Posted by: ktzefr | August 26, 2010

Those other bananas…

Streets of Old San Juan

They look like bananas, and when dead ripe they have a “banana scent,” but plantains are more often seen as the pasta and potatoes of the Caribbean.  They are more versatile and their shelf life much longer than bananas as they can be eaten when totally green or totally black.  But they are not as sweet as bananas and not usually eaten raw.

The first time I recall eating green plantains was several years ago in Puerto Rico.  A popular dish on the island is mofongo, which is made with green plantains that have been cooked and then mashed like potatoes and flavored with garlic and bacon.  Traditionally served in a wooden goblet, the mofongo is pressed against the sides to create a “well” in the middle that is filled with shrimp cooked in garlic and butter or a crispy fried pork or chicken.  Sometimes the shrimp is also cooked in a rich tomato sauce.  A dash or two of hot sauce gives a good mofongo an extra zing.

In Puerto Rico the green plantain is also fried to create mariquitas (chips that are crisp and golden-brown); for tostones the plantains are mashed into disks and then fried; tostones rellenos are stuffed with ground beef or shrimp; maduros are made when the plantain is riper and cut into thick slices and fried.  And then there’s the popular jibarito in which slices of plantain are fried and used instead of bread to make a sandwich filled with thin slices of beefsteak, onions, lettuce, and tomato.  Some of the more creative chefs on the island also serve plantains alongside lamb and beef dishes.   La Cava in Ponce used to serve a marinated pork loin wrapped in plantains and bacon with a cilantro rum sauce…the possibilities for this banana-looking vegetable are endless.

Lunch break at the fountains, Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

I like it all — plus my own recipe for plantain with a Southern Appalachian twist (because of the similarity to sweet potatoes/yams).  I use dead-ripe plantains…deep yellow-brown or blotched with black to just black but still firm to the touch.  Peel, slice in 1/4 inch-thick slices on the diagonal to make good-sized pieces, and brown on both sides in a little oil.  Then set the heat to simmer, add a chunk of butter, a couple tablespoons or more of brown sugar, a hearty sprinkle of cinnamon, and simmer for maybe 10 minutes.  (A teaspoon or two of Grand Marnier at the end doesn’t hurt either.)  Delicioso!

Puerto Rico is known as the “Culinary Capital of the Caribbean.”  An excellent sampling of local and international recipes from the best chefs on the island: More of the Great Chefs of Puerto Rico.



  1. Reminder not to read your blog around lunchtime. 🙂
    In Hawai’i we call plantains, apple bananas, and one of my favorite desserts is banana lumpia. You wrap the banana with brown sugar in a thin pastry shell (lumpia) and then fry them. I sprinkle sugar on top while they cool–although they usually don’t last long enough to cool.

    • I’ll have to try this, Beth. Sounds delicious.

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