Wednesday, February 07, 2007

one tough banana

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believe it or not, there are supposedly over 500 different kinds of bananas and it's no surprise that not all of them are the same. the long and short of it is that they can be either eating ones [fruit] or cooking ones [vegetable], the latter belonging to the group called plantains [this site goes into the differences].

plantains are very popular in the caribbean, latin america, africa and india and, as a result, there are myriad ways of preparing them.

they come in three states of readiness:
  • green
  • yellow [often with dark spots or patches]
  • blackened
each of these states is an indication of how sweet the plantain will be and a measure of, or benchmark for, how much of its starch has turned to sugars. it also dictates how they will be cooked. they can be mashed, used in soups, fried or baked. there are endless possibilities.

so does it taste like a banana? not really. it is more a dense starchy "vegetable" much like a cooked potato even though it does have a telltale faint fruity flavour. it should be noted that there is also a bit of a sweet-sour flavour to them the riper they get. they are also glutinous which makes it easy to cook with them without using eggs as a binder.

for more information and recipes, look here.

how easy it is to prepare a plantain depends upon the state it is in. the unripe green ones can be a bit trickier, as the skin will stick more to the plantain itself at this stage than when it is in its yellow or black state [at which point, they can more or less actually be peeled like a banana].

in the following recipes, you can see how both the green and yellow one is peeled and can be prepared to give amazingly delicious and different results and textures. the first recipe results in a crispy item and is one from my cuban friends who make it at both hanukkah and passover. the second is an indian version which gives a totally different texture which is potato like and delectably savoury and sweet at the same time.

latkes de plátano

nothing could be simpler — a thin, crispy side dish or snack easily made from the plantain itself and a few seasonings.


1 large unripe (very green) plantain
1/4 tsp salt, heaped
1/8 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp ground cumin, optional


to prepare the green plantain, take note that it will exude minute amounts of a sticky liquid so don't be alarmed. my friend's method is to moisten her hands and salt them to cut down on the initial tackiness when peeling the green plantain.

first, cut off the ends of the plantain and make a long horizontal cut through the skin all the way to the flesh but don't cut through it.

place the plantain in very, very hot water for 10 to 15 minutes to soak. this is to help loosen the skin.

after 10 to 15 minutes, the skin may have darkened. that is fine. remove the plantain from the water.

moisten your hands and put salt on them. now cut horizontally through the plantain in several places and peel back the skin. you may need a knife to help with this.

once that has been done, take the plantain and put it is salted cold water for another 10 to 15 minutes. discard the peels.

drain the plantain and grate it on the large holes of a grater. don't use the thin one. you'll notice the mixture will be a bit gluey.

place the grated plantain in a bowl and add the seasonings.

heat a pan with some oil over medium heat. divide your plantain mixture into 7 or 8 portions. place 4 portions in the oil when hot and fry until they are golden brown on one side. flatten them a bit as they fry; they should not be thick.

flip them over carefully and fry again until golden. remove to paper towel and drain.

serve these as a side dish or a snack. they are great with a splash of fresh lime! if you love crispy, you'll love these.


gingered plantain in a coconut and cashew sauce

this south indian recipe combines semi ripe plantains with cashews, coconut and yogurt to make a bright sweet and spicy side dish you won't regret making. its buttery flavour enhances the starchy potato like texture. using ghee adds a nutty flavour that regular butter just does not.


1 or 2 large semi ripe (yellow) plantain
1 1/2 tbsp melted butter or ghee
2 tbsp chopped crystallized ginger

3 tbsp dried coconut
2 tbsp raw cashews

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper, heaped
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 tsp brown sugar or jaggery
1/3 c yogurt

1 tbsp melted butter or ghee

1/2 heaped tsp roasted and coarsely crushed cumin seeds
1/2 heaped tsp salt
1 1/2 tbsp chopped coriander


heat the oven to 375 F.

cut both ends off and peel the plantain. at this stage of ripeness, it does not need to be soaked like the green one.

cut the plantain in half and then cut the sections in half horizontally.

cut each section into one inch pieces and then in half again.

place the plantain in a bowl and add the first 1 1/2 tbsp of butter or ghee and coat well. place these on a piece of well greased foil and then sprinkle the chopped crystallized ginger over the plaintain. seal the package well and place it in the oven. while the plantain is cooking, prepare the yogurt masala.

after 35 minutes, remove the plantain package and carefully open it.

in a blender or processor, grind the raw cashews and the coconut.

add the cayenne, turmeric, sugar and the yogurt. remove and place aside.

in a nonstick fry pan, add the 1 tspn of butter or ghee and fry the plantain and ginger over medium heat for about 3 minutes, it will brown a bit.

lower the heat and add the yogurt mixture and mix well. don't let it boil. you will notice that it thickens up considerably.

remove from the heat and add the salt, cumin and coriander and mix again.



Jihan said...

