an angle into 1/2-inch slices. In a frying pan, heat vegetable oil and fry plantains over moderate heat until golden.
6. Grease a 2-quart casserole and arrange half of the plantains on the bottom. Then top with beef. Layer the beans over the meat. Top with the remaining plantains. Pour the beaten eggs over the layers.
7. Bake, uncovered, for 1 hour.
Yield: 6 servings.
Photo: Courtesy of hispanickitchen.com
Labels: Beef mince, Black pepper, Caribbean, Casserole, Olive oil, Plantain, Taino, Vinegar