Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Plantain is Not a Banana

a very ripe plantain

The above picture is not a super ripe banana. (Though I have a couple of those on my counter begging to be baked into a banana bread.) It's actually a perfectly ripe plantain.

Though used primarily as a vegetable, a plantain, like a banana, is a fruit that can be used in both savory and sweet dishes depending on its level of ripeness. When still green, a plantain is hard and starchy, like a potato. As it ripens, the peel turns nearly black, while the flesh becomes yellow and sweet. Fully ripe plantains are soft and creamy in texture, emit a mild banana fragrance, and are supremely sweet. Plantains take several days to ripen, so if you want to cook some soon then buy ones that are already blackened in the supermarket.


How is a plantain different from a banana?

1. Plantains are much firmer and heavier than bananas.
2. Plantains have a lower sugar content than bananas, making them less sweet.
3. Plantains should be cooked, whereas bananas can be eaten raw. Note: My friend Aparna who lives in India, noted that certain sweet plantains can be eaten raw. Thanks, Aparna!
4. Plantains can be cooked when still green and not fully ripe, for a starchier consistency and less sweet flavor, or when blackened and fully ripe, for a softer consistency and sweeter flavor. Bananas, however, cannot be eaten when green or unripe, unless you want to experience a distinctly unpleasant chalky aftertaste.

Plantains are a staple in many South American, African, and Asian countries; fortunately, they're gaining status in the US as well. That's a good thing since they're so versatile: they can be boiled, baked, sauteed, and fried and work in dishes ranging from appetizers to desserts.

In the States, many plantain recipes are Cuban or Mexican in origin and feature ingredients such as chiles, honey, lime, and brown sugar. Plantains make an easy and delicious side dish especially with Baja style fish tacos.

peeling a plantain

Here's how to peel a plantain:

1. Cut off the top of the plantain.
2. Using a sharp knife, gently cut lengthwise along the plantain, being careful not to cut into the fruit (as shown above).
3. Using your hands, open the skin, remove from the plantain and discard.
4. Slice plantain into equal sized pieces (as shown below).

plantain slices

You'll notice when you slice a plantain, that the fruit is a pinkish-yellow. As it cooks, however, it will magically turn a deep, rich gold color, while the flesh becomes creamy.

I usually saute plantain slices in a little olive oil or butter until lightly caramelized and douse them with some Tabasco sauce and lime juice. Today, however, I opted for a slightly sweeter take. Caramelized plantain slices are drizzled with warm, rich honey, and sprinkled with cayenne pepper and lime juice, for a singular sweet and tangy flavor.

plantains with honey and lime

Caramelized Plantains with Honey and Lime

Serves 4
Print recipe only here.

2 fully ripe plantains
2 teaspoons olive oil
2-3 teaspoons quality honey
1 lime, cut in half
salt and cayenne pepper, to taste

Pour olive oil in a large non-stick skillet until evenly coated and place over medium-high heat. Add plantain slices in a single layer (do two batches, if necessary). Cook plantains for 1 minute, flip over, and cook 30-60 seconds, or until browned. Keep your eye on the plantains as they'll brown very quickly. Remove from the pan, and place on a paper-towel lined plate. Cover with foil until all plantains are cooked.

Place plantains on a serving platter. Drizzle with quality honey, then sprinkle with lime juice, salt and cayenne pepper, to taste. Serve immediately.

You might also like:

Fresh Pineapple Chutney

Roasted Root Vegetables with Maple Sage Glaze

Elote, or Mexican Grilled Corn

Fresh Fig and Fennel Pizza

Anna's Bajan Plantain Pikelets (they're like pancakes) with Rum-Butter Sauce at Morsels and Musings
Suganya's Plantain Rice Mix at Tasty Palettes
Gretchen Noelle's Baked Plantains in Orange Sauce at Canela & Camino

I'm sending my plantains to Amy and Jonny of We Are Never Full, this week's hosts of Weekend Herb Blogging, created by Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen.

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