Here's a whole meal on one plate that entertains the eyes with its whimsy and the palate with an equally unique blending of both exotic and basic flavors.
The first Guest Chef of the New Year serves up a plateful of recipes with his challenge ingredients that deserve a different approach than the way this feature normally spotlights a recipe. Chef Brian Igarta’s submission is really a collection of components that could each be paired separately with other, more traditional, main course dishes.
Plated together, they add up to a delicious meal that entertains the eyes with its whimsy and the palate with an equally unique blending of both exotic and fundamental flavors.
Chef Brian Igarta, The Maui Vegetarian, is a passionate advocate of showing others how to prepare deliciously healthful foods and sharing information on health & healing education. Through his The Maui Vegetarian web site and Vegan Kitchen BlogSpot, Brian offers recipes, culinary services, cookbooks, specialty cooking accessories and an array of links to resources all promoting healing through good food. “I always like challenges and one big one for me is to turn food into healing foods which our bodies can use, not only to support us, but to regenerate and to heal itself,” explained the chef-educator. “I have taken 25 years of experience working as a classically trained chef and repurposed that knowledge into the art of making medicine not only taste good, but that these natural medicines come from things grown in one’s own backyard garden – no prescription required!”
If one were to name Chef Brian’s “dish” in the usual manner of itemizing each component, like pancakes with strawberries, it would be a lengthy mouthful of 17 words, no pun. So, in deference to brevity and simplicity, I am christening Chef Brian’s creation as The Plate for the rest of this article! While the plate certainly wins the Most Unusual Looking award, it is much more than just a pretty dish. Richly scrumptious is the phrase that keeps coming to mind in trying to describe the flavor finish of this meal, but even that fails to capture the complexity of all the tasty parts on Chef Brian’s Plate. This is also a very fun recipe to prepare, especially if you enjoy the challenge of managing the prep of multiple parts so that all is finished at the same time as I do.
The recipe for each component of The Plate has been laid out in the most practical order of preparation. Chef Brian’s Mango Salsa definitely profits from sitting for a while in its own juices. This melding should be done at room temperature; refrigerating this salsa would hamper that marriage of flavors. Mango as a salsa ingredient is quite common; Chef Brian puts his own spin on it by adding a few very unique ingredients, namely black eyed peas and a bit of tangy sweetness with Melissa’s Tomato Pesto. Since this salsa ends up being a part of each bite, both these subtle additions to the traditional recipe, really helps the mixture pair with all other very different flavors it must combine with on the fork. I would suggest that you could and should consider using this wonderful salsa on an array of other dishes, but I could say that about all of these recipes that go to make up Chef Brian’s tasty Plate!!
While the salsa is steeping, prepare the plantains – both patties and chips. Plantains must be cooked before they are edible, though they can be used at any stage of ripeness from green to black, depending upon the amount of sweetness desired. Chef Brian uses green plantains to limit the sweetness that a riper banana would bring to the mix, preferring to salt the starchier fruit. Green plantains are a little more difficult to peel than ripe ones. Briefly: slit the banana down one side and carefully unwrap the fruit; then lightly scape the entire surface of the banana with the edge of a paring knife to remove any remaining skin and discolored black spotting that can occur on the surface of the banana.
A green plantain will not caramelize as quickly as a ripe one, they will turn an unappetizing brown if left to fry in the oil too long. Pull them just as the edges of the chips and patties begin to turn golden. Remember, the cooking process does not stop just because the flame has been turned off or the item removed from the heat source. Time it right for an even, light golden brown. Crispy goodness!
One of the most eye-catching components of the plate is also probably the most nutritious and best represents Chef Brian’s Hawaiian background as well the spirit of this chef’s dietary discipline of cooking nutritiously. With a history that actually started in the Americas before migrating to Japan, the beautiful Okinawa Sweet Potato has become a staple in Polynesian cuisine, most particularly in the chef’s home state of Hawaii for several centuries. The potato’s creamy texture and slightly sweet taste is also packed with beneficial vitamins, nutrients, significant antibacterial, antifungal as well as blood sugar regulation properties. Plus the tuber’s vibrant purple color puts it in the same antioxidant super food grouping as blueberries; the difference being that Okinawa Sweets have 150% more antioxidants than the berry!
Chef Brian swirls Okinawa purple with the deep Butternut Squash orange into a circus-like Puff of creaminess that he crowns with spires of banana chips. This part of the plate evokes a smile even before the Puff’s flavors are tasted. Interestingly, note that Chef Brian augments the squash side of this combination with a supporting cast of spices, while he lets the Okinawa Sweet sing a capella, so to speak, accompanied by only a few notes of sea salt. The result is a kind of yin and yang countering in both taste and appearance in the Puff. Did I already say scrumptious? Then double it.
Actually, I am not really sure whether it was the swirling colors of the chef’s Puff or his Plantain Tiki – a jumbled stack of plantain patties mortared with a delicious mushroom ragout -- that caused that first smile. The whole plate just looks so playfully put together that one cannot help but be delighted by the view and the prospect of exploring the taste of all its parts! I seem to recall a saying that the best prescription for what ails is a good laugh. In that context, Chef Brian’s plate certainly demonstrates his belief that his food cures!
