Plantain, how do I cook thee? Let me count the ways...

Monday, October 20, 2014

Commonplace in many Latin American and African cuisines, the plantain is a member of the banana family. Its colour varies from green to black depending on its ripeness, and while inedible raw, this starchy vegetable lends itself to a wide array of both savoury and sweet dishes when cooked. Here in Colombia you can't go far without finding some platano somewhere along the line, and recently I've been testing out a few recipes. Starting with ripened plantains, here are two variations of how they can be served, either savoury or sweet.

The 'Jacket Plantain'
The other day, getting home tired and hungry, I routed around for some dinner. Faced with these simple ingredients:
I could feel a good late night dinner calling. To make this savoury, stuffed plantain, you will need:

-1 yellow ripe plantain
-2 tomatoes, finely chopped
-1/2 onion, finely chopped
-1 can of tuna
-1 avocado, sliced
-1 lime, for a bit of juice squeezing
-Adobo seasoning (this is just a mix of paprika, oregano, salt and pepper. Use these if you have!).

1) Slice off the ends of the plantain and place it in an oven, heated to 190 degrees. Leave to cook for 20 minutes, and get on with your filling.
2) Heat some oil in a pan, and cook the onion until it takes on a translucent colour. Add in your seasoning followed by the tomatoes, and cook for 10 minutes.
3) Open and drain the can of tuna, add it into the pan. Turn off the heat and add in avocado chunks. By now your plantain will be cooked - take out of oven, carefully peel off skin and slice in the middle to open up like a book.
5) Place in your tomato filling, and finish with a squeeze of lime juice and avocado slices.
A quick and healthy dinner, in under 20 minutes
That's dinner done then! But what if you've already had your dinner, and are looking for something sweet to finish it off? Well here is potentially the easiest dessert recipe ever. With a similar cooking method to the 'Jacket Plantain', this sweet dessert contains the wonderfully exotic flavours of coconut, papaya and mango. 

Plantain 'Split'
-4 ripe plantains
-1 mango, cut into chunks
-1/2 papaya, cut into chunks
-1 can of coconut milk
-2 tbsp brown sugar
-Handful of desiccated coconut for sprinkling

1) Preheat the oven to 190 degrees, cut the ends off the plantain and place them in their skins in the preheated oven..
2) While they are cooking, get on with making your coconut cream. Pour coconut milk into a bowl and add in brown sugar. Either with a whisk, hand whisk or blender, whizz up milk until it takes on a thicker texture. Once it looks like it has a bit of body, it's ready.
Curvaceous coconut cream.
3) When plantain skins are black (20 minutes or so), take them out of the oven and (just like for the jacket plantains) peel them and open up like a book.
4) Now pour/spoon over coconut cream, and pile on fruit. Sprinkle generously with desiccated coconut, and a touch more cream for good measure.

A tropical treat for any day of the week! Feel free to play around with the fruit you use to fill your plantains. Maybe you could go for some berries? Perhaps even some chopped up oranges with a dash more sugar would go well. It's a really easy dessert and a nice spin on a well-loved classic.
For the next recipe, I have looked to common food trends for inspiration. The popularity of dishes such as spaghetti squash and cauliflower crust pizza highlights how we can use vegetables to substitute certain carbohydrates. While traditional pizza and pasta is wonderful, a slightly lighter substitute every now and then is a nice way to try out new recipes, as well as being a healthy option. This next recipe replaces rice with green plantain, and works really well - give it a go and see what you think!

For my Plantain Fried Rice, you will need:
-1 large green plantain
-1/2 onion
-1 red pepper
-1 green pepper
-Half a can of sweetcorn
-Drizzle of honey
-Salt and pepper
-Dash of chilli sauce
-Lime zest (a tad)

1) Firstly you want to chop your plantain really small. I managed this with a box cutter, which pushes the veg through a grate, but this could be just as easily done with a knife.
Your 'rice' grains'.
2) Cook your onions for 2-3 minutes, just to give them a bit of colour. Then, add in your plantain, tomatoes, red and green peppers. Add in salt and pepper along with lime zest.
3) Stir well and make sure it doesn't burn. As you don't want this to be greasy, if it looks like it's sticking to the pan add in some water. 
4) Cook for a further 10-15, add in sweet corn, and just before taking off the heat add your drizzle of honey and chilli sauce. Finish with a squeeze of lime and that's it! 
A great veggie meal in itself, or why not thrown in some grilled fish or seafood on top?
Continuing on with our green plantain and healthy alternatives, we arrive at the popular dish that is patacones. Patacones are fried plantain rounds that often sit alongside many other fritos, which are a typical street food. Cheap, tasty and filling, these fried snacks will certainly keep you bouncing until lunch.
30p for a frito...i'll take 3 please!
Patacones are not once but twice fried green plantain rounds. While delicious, they obviously aren't the most health-giving food out there, so I took on a challenge. Could I make healthier, baked patacones,without making any Colombian abuelita shudder in disgust at the very concept?

The answer? Yes! Easy to make, and far better for you than the original, these baked patacones will allow you to sample some Colombian food while watching your waistline. For this recipe you will need:

-1 green plantain
- Drizzle of olive oil

And that's it! And as if this wasn't simple enough, we're even going to use a microwave. If you don't have one, just stick it in the oven, but for double the time.

1) Cut off the ends of the plantain, and slice the skin all along one side, so steam can escape.
Microwave at full force for 6 minutes, or in the oven at 200 degrees for 12-15. 
2) Chop diagonally into 3-4 cm slices and use whatever you have to hand (a pan, a chopping board, a glass) to flatten each slice into a flat round.
3)Place on a baking sheet, generously cover with olive oil, salt, and a squeeze of lime juice. Bake at 200 degrees celsius for 15-20 minutes, turning over once or twice.
And out come delicious, crispy baked patacones! Sure they taste different to their fried siblings, but they are still darn good. These serve as a great base for a whole range of toppings - try your hand a typical colombian hogao (a tomato and onion sauce) or why not try some guacamole? Equally you could try some cooked up mince meat, or even a poached egg. Or, serve as they are, with another shake of shake and squeeze of lime.

With four different recipes, ranging from savoury to sweet, you've got no excuse not to give these dishes a whirl. Put down your dreary old potato and try something more exciting. Rich in vitamin C and A, plantains are paleo-friendly and are incredibly versatile and easy to cook with. So what are you waiting for? Head on down to your nearest international supermarket or large supermarket and get cooking!

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