BB you are so right about the different kinds of banana. I noticed over here there is much difference in how Canadians eat it than we do the fruit one. We prefer to eat the banana when the skin is yellow. But most people here seem to like it with the skin green. Anyways another day when you make a post on Bananas am going to comment alot on that.

About the plaintain. Its one of our favorite thing. When its green, you can slice it into thin slices and make chips, which you can eat with tambrind chutney, or mango chutney. Or just salt and pepper. You can slice it horizontal or vertical.
Because of my sensitive teeth however that wont do for me. So I prefer when its ripe. I noticed over here the sell it blackened. And even though its blackened its not all that ripe when you peel it. I like frying the ripe plaintain in lots of oil and eat it like that. Kinda fatty though.
I have never made any of these recipes that you have here. And I must say the look delicious I am going to have to try them...
We have alot of use for the green plaintain also. E.g. if you have loose bowel. You can boil the green plaintain and eat it. It will help alot. For babies we gave them the plaintain flour. Kinda make something like a mushy baby food for them.
oh well I think I said enough...
am still wishin u were my neighbour...

Blair said...

Platano frito es mi favorito...

I can't even begin to tell you the extreme sadness my brother and I felt when faced with the small number of available varieties of bananas and plantains when we moved to North America...

I loved baked plantains, but it is hard to get them at the right stage so that they come out sweet and tender... though I would eat them anyway!

burekaboy — said...

PJ - thanks for all that info :) i have heard about/seen the plantain flour but didn't really know what people do with it. plantains are not really a typical canadian type of food and i think most people would think of it as just being a banana and not a vegetable. i actually like plantains that are green or just turned yellow. i guess i am also like a lot of canadians cause i really like regular bananas that have just turned yellow or are a light green.

i've had plantain chips, too. there is a puerto rican kind called tostones which are basically double fried squashed pieces of plantain. i like the idea of eating it with the tamarind sauce! yum.

hope you try these recipes sometime, they are actually very good. LOL, i don't think you'd want to be my neighbour cause i'd make you very, very fat!!! :D

burekaboy — said...

blair - it's too bad that you can't get the variety you were used to having in columbia. i am sure that here where i am, there's a standard one (the one i use) they import. luckily, there is a diverse community here so i can get them when they are very green and hard. i just wait a few days and then i can used them yellow.

me gusta mucho tambien, especialmente los tostones bien fritos con la salsa de mojo.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

I love plantains, they are so versatile!
Your recipes look really good. I am very interested by the "Latkes" one. Yummy!

Emily DeVoto, Ph.D., said...

Great recipes - I have never done anything with plantains.

I did recently buy some bananas from the food co-op that never... turned... yellow (or soft) - I'm talking weeks. I asked my South American/Cuban friends if they were plantains and they confirmed that, no, they were bananas. I imagine if I'd had your recipes I could have just pretended they were plantains and cooked 'em up anyway! The South Indian recipe, in particular, looks fascinating, and will add to my small repertoire of South Indian dishes... which I should post on my blog one of these days!

Beenzzz said...

I haven't tried plantains this way, but I have tried it fried. My mother cuts them diagonally and spices them up really good and fries them. Good stuff. Your recipe looks delicious. I'm going to have to give this one a try!!

ByTheBay said...

What fabulous new ideas for one of my favorite foods! (Well, two of them... Plaintains and latkes both!)

burekaboy — said...

rosa - hope you try the latkes version. it's basically a "something from nothing" kind of recipe with incredibly good results.

emily - i've also had a few of those ones that just don't ripen properly. it's very odd. i just end up throwing them out. the second recipe is extremely easy, especially peeling the plantains when they are yellow -- i only use one large plantain for it, though you can use two.

beenzzz - spiced up good and fried sounds up my alley!

BTB - hey there :) hope you like the latkes if you try making them. i love how crispy they get. they are worth the small effort.

ServesYouRight said...

A-ha!! Delish!! Dried coconut and cashews - you're a deep one, BB :-D


Linda said...

wow how interesting. thanks for the factual info and amazing recipes! i recently came across a random bar hidden in Park Slope, Brooklyn that had plantains covering their windows!

Lisa said...

Mmm, I love crispy, so I'd love those latkes! They are very like the potato ones I made during Chanukah -- no flour or anything, just the vegetable itself in all its crispiness.

burekaboy — said...

smita - lol, my waters run deep :P

linda - you're welcome :) that sounds wild .... a plantain covered window! :))

lisa - hey there :) these are crispylicious.

Margaret Polaneczky, MD (aka TBTAM) said...


burekaboy — said...

TBTAM - thanks :) if u like plantain, these are great ways to use them. the latke one is such a nothing type recipe, it's a joke but w/ incredible results.

~M said...

Almost chag sameach, Bureka Boy! I was wondering, have you ever made latkes from yuca? I figured if anyone has, you have. :)

burekaboy — said...

hi ~m - LOL, now it IS time to wish you chag same'ach!! :) happy hanukkah!

i actually have never tried it with yucca. have you used yucca before yourself? it should work as it is a similar type vegetable. if you give it a whirl, lemme know how it goes.