There is one thing I fell absolutely head over heels in love with during all my travels to Latin America.
One curved little thing that comes in a variety of stages of “ripeness” and that can be cooked a thousand different ways! The platano, or plantain (cooking bananas).
They look like a banana but are actually a root-vegetable and not a fruit. Low in fat and not a drop of cholesterol they are a great source of potassium, magnesium, fiber and even vitamin C!
Plantains have several stages of “ripeness” which yield different results when cooking them. A general rule of thumb is that they get sweeter with ripeness! The blacker they get, the sweeter and softer they are.
Here are the stages of ripeness and some of the ways you can cook plantains:
– Verde or green plantains are firm and dense and quite starchy and quite common in markets and supermarkets. They have a wonderful earthy flavor and are not at all sweet, which makes them perfect for frying or using in savory dishes. The skin of a green plantain is quite hard and can be tough to peel.
– Pinton or half-ripe plantains start to yellow and may even have a few black spots. At this stage, they become a little sweeter and softer. Popular recipes call for boiling them or mashing them into a puree. The famous Afro-Cuban dish of “Fufu” calls for plantains at this stage of ripeness.
– Amarillo or yellow (and ripe) plantains look like an over-ripe banana and teeter between starchy and sweet, making them quite versatile for many Latin, Caribbean and African dishes. The skin is a little more forgiving and these are easier to peel!
– Maduro (black) plantains have lost all their starch and gained a perfect amount of sweetness which offers a carmelized tang that is quite simply addictive.
- Most popular and simple cooked forms of green plantains are called Tostones and are simply plantain chips made by slicing rounds and frying them in oil before serving them with a generous amount of salt. You can slice them as thick or as thin as you want. Tostones are often “smashed” during the process and re-fried for extra texture!
- Maduros on the other hand are sliced fried plantains from yellow/black (ripe) aromatic and sweet plantains. Simply slice them as desired and fry them in a oil (I like to use coconut oil personally) over medium heat. They have a splendid natural caramelized flavor that is delicious when served with honey, cinnamon sugar or even sweet cheeses.
- I first discovered Platanos Asados con Queso in Ecuador. Simply a roasted plantain, often grilled whole in a charcoal burning oven, sliced lengthwise and then filled with cheese which melts to perfection. You can make these on your grill outside (leaving them in their skin and roasting gently over the hot coals) or in the oven (baking without skin for about half an hour at medium high heat). They are simply divine!
If you’re lucky, you may even find the plantain leaves in your local markets abroad. These are often used for cooking, as they add a special aroma to certain dishes, and many traditional recipes call for slow cooking things wrapped in plantain leaves!
Whether you’d like to fry your plantains, eat them savory style with cheese or sweet with hints of cinnamon sugar or star anise, or stewed in red wine or port (Cuban style) or eaten in famous national dishes such as Mofongo (Puerto Rico), one thing is for sure: you’ll fall in love with this versatile and tasty afro-latin staple!
Do you have a favorite Plantain recipe? Feel free to share it with us in the comments below!