Plantains, can we ever tire of them? Truly a mainstay amongst our Caribbean fruits, it is used in its entire splendour by our Spanish Caribbean neighbours.
The greatest attribute of plantains, notwithstanding their deliciousness, lies in their versatility; we can enjoy them at any stage, from green to ripe, and they are available year-round. They’re great when made into chips and enjoyed with a zesty salsa. Pounded and fried (tostones), they become great carriers for a spicy shrimp sauté or a salsa. Baked with freshly-squeezed orange juice and a grating of nutmeg, they become an irresistible side dish.
Although we mostly enjoy plantains boiled or fried, enjoying them prepared in different ways during their different stages almost makes them addictive.
History dictates that Portuguese explorers found plantains in Western Africa bought them and planted them back home. From there the fruit was taken to the Canary Islands, from where they were taken to Santo Domingo by a Portuguese Franciscan Monk.
Given that plantains were very popular in Africa, during the transatlantic slave trade many African customs and produce were also transported from Africa to the Caribbean on those slave ships. Fried plantains were already a familiar dish among African slaves and by then there was an abundant presence of the crop in the Caribbean region. This could be the reason why the plantains have enjoyed longevity as it was one of the foods they were familiar with, had easy access to and knowledge to prepare.
Slave rations of food at that time were not great but did include some plantain. Each slave received one or two bunches as a week’s worth of provisions. They used plantains to make many things even wine, they ate them mostly boiled and fried. The leaves were used to make paper and also to steam foods in. A tradition that still continues today.
Caribbean plantain and chicken satays
1 tbs minced ginger
1 tbs soy sauce
2 tbs smooth peanut butter
1 tbs minced garlic
2 tbs fresh lime juice
2 tbs rum or water
4 boneless chicken breasts, cut into one inch cubes
3 half-ripe plantains
1 lime, halved
Salt and pepper
2 bell peppers, seeded and cut into one inch pieces
Combine the marinade ingredients in a food processor, add the chicken to the marinade and let stand for about one hour.
Meanwhile peel the plantains, rub the lime over the plantains prior to cutting to prevent discolouration. Then slice the plantains on the diagonal into six thick chunks. Squeeze the remaining lime juice over the plantains and sprinkle with some salt and pepper.
Preheat the barbecue, or preheat the broiler.
Remove the chicken from the marinade and thread alternate pieces of chicken, plantain, and peppers onto a wooden skewer. Barbecue for about 10 minutes turning frequently and basting with the marinade.
Serve at once accompanied by a fresh green salad and a savoury rice.
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
½ cup chopped chives
1 cup mashed ripe plantain
¼ cup sour cream or (¼ milk combined with 1 tsp vinegar)
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
⅓ cup grated parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 375F
Place flour, baking soda, salt, nutmeg and chives in a mixing bowl.
Beat eggs and combine with sour cream, and plantain.
Add to dry mixture, stir just to combine.
Place mixture into a 9-inch square baking tin, sprinkle with black pepper and cheese.
Bake for 30 minutes until risen and golden.
Serves 6 to 8
Piononos (a Puerto Rican favourite)
2 ripe plantains, peeled and sliced lengthways into four strips
1 tbs vegetable oil
1 egg lightly beaten
For the filling:
12 oz minced beef
1 small green pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbs fresh thyme
2 small tomatoes, skinned and chopped finely
1 tbs, olive oil
½ cup fresh bread crumbs
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
In a large frying pan heat vegetable oil and fry plantains until golden brown on either side, about seven minutes.
Drain on paper towels and set aside.
Meanwhile heat olive oil, add onion, garlic and pepper sauté until fragrant, add ground beef and cook until brown.
Add tomatoes, thyme and bread crumbs. Add Worcestershire sauce.
Fold in beaten egg and season to taste. The mixture should just come together when stirred.
Curve the plantain slices into rings and secure with toothpicks.
Place the plantain rings into a buttered baking dish and preheat oven to 375F.
Fill the rings with the meat mixture and sprinkle with any unused breadcrumbs.
Bake in preheated oven for about 15 minutes until the top is crusty.
Makes 12 Piononos.
Grilled plantain cakes
2 ripe plantains
2 cloves garlic minced
¼ cup chopped chives
Salt to taste
2 tbs olive oil
Boil plantains until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Mash plantains with a potato masher.
Add chives, garlic, and salt, stir to combine.
Make plantains into 2-inch patties.
Brush with olive oil.
Grill until browned on each side.
Baked plantain with orange
juice and nutmeg
1 ripe plantains, sliced into ¼-inch thick slices, lengthways
juice of one orange
½ tsp grated nutmeg
1 tbs olive oil
Preheat oven to 375F
Lightly grease a shallow baking dish with oil.
Arrange plantain slices side by side.
Sprinkle with nutmeg and orange juice.
Turn and repeat.
Bake until lightly browned, about 10 to 15 minutes.
2 green plantains, peeled and sliced with ways into
2-inch thick slices
Vegetable oil for frying
Heat oil in frying pan, fry plantain pieces on either side until lightly browned. Remove and drain on paper towels, cool slightly.
With a meat pounder lightly pound plantain pieces to about ¼-inch thickness.
Return pounded plantains to hot oil, and fry on both sides until golden brown.
Repeat for all plantain pieces.
Drain and serve warm as a snack.
Or as a holder for bean or tomato salsas.