Sunday, January 9, 2011

Tips from a Restaurant Chef!

This is an exciting post for The Fitness Gourmet.

I met a restaurant chef named Mario Bello of a restaurant called Oasis during my vacation in Costa Rica. Oasis happens to be both a vegetarian friendly and healthy restaurant!

Mario is vegetarian (and sometimes vegan) and his dishes are extremely innovative. While the typical Costa Rican meal consists of rice and beans, he aims to be creative with his foods, especially since there aren't many vegetarians in Costa Rica.

I met with Mario and documented two dishes that he made. The first one was the traditional Costa Rican fried plantain. I specifically asked Mario to make this, as I had seen this particular dish everywhere! The second dish he made was a creamy vegetable soup, but here's the catch: no dairy or cream was involved!

Costa Rican Fried Plantains

For us Americans, plantains are rare. In fact, you may not even be familiar with this fruit. I wasn't.

This is two plantains stuck together. 

First, peel and slice the plantain.

Heat butter and olive oil together in a skillet.

Place the plantain slices in the skillet and let cook for a few minutes.

Flip the slices and observe how brown and crispy they are!

Cook for a few more minutes on the other side, and season with a couple of spoonfuls of sugar. Sprinkle with cinnamon.

This turned out SO incredibly crispy and delicious! Mario's method of making the plantains was a bit different than what I'd tasted earlier this week. While his were more crisp, the others were softer and in a syrupy medium rather than the sugar/cinnamon combination. My verdict: these were fantastic!

Creamy Vegetable Soup

As I mentioned before, this soup is completely vegan. Additionally, it is not a typical Costa Rican dish; rather, it is one of Mario's innovative vegetarian recipes.

  • potatoes
  • onions
  • tomato
  • minced garlic
  • red bell pepper
  • fresh spinach
  • peach palm
  • cilantro
  • celery
  • vegetable oil
  • water
  • rice
  • salt/pepper/vinegar
Roughly slice the vegetables and saute them in a pot with vegetable oil until cooked. Mario sautees the vegetables before boiling them to bring out the flavor. This is important later!

Add water and rice, bring to a boil, and cook for about 20 minutes, or until the rice has cooked.

Let the pot cool, and then transfer the soup into a blender.

Blend until the mixture is completely liquefied. Mario filtered the pureed mixture before seasoning to make sure the soup was smooth. He then added the salt, pepper, white vinegar.

After blending, I was actually a bit confused, because I thought I'd missed a step. I asked Mario if he'd added any seasonings, because I didn't recall. He hadn't added any of the seasonings yet, and told me that this is why he sautees the vegetables beforehand. The vegetables themselves had such a strong, aromatic smell.

Oh man, I can't even describe how creamy this soup was despite the lack of dairy! Who knew that pureed vegetables had such a creamy texture? And of course, the taste was wonderful. After observing Mario's technique, I realized there really isn't a need for lots of seasonings to make a dish taste good.

Thanks again, Mario, for allowing me time to document your cooking!

For anyone who plans on visiting Costa Rica, I definitely recommend stopping by his restaurant for a healthy, vegetarian, delicious, and substantial meal. 

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