Papers, projects, and presentations are adding up, forming daunting piles and exhaustive to-do lists. Finals are looming, threatening GPAs, sleep, and sanity. Meanwhile, the days are getting longer. The weather is getting warmer, and the plants are getting greener. These next few weeks are those in which motivation matters the most, but it’s a struggle to stay productive when spring is in swing and anyone would rather be sitting in a hammock than studying. It’s easy to feel burnt out or defeated at this point in the semester, and many underclassmen (sorry seniors) are looking forward to the end of the semester, especially after a fleeting glimpse of freedom during Easter vacation. Despite how badly we may want to start our exotic vacation plans or awesome internships, the hay is in the barn, and the last few weeks of the semester have to be finished. The things getting me through until summer are those I associate with summer, my family, and the memories we’ve made together.
Banan peze and pikliz are Haitian fried green plantains and spicy pickled vegetables. They can be eaten as side dishes alongside a meal, or banan peze can be enjoyed as a standalone dish or snack with pikliz as a condiment. Both dishes are staples in Latin American and Caribbean cuisine, and in Haiti, banan peze and pikliz are eaten regardless of the season, so there isn’t really a cultural correlation between the two dishes and the summer and spring seasons. Cultural history or not though, family memories and traditions have led me to strongly associate them with the warming of the weather.
My mom hated the smell and cleanup of frying so she would always wait until a nice weekend day to set up and fry outside on the patio. We would take advantage of having the grill out and make kebabs, hamburgers, hotdogs, or whatever my mom was already planning on throwing in the oven for Sunday dinner. Oftentimes the pool would be open when it was still too cold for swimming so it remained serene, save for the occasional ripples of a gust of spring wind or a fallen petal. Aunts, uncles, cousins, or friends would stop by for “a quick bite” and stay until the sun was beginning to sneak behind the trees. We would all comment on how deceitful the lengthening days are and make excuses for talking longer than we had intended because “we hadn’t seen each other since the fall.” All the while, we would enjoy freshly fried banan peze with pikliz. Summer had yet to arrive, and our weekend gatherings were far from pool parties or family reunions, but those small moments were my reminder of even more fun and freedom that had yet to come.
Even now I can imagine the taste of my mom’s banan: hot, crunchy, and salty complemented by the crisp, acidic pikliz. It conjures sights, smells, and sounds of long days at the beach, late nights around a fire, and busy family barbecues.
Food and the associated senses can serve as a bridge between experiences, memories, and emotions. Dishes like banan peze and pikliz remind me of my family and warmer weather, and keep me going at challenging points in the semester. Although this recipe may not have the same emotional oomph for you that it does for me, I hope you will still enjoy these fantastic dishes. If nothing else, let them be a reminder to you of the work you have already done and the fun that is to come as you complete finals and whatever challenges that come with the end of the semester and the start of a new chapter.
- 1 cup vegetable or other high heat oil
- 3 green plantains, peeled and chopped into 1 ¼ inch lengths
- 1 cup hot water
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 2 cups shredded green cabbage
- 1 large carrot, julienned
- 1 red bell pepper, julienned
- 6 scotch bonnet pepper, minced
- 1 white onion, julienned
- 2 scallions, sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 12 whole black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups white vinegar
- ½ lime, juiced
In a large bowl combine the hot water, white vinegar, salt, and garlic powder. Stir to combine and set aside.
In a heavy bottomed skillet or saucepan preheat oil over medium low heat to about 325℉. Fry the plantain pieces in batches so as to not crowd the pan, turning often for approximately 5 minutes or until golden brown on all sides. Remove and let drain on paper towels.
Press your fried plantains to between ¼ and ½ inch thickness using a tostonera or the bottom of a smooth pan utop a cutting board. Increase your oil’s temperature to about 375℉. Quickly soak each pressed plantain in the seasoned liquid before carefully lowering into the oil. Fry for about 5 minutes or until golden brown and crisp, turning occasionally. Work in batches, be sure not to overcrowd the pan, and be extra careful since there is a lot of moisture introduced to the oil. Drain plantains on a paper towel before serving hot.
Mix the cabbage, carrot, bell and scotch bonnet peppers, onion, scallions, garlic, and peppercorns together in a large jar or other airtight container. Combine salt, vinegar, and lime juice and pour over the cabbage mixture. Cover tightly and refrigerate for at least 5 days before serving. The pikliz should stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.
Cover photo courtesy of The Foreign Fork