I should clarify that my comparison of Chef Brian’s mushroom ragout to a building material referred to its role on the plate and not a comment on the flavors of this delicious mix. While the ragout does hold the plantain patties in place, the dish also holds its own on the plate; offering a hearty earthiness of the mushrooms sautéed with just few other simple fresh ingredients.
The contrast between the earthy ragout and the tropical plantain patties is an unexpected pleasure that simply must be tried to fully understand! I learned a new technique by following the chef’s directions for the slices of tomato skin in this one that I will file separately. Place the tomato stem end down on cutting board; using a sharp paring knife peel the skin off in sections from top to bottom, purposely taking off as much of the interior fruit just under the skin, but without puncturing the seed membrane. You end up using most all of the tomato’s meaty fruit and skin while discarding the watery center and seeds. A cool trick that demonstrates the difference between a chef and the cook is a knife stroke.
Preparing Chef Brian’s distinctive Spicy Ponzu Glaze was a great review in the art of reduction that is worth passing on here. Firstly, before getting into the process, it should be noted that this deceptively simple recipe of three very ordinary ingredients becomes a chameleon of flavors as it interacts with each of the other components separately and in combination. It’s an amazing glaze that I cannot wait to try on a variety of dishes.
An au sec reduction needs to be watched very closely, especially in the last stage of the process. It may seem like a whole lot of mandarin juice is used just to produce two small pools of glaze, but it takes this volume at the start in order have enough liquid left to cover the entire bottom of the fry pan for the final reduction. Using the larger pan exposes more surface of the liquid to the heat, so it reduces evenly and quicker, producing just enough two platings. Again, it is important to remove the pan a little before reached au sec, as it will continue to cook as it cools. There is a very fine line between tasty glaze and a burnt syrupy mess; the proper technique means coming very close to that line. Enjoy the challenge! Enjoy Chef Brian Igarta’s unusual and, shameless repeating myself, scrumptiously delicious PLATE!
Place garlic, oil, and sun Dried tomato pesto in a large bowl and incorporate. Add remaining ingredients, gently fold together; let stand for 30 minutes at room temperature to allow the flavors to meld.
Cut 1½ plantains into several large chunks then drop into a pot of boiling water until cooked through, about 15 minutes. Place the boiled plantain pieces into a mixing bowl and mash with a fork or masher until a thick paste is attained, then add the salt .
Using a mandolin, grate the remaining plantains into medium thin slices; add these raw slices to the mash and incorporate. Divide this doughy mix into 6 equal parts and form each into a ball. Place each ball between plastic wrap and press into patties 2½-3 inches in diameter. In a sauté pan, heat the oil at medium-high and brown the patties on each side until golden. Remove from pan to a paper towel, sprinkle with a touch of salt and set aside until ready to plate.
Peel the plantains and make extra-long thin pieces with a bias cut. Then cut one end at a sharp angle. In the same pan and oil used for the chips fry until golden brown; you may need to use a bit more oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt and set aside until ready to plate.
Puncture sweet potato with knife and place on a baking sheet. Cut the butternut squash in half length-wise and place one half face down on baking sheet with sweet potato. Bake at 400 degrees for 40-50 minutes. When done, allow both to cool, then scrape each from their skin into separate bowls. Place the butternut squash in a food processor along with the rest of the ingredients and mix until smooth. After cleaning the machine, whip the sweet potato and salt until smooth. Scoop mixtures carefully into one piping bag, side by side, fitted with a star tip. Set aside until ready to plate.
¾ cup Tomato Skin Slices; discard center seed membrane and interior fruit
½ teaspoon Sea Salt or to taste
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Leaves of Frisee, to garnish
Heat the oil in a sauté pan over medium high. Add the shallots and brown lightly. Then add the mushrooms and garlic, stirring frequently until the mushrooms are softened. Reduce heat to medium low. Add the black-eyed peas to the pan. Stir to incorporate, adding the tomato skins and continuing to stir until just heated through. Sprinkle the salt and turn heat to low, allowing the mixture to simmer for a few minutes more. Adjust the flavor with salt, if needed.
In a medium saucepan, heat the mandarin juice over medium-high heat. Reduce to half, add tamari and seasoning, then reduce in half again. Transfer the remaining liquid to a deep-sided, 10-inch skillet to increase surface of liquid being heated. Continue until almost au sec (nearly dry). Set aside for plating.
Using a square plate, in the top right quadrant stack in order: a Plantain Patty, a heaping spoonful of Mushroom Ragout and Frisee garnish, topped with another patty and another portion of ragout and garnish, then a third patty crowned with a little more ragout. In the top left quadrant swirl a serving of the squash & sweet potato combination into a puff and garnish with a few plantain chips stuck upright in the mixture (see picture). Pool a serving of the glaze in the foreground of these two components, then lay a line of salsa along the top left edge of the glaze (see picture). Enjoy!