Monday, January 26, 2015

Pl(ant)ain and Simple

Plantains are plentiful at Farmers Markets in Costa Rica!
Plantains have not always been at the top of my list of preferred foods, but I have recently discovered that I have acquired the taste—yes, even a craving—for those big green (or yellow or even black) ugly banana-like fruits. They are one of the staple foods of Costa Ricans—and they are delicious!

While I’ve been in Tamarindo this month, I’ve eaten plantain chips, fried plantain patties, grilled plantains glazed with brown sugar, and even plantain pancakes. My friend Mary Plunkett sent me the recipe for plantain pancakes (which she found on The Paleo Mom website), and they’re so good that I wanted to share the recipe here. The recipe requires no flour of any kind, making it especially favorable (and inexpensive) for gluten-free cooks!

Perfect Paleo Pancakes are similar to IHOP's Harvest
Grain N' Nut Pancakes--but gluten-free!
Perfect Paleo Pancakes (


2 large green plantains (about 2 cups pureed)
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
3 Tbsp extra virgin coconut oil
1/8 tsp salt (a generous pinch)
½ tsp baking soda
Extra coconut oil for frying

1.     Peel plantains (I find it easier to quarter them before I peel them) and place pieces in your blender (preferred) or food processor (okay) with the eggs. Blend to form a smooth batter (if your blender has a smoothie function, that works well here).
2.     Add the rest of the ingredients to the blender or food processor and process on high for an additional minute (or 2-3 with a food processor to get a really good smooth batter).
3.     Heat 1 Tbsp of coconut oil in a frying pan or on a griddle over medium-high heat. Pour batter into the frying pan until your pancake is the desired size.
4.     Let cook 4-5 minutes on the first side until the top looks fairly dry with little bubbles in it (just like regular pancakes!)
5.     Flip! And cook on the second side for 1 ½ minutes.
6.     Repeat with remaining batter, adding a little more coconut oil to your pan as needed.         

I’ve made this recipe twice since I’ve been in Costa Rica, and the second time I added chopped pecans directly to the batter. My husband thinks they are “just as good as the Harvest Grain N' Nut Pancakes” that we used to eat at IHOP (in the years before my diagnosis of celiac disease).
Another easy way to cook plantains, which I learned by watching our Costa Rican housekeeper Ileana, is to slice a ripe plantain (just as you would slice a banana). Then mash each slice on a paper towel to remove moisture and fry them lightly in a small amount of oil, turning to make them crispy on each side. We ate them with refried beans. Oh, so good!

Taste-wise and nutritionally, plantains are quite different from bananas. Bananas are much sweeter than plantains, even at their ripest. For the same amount of each, the banana has 89 calories, while the plantain has 122. The banana is also lower in fat, sodium, and carbohydrates, and sugar, which for most of us tips the scale in their favor.  Plantains, on the other hand, are much higher in vitamin A, vitamin C, magnesium, and potassium.

No matter! I will never make pancakes again without my new friend, the plantain!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Pumpkin bread in Paradise

Customers lined up for "gluten-free items" at Tamarindo's Farmers Market.
Each year of the past four, Doug and I have spent our winter vacations with friends in beautiful Costa Rica, the closest approximation to Paradise that I can imagine. Looking for a warm and sunny respite from our cold and icy Missouri winter, we listened to the advice of our son’s friend who had studied there during college. “You must go to Tamarindo,” she urged.

In planning our first trip, we happened upon a description of a beach house on the website VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owners) and decided to take a chance on it. As it turned out, that was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made, and we’ve returned to Casa Doshack on Playa Langosta every year, increasing the length of our stay with each visit.

(Using such websites as VRBO, Airbnb, and House Trip, by the way, is a great way for travelers with celiac disease to leave home without having to worry about what they will eat. It’s easy to find places with kitchens where you can cook your own meals, free from the hassle of searching out restaurants with gluten-free food.)

The gluten-free muffin booth.
By American standards, Costa Rica may seem like a primitive country. You won’t find large houses with tidy yards on paved avenues. And don’t go there if you expect speedy service, air-conditioned shopping malls, abundant public transportation, or clear road signage. (As far as I can tell, Casa Doshack doesn’t even have a real address to give to taxi drivers--or to the delivery guys who bring your lost luggage from the airport. You just sort of give a description of the local landmarks and hope for the best.)

I always wondered about putting my children in the 
checked bags at the airport. Maybe it would have worked!

The muffin woman's "goodies tote" doubles as a baby bed
at the Tamarindo Farmers Market.
But if you’re looking for perfect weather, exotic wildlife, warm, friendly people, beautiful beaches and a slow pace, Costa Rica is where you will find it. And here’s something else you will find in Tamarindo: A lovely, thriving farmers market with local crafts, fresh shrimp, fish and ceviche, fruits and vegetables galore, and--hallelujah!--two dedicated gluten-free booths!

Imagine my delight at finding those booths, one selling mango, cinnamon-apple, and banana-nut gluten-free muffins and the other offering chocolate zucchini peanut-butter bread, pumpkin bread, ginger cookies and snickerdoodles! I tell you, I couldn’t get my Colones out of my wallet fast enough! (Note: You don’t actually even have to exchange your money in Costa Rica; their businesses are happy to take USD.)

If loads of “azúcar” is not your cup of “té,” healthy Costa Rican cuisine is readily available and perfect for celiacs and others avoiding gluten. Most meals consist of grilled fish or chicken, rice, beans, plantains (which I’ll discuss in my next post) salad, and fresh fruit.  Yum!

In the four years since we’ve been coming here, it’s been easier and easier to eat gluten-free in the restaurants and on the street.  (At one popular place, I was pointing and gesturing, saying in my dreadful Spanish, “No trigo (wheat), no harina (flour),” and the waiter said, “Oh, you mean gluten-free!”) The relative ease of eating gluten-free in Tamarindo makes it a true Paradise—even for celiacs!