En­joy­ing plan­tains — ba­nanas’ more ver­sa­tile cousins

The Borneo Post - Nature and health - - Front Page - By Becky Krys­tal

PLAN­TAINS are of­ten mis­taken for ba­nanas. Huge ones. “I think that peo­ple don’t re­ally get plan­tains be­cause they do as­sume they’re like a ba­nana,” says food writer, ra­dio pro­ducer and cook­book au­thor Von Diaz. In fact, plan­tains have a lot more in com­mon with pota­toes than ba­nanas. “All cul­tures have their starches,” Diaz says, and in Latin Amer­ica and the Caribbean, plan­tains are a fea­tured starch. Plan­tains are es­pe­cially ver­sa­tile be­cause as the out­side colour changes, so does the flavour, colour and tex­ture of the flesh.

Good news: Plan­tains are about as in­ex­pen­sive as ba­nanas. When choos­ing what to buy, look for green plan- tains that are solid and full, ac­cord­ing to Mari­cel Pre­silla’s “Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin Amer­ica.” The half-ripe will be firm and start­ing to turn yel­low with black spots. Fully ripe are yel­low and then black, get­ting softer and sweeter as they darken.

Know the stages

Plan­tains are har­vested when they are green, at which point the flavour is earthy, veg­e­tal and funky, Diaz says. Un­like even an un­ripe ba­nana, there is no hint of sweet­ness. Yel­low (amar­illo) and black (maduro) plan­tains can be used in many sweet or savoury prepa­ra­tions, she says. That can in­clude bak­ing, grilling, saute­ing and boil­ing. Keep in mind the gen­eral rule that the riper the plan­tains are, the quicker they will cook. Ripe plan­tains can be peeled al­most the same way as a ba­nana - just cut off the ends first. Green are another mat­ter. “It’s very nor­mal for it to be dif­fi­cult to get the skin off,” Diaz says. First, cut the ends off with a sharp knife.

Then do three slits down the length of the peel, try­ing not to pierce the flesh. Then get un­der the peel and pry it off, with your fingers, a knife, spoon han­dle or what­ever feels most com­fort­able and least likely to in­jure you. Another op­tion that works with some recipes, ac­cord­ing to Pre­silla: Boil the plan­tains first, for 20 to 40 min­utes, de­pend­ing on the ripeness. Be sure to get all the un­der­side of the skin off, be­cause it can turn bit­ter in cook­ing. “The list is kind of end­less” as to what you can make with plan­tains, Diaz says. Fried plan­tains that are mashed serve as the base of mo­fongo, a clas­sic Puerto Ri­can dish that in­cludes fried pork skin and can be topped with a va­ri­ety of meats and veg­eta­bles.

Pan-fried plan­tains are cer­tainly an op­tion, cooked in a cou­ple of ta­ble­spoons of oil on both sides un­til they’re browned but not burned. Diaz sug­gests ad­ding plan­tains to soups or stews as you would pota­toes. You can even in­clude slices of ripe and un­ripe to get a con­trast of flavour and tex­ture. Another low lift: roast­ing whole in the oven. In her cook­book “Co­conuts and Col­lards: Recipes and Sto­ries from Puerto Rico to the Deep South,” Diaz sug­gests boil­ing whole peeled plan­tains for 20 to 25 min­utes be­fore roast­ing at 350 de­grees for the same amount of time af­ter you have cut a slit in the fruit and slid in a ta­ble­spoon of but­ter. Lastly, she broils the plan­tains with a glaze of dark brown su­gar and but­ter un­til they darken in colour. For an even more stream­lined dish, you can try the method sug­gested by Yvonne Or­tiz in “A Taste of Puerto Rico”: Cut a two-inch slit in a whole plan­tain (peel on), wrap with foil and bake for 40 min­utes at 400 de­grees. Then peel, driz­zle with olive oil and add salt. Fur­ther chan­nel the potato sim­i­lar­ity by boil­ing and mash­ing to serve a puree to which you can add your choice of fat or sweet­ener.

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