Steven's recipes for grilled
plantains and plantain soup.
other Latin flavors in Steven's article on Cuban
your favorite plantain recipe in FoodFit's
To the untrained
eye, the plantain (PLAN-tihn) could easily be mistaken for a banana.
But woe betide the unsuspecting eater who slices one onto his
corn flakes! Though it's shaped like a banana and has a banana-like
aroma, the plantain is never eaten in its raw state. But roast,
grill, bake, boil or fry it and it becomes an epicure's morsel.
realize how popular plantains were until I moved to Miami. This
jumbo cousin of the banana turns up at our ethnic grocery stores
and mainstream supermarkets, at humble sandwich shops, exclusive
restaurants and eateries of a dozen nationalities. Tostones, mariquitas,
maduros and other plantain preparations (see below) are as popular
in South Florida as French fries are in the North.
are among the most prolific food crops. The same acre of land
needed to grow 50 pounds of wheat or 100 pounds of potatoes can
support a whopping two tons of plantains. "It's an incredibly
versatile vegetable", explains Douglas Rodriguez, chef of Manhattan's
sizzling nuevo Latino restaurant, Chicama. "You can serve it as
an appetizer, entree, vegetable and dessert, use it when it's
hard and green, soft and ripe, and at every stage in between."
New Food Vocabulary
are popular throughout the Caribbean and Central America, where
they often take the place of potato chips. Known as mariquitas
in Cuba and tajadas in Nicaragua, plantain chips are made by slicing
green plantains lengthwise into paper-thin strips on a mandoline
or meat slicer. These strips are deep-fried until crisp and served
lightly salted. Tip: To make heart-healthy plantain chips,
arrange the strips on a non-stick baking sheet, lightly spray
on both sides with oil, and bake in a 400° F oven until crisp.
plantain snack is tostones, thick diagonal slices of plantain,
which are lightly fried, squashed in a wooden press that resembles
a tortilla press, then fried again until crisp. Puerto Ricans
favor aranitas, "little spiders," crisp fritters of grated plantain
and garlic. Here too, you can "bake fry" the plantains in the
oven to cut the fat.
Stewed and Mashed
Most of the
Spanish speaking islands have a version of mofongo, boiled green
plantains mashed with onions and garlic. Mangu, mashed plantains
with garlic and pork cracklings, is a traditional breakfast in
the Dominican Republic. Tip: To make a low fat version,
use lean Canadian bacon in place of the cracklings.
In Cuba boiled
plantains are combined with cilantro and chicken or beef broth
to make a comforting soup called sopa de plátanos. Besides being
served in soup, green plantains can be boiled or baked like potatoes.
When baking them, be sure to make a few slits in the peel to allow
the steam to escape.
are only part of the story. Dine at a Cuban or Nicaraguan restaurant
and you're sure to find maduros (literally "ripe ones"), fried
ripe plantains that are as sweet as bananas foster. (Below you'll
find a fat free way to prepare ripe plantains on the grill.) Plátanos
en almibar, ripe plantains poached in sugar syrup with a cinnamon
stick, is a popular dessert in Puerto Rico. As for plátanos a
la tentación, the mere mention of these plantains poached with
sugar, rum and lemon juice will make a Cuban American's mouth
at Any Stage Of Ripeness:
the plantain is bland and starchy, like a yuca or potato. As it
ripens, it becomes sweeter, tasting more and more like a banana.
But even when fully ripe, the plantain remains firm, which makes
it easy to cook. As the name suggests, a green plantain will have
a hard bright green skin. A semi-ripe plantain (known as pinton
in Spanish) will be yellow with black spots, while a ripe one
will be completely black. Like many tropical fruits, the plantain
is at its sweetest when it's so ripe it looks like you should
throw it out! Ripen plantains in a loosely closed paper bag at
room temperature. It takes six to eight days for a green plantain
to fully ripen.
Bellyful of Goodness
someone has an upset stomach at our house, our Cuban housekeeper,
Elida, prepares a pot of plantain soup. Plantains are used as
a folk remedy for stomach woes throughout the Caribbean Basin.
In 1984, three researchers at the University of Aston in Birmingham,
England, investigated the plantain's ability to relieve ulcers.
gave laboratory animals ulcers by feeding them massive doses of
aspirin. The animals were then fed powdered, dried green plantain.
The researchers discovered that plantains could reduce the severity
of ulcers when administered preventively, and could heal them
when served as a cure.
proposed that plantains help heal stomach ulcers by thickening
the layer of gastric mucosathe
protective lining of the stomach wall. Conventional anti-ulcerogenic
drugs work by stimulating the cells to produce more mucosal cells,
and plantains seem to work in the same manner. In order to gain
the plantain's anti-ulcerogenic properties you must use green
plantains, as ripe onestasty as they may belack this
One cup of
plantains contains only 125 calories. In addition to being good
for your stomach, plantains are rich in potassium and vitamin
to Buy Plantains
are widely availableeven in the Northern part of the United
States. Look for them in the produce section of your supermarket
or in any store that caters to a Caribbean or Latin American clientele.
Green plantains should be bright green, firm and free of blemishes.
Semi-ripe plantains should have a yellow skin, speckled with black.
A plantain encased in a shriveled black skin will be sweet and
to Peel a Plantain
are more difficult to peel than bananas, especially
when green. There are two easy methods for skinning
this hard-to-peel fruit. To obtain plantain pieces
for soup, cut off the ends and cut the fruit crosswise
into three-inch sections. Make a lengthwise slit
in the skin of each section. Soak the plantains
in ice water for five minutes, then slide your thumbnails
under the slit to pry off the skin.
peel a whole plantain, first cut off the ends. Then
using the tip of a paring knife, make lengthwise
slits in the skin (try not to cut into the flesh)
and soak the plantains in ice water for five minutes.
Slide your thumbnails under the slits to loosen
Steven Raichlen's recipes for:
Raichlen is the author of 21 books, including the
IACP/ Julia Child Award-winning Barbecue Bible and
Barbecue Bible Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades (both published
by Workman), Healthy Latin Cooking (Rodale), and the
new Healthy Jewish Cooking (Viking). He recently created
a Barbecue University at the Greenbrier Resort in
West Virginia. You can reach him at his web site:
www.barbecuebible.com. He has appeared numerous times
on national television, including The Today Show and
Good Morning America as well as CNN and The Discovery
Channel. Raichlen lives in Coconut Grove, Florida,
with his wife Barbara.