A staple in many tropical cultures, the plantain is a surprisingly versatile fruit that appears in everything from appetizers to desserts. Plantains may resemble bananas, but their starchy flesh is less sweet, more like that of a potato, and plantains must be cooked before eating.
Often sold individually instead of in a bunch like bananas, plantains have thick skins that range in color from green to yellow to black. Plantains can be used at any stage of ripeness. Green plantains are bland and best fried, grilled or broiled in savory recipes. Yellow ones are sweeter and softer; they are delicious grilled or baked into savory or savory-sweet recipes. Black plantains are the sweetest variety and are ideal for desserts.
To peel plantains, cut off both tips. Make a slit down the full length of the peel and pull off the skin in one piece. While green plantains are the most difficult to peel, yellow and black plantains may peel more easily – but still not as simple as unzipping a banana.
Ripen plantains by storing them at room temperature out of direct sunlight and turning them daily. It takes seven to 10 days for green plantains to fully ripen.
A medium raw plantain provides 218 calories with no fat, and is a good source of fiber. It's also an excellent source of potassium and vitamins A, C and B6. Although allergies are uncommon, some people are allergic to plantains and bananas. Those with a latex allergy may develop a reaction when eating bananas or plantains, since they cross-react with latex.
Cooking and Eating Plantains Around the World
Walk into any Latin or Caribbean restaurant and you're almost guaranteed to find plantains on the menu. Plantains also appear in some African, Asian and Indian cuisines.
Whether it's mangú, pureed plantains topped with sautéed onions (a popular breakfast item in the Dominican Republic) or pastelón, a lasagna-like dish made with plantains from Puerto Rico, it's hard to go wrong. Dodo is Nigeria's rendition of fried plantains, often served with rice, beans or eggs. An Indian stir-fry, aratikaya vepudu pairs plantains with ginger, turmeric and other spices.
Tostones, which go by many different names depending on the country, are twice-fried green plantains. They're similar to potato chips in that they're sliced and fried, but they can also be shaped into mini-bowls to hold a variety of fillings. To make tostones, the plantain chips are fried once, then a saucer is placed on top or a mallet is used to pound them until the chip is thin and flat. The chip then is fried again. A tostonera is a hinged, two-part tool sold in many Latin supermarkets that can be used to flatten the slices. To make a bowl shape instead of a chip, use a shot glass to form a bowl after the first frying and once shaped, fry it again.
Tostones can be topped or filled with avocado salad, ceviche or marinated, cooked chicken. They're also delicious served with a dip or simply on their own.
Pre-sliced, diced and mashed plantains, which save untold time in the kitchen, are available frozen in foodservice quantities and in varying stages of ripeness. Frozen tostones in chip form or bowls, also are available.
Contributing Editor Kerry Neville, MS, RD, is a nutrition communications consultant based in Seattle.
Spicy Pork and Plantain Dry Curry
Recipe by Tram Le, MS, RD
3 tablespoons canola oil, divided
2 medium green plantains (1 pound total), peeled and sliced in ½-inch slices
½ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
2 carrots, peeled and sliced in ½-inch slices
½ medium onion, diced into 1-inch cubes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1¼ pound pork tenderloin, cut in 1-inch cubes, fat trimmed
2 teaspoons curry powder
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
⅓ cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
- Over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons canola oil to a 3.5-quart French oven (or other cast-iron pot). When the oil is shimmering, add the plantain slices. Add ⅛ teaspoon of kosher salt, and frequently turn the plantains, frying them for 6 minutes, or until lightly browned. Take the plantains out and set aside in a clean, medium bowl.
- Using the same pot, turn the heat down to medium-low, and add 1 teaspoon canola oil. Add the carrots, onion and garlic, and another ⅛ teaspoon of kosher salt, sauteing and stirring often.
- When the onions soften (about 5 minutes), add the plantains back in and cook, covered, for another 5 minutes. Remove contents and set aside in a medium bowl.
- In a separate medium bowl, toss the cubes of pork with ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, curry powder, ground turmeric, red chili pepper flakes and black pepper. Add 2 teaspoons canola oil to the same pot, increase heat to medium, and saute pork, stirring often, for about 6 minutes, until browned.
- Add in all vegetables and pour in chicken broth, mixing all ingredients together, and then cover. Continue to cook for another 8 minutes, until the meat is cooked through and carrots are tender.
- Garnish with chopped cilantro.
Serving Size: 3 ounces pork, ¾ cup vegetables
Calories 419; Total fat 20g; Sat. Fat 4g; Chol. 97mg; Sodium 408mg; Carb. 30g; Fiber 3g; Sugars 14g; Protein 33g; Potassium 1018mg; Phosphorus 351mg
Tram Le, MS, RD, is based in Annapolis, Md. She is a Stone Soup blogger and the author of This Veg Life.
Oven-Baked Plantains with Chipotle Black Beans and Cilantro Salsa
Recipe by Jamie Stolarz, MS, RDN, LDN
2 large (10-inch) ripe, black plantains
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon garlic sea salt*
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black peppercorns
1 cup canned low-sodium black beans, rinsed
1 canned chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
¼ cup finely-minced sweet yellow onion
1 cup fresh cilantro, large stems removed, cut with kitchen shears
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Cut off plaintain tips and peel. Bias-cut each plantain into 8 wedges by slicing each plantain on the diagonal into approximately 2-inch pieces. Repeat with second plantain to form a total of 16 wedges.
- Place plantain wedges in a shallow, 8×11-inch glass baking dish. Drizzle plantains with extra-virgin olive oil. Toss to evenly coat. Sprinkle with garlic sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Toss to coat and bake for 35 minutes, or until light golden brown.
- Meanwhile, rinse and drain black beans. Place in a small bowl. Use a paring knife to thinly slice chipotle pepper horizontally to form circles, reserving seeds and sauce.
- With a spoon, gently mix pepper, seeds and sauce into beans. In a second small bowl, mix onion and cilantro.
- Use a spatula to flip cooked plantains. Pour beans and chipotle over plantains. Use a spatula to gently combine. Bake an additional 5 minutes or until beans are warm.
- Divide cilantro-onion mixture among four plates. Top each plate with four plantains and ¼ cup of chipotle beans.
- Garlic sea salt can be substituted with 1⁄4 teaspoon garlic powder and 1⁄8 teaspoon salt.
Serving Size: 4 plantain wedges, ¼ cup black beans, ¼ cup cilantro-onion salsa
Calories 237; Total fat 7g; Sat. Fat 1g; Chol. 0mg; Sodium 338mg; Carb. 41g; Fiber 6g; Sugars 14g; Protein 5g
Jamie Stolarz, MS, RDN, LDN, is based in Brandon, Fla. She is a Stone Soup blogger and author of TwoSistersOneKitchen.com.