Discovering Sweet Plantains
Perhaps you’ve seen them at the market and wondered, "what the heck do I do with those?" Well, there’s a lot you can do with this tropical vegetable and some sweet plantain recipes may even surprise you.
Although they look like giant bananas, plantains come from a different plant and are starchier, thus they must be cooked before consuming. They start off green then become yellow when ripe and slowly turn black (and sweeter) as they age.
Known in Spanish as plátanos maduros (ripe plantains), sweet plantains are used throughout Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia. In the Caribbean (where my family hails from), they are most commonly fried and used as a side to rice and beans - offering a nice sweet touch to a savory meal.
How To Buy Sweet Plantains
If you are not going to cook them immediately you can buy plantains that are green and just wait several days until they ripen. The trick is in waiting until the yellow plantains develop black spots, which indicate sweetness. The more black spots, the sweeter. However, if the plantain turns completely black and doesn’t show any yellow then it is over ripe.
How To Peel Sweet Plantains
The easiest way to peel a plantain, whether green or yellow, is to cut off both ends. Then cut a shallow slit down the length of the plantain, not too deep. The idea is to just touch the flesh with the knife, this way you can pull the skin back to remove it.
How To Cook: Sweet Plantain Recipes
There are a myriad of ways to prepare this tasty vegetable. Here are some of the recipes that come to mind:
1. Gluten-Free Breakfast
For a taste of the tropics try pairing fried eggs with sweet plantains. Just peel the plantains, slice at an angle and fry until deep golden. Accompany with sautéed onions, if desired.
2. Tasty Side Dish
As previously mentioned, sweet plantains make a wonderful side dish. Peel, slice into rounds or at an angle and fry until deep golden. They are best fried right before serving and sprinkled with a little adobo seasoning. Here's a wonderful recipe from My Puerto Rican Style:
3. Sweet Plantain ‘Canoes’
Baked sweet plantains are awesome, especially when with paired with cheese. Peel the plantain and maintain whole. Wrap in foil and cut a slit in the center, running the length of the vegetable. Insert a few thick-cut slices of cheese and bake until tender. This dish as known as ‘canoas’ (canoes) and would be nice served with meat or a salad.
4. Make a Tropical Casserole
Looking for a stunning and decadent main course? Try making pastelón, a lasagna-like Puerto Rican dish featuring slices of sweet plantains layered with meat and cheese. To make simply peel the plantains and cut lengthwise. Fry or bake until golden. Then use as you would lasagna noodles to layer between cheese and cooked ground beef. Top with lots of cheese and bake until golden. Try this tasty recipe from The Frugal Chef:
5. Boiled Sweet Plantains
Another great way (and by great, I mean lazy) to cook sweet plantains is to boil them. For this you don’t have to peel the plantains. Just cut into thirds, put in a pot and cover with water and boil until tender. In Puerto Rico and the parts of the Caribbean, the sweet plantains (and other boiled root vegetables) are paired with bacalao (salted cod), sauteed onions, tomatoes and avocado.
6. Sweet and Savory Salad
Boiled sweet plantains are also delicious in salads. Slice into rounds and put on a plate. Top with sliced onions, olives, sliced peppers, cucumbers and a zesty lemon vinaigrette made with extra virgin olive oil.
7. Spicy Snack
In Western Africa it is common to find sweet plantains sold as a spicy street food. The plantains are cut into batons or cubes, tossed with a flavorful ginger spice mix (that contains cayenne pepper, lemon and star anise) and fried until golden. They are often accompanied with peanuts and other nuts. Here is a nice recipe from African Bites.
image via African Bites
Ironically, it is a bit unusual to find sweet plantains used in desserts. However, cooks in Guatemala have two interesting sweet dishes. One is composed of fried plantains topped with a sweet mole laced with cinnamon, sesame seeds and thickened with sweet bread. The other is a type of fritter made with boiled mashed plantains stuffed with sweet black beans. They are fried until golden and sprinkled with powdered sugar.
Do you cook with sweet plantains? Share your thoughts and recipes below or on Facebook.