Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Pardisiacal Plantain

 Plantains are usually available in thre stages. Green, semi ripe and fully ripe. 

For those that do not know the plantain is a fruit that could easily be mistaken for a banana, but what ever you do do not take a bite of one. You will get a big surprise. And not a good one. To be enjoyed it has to be cooked. It is eaten as a vegetable and treated mostly like a potato. It is very nutritious, loaded with vitamin a, b6, potassium and dietary fiber among other good things. Much more than banana. They are a staple of Caribbean cooking in particular Puerto Rican cooking. Those of you that know me,  know that I LOVE Puerto Rican food. A trip to Freddy and Tony's in North Philly for lunch is enough to make me clap my hands, jump and shriek with joy like a little girl. That love includes plantains. 

The plantain is eaten all over the world. It is especially popular in tropical areas because that is where it grows best. Like the banana it is a perennial that has a rhizome. It is not very popular among the average American but mostly Africans and Caribbean type peoples. I don't understand why it has not gained in popularity. We have made it a mainstay in our house. If you decide to give them a try, and I recommend it highly, following are a few ways to prepare them.

Aranitas (Plantain Fritters) are very much like Latkas (potato pancakes). They are extra crispy and delicious!

Aranitas (little spiders)

INGREDIENTS for 4-6 aranitas:
  • 2 Green Unripe plantains coarsely grated.
  • 3 -4 cloves of garlic finely grated.
  • Sea salt and black pepper
  • Lard, Peanut or veg oil for frying.

In a large enough bowl mix the gated plantains with the garlic salt and pepper. Gently mix well but do not mash. Over medium high heat place a fry pan with about 3/4 inch of oil. When sufficiently hot use a tablespoon to and pick up a good amount of the mixture. Carefully place it into the hot oil and then use the back of the spoon to lightly spread it out a bit. They should be about 1.2 inch thick. After a few mins flip them. They should be golden light brown in color. Place them on a paper towel or strainer to remove the excess oil.

It is impossible to talk about plantains without bring up Toastones. These are double fried slices of plantains that are smashed a little in between. They are a fixture on the Caribbean table.

To make toastones first peel and slice the plantains about a half inch thick. Place a frying pan on the stove over medium high heat with about 3/4" of oil. Fry the slices lightly until crispy on the outside. 

Drain the fried slices and let them cool. When cooled smash them slightly until the inside smushes out a little, but dont completely flaten them. We use a tortilla press but you can use a plate or some other flat item on a cutting board.

After  all of the pieces are smashed a little. Heat up the frying pan of oil again and re-fry them.

They can be lightly salted, or brushed with some chopped garlic and olive oil. Or sweetened with cinnamon, sugar and or honey like pictured below.

Plantains are a staple of African cooking and are prepared many different ways there too. They are mashed into a fufu type mixture and served with stews or often boiled in their skin, peeled at the table and eaten with the fingers by pinching off a piece. The flavor is intensified when they are cooked in their skin.

Anyway you slice it the plantain is a marvelous food. Easy to cook, versatile and very nutritious. 

A tasty treat form a tropical paradise. Give them a try!