January 18, 2019
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Treat Your Plantain Like a Potato
Plantains-7713

When fried, they’re a restaurant staple. But when roasted, they’re a homey comfort.

For about a month each winter, I rediscover the reassuringly filling comforts of baked potatoes and sweet potatoes. I’ll buy them by the cheap grocery-bag-ful and roast them for dinner night after night, topping them with a hot honey butter, like Alison Roman does in her cookbook Dining In, or with yogurt and diced pickles, like Brooks Headley does at Superiority Burger. And then, inevitably, I reach a point of tuber burnout and begin to wish any other fruit or vegetable were as easy to roast on its own to transform into a self-contained dinner.

In their book Provisions: The Roots of Caribbean Cooking, Michelle and Suzanne Rousseau offer an answer for your oven: ripe plantains. As they explain, starchy fruit and vegetables of the Caribbean, like breadfruit, bananas, pumpkin, and especially plantains, are often eaten simply roasted or grilled over an open flame and topped with butter and salt. The fruit has the heft and starchiness of a potato, but with a gentle, tropical acidity.

Most grocery stores in my Brooklyn neighborhood carry green plantains—the fruit at its starchiest, least ripe stage of life. These are the type that are sliced paper-thin and fried to make salty plantain chips. A few grocery stores carry the still starchy, but slightly softer, plantains that are often referred to as “turned.” An 1893 book called The Jamaica Cookery Book, which the Rousseaus cite, says that turned plantains “go excellently well with salt fish or eaten boiled or roasted with butter put inside them.” The Rousseaus like to peel and grill them as a barbecue side.

Like avocados and bananas, you can buy plantains at either of these stages and let them ripen in your kitchen. “If you want it very ripe, wrap in newspaper and leave in a cupboard under the sink for a few days,” the Rousseaus tell me. “We know that by the time a banana has brown spots, it usually means it’s time to make banana bread, but plantains will remain firm and will have a slightly wet, slippery feel once peeled and sliced.”

When they’re ripe, the skin will have turned from a mottled yellow to mostly black. The fruit will have a creamy, soft texture and a bright, fruity taste that’s at home alongside some jerk chicken, or caramelized in butter and brown sugar and eaten with a scoop of ice cream.

One of my favorite arepas at the Williamsburg location of Caracas combines Guayanés cheese, avocado, and juicy fried ripe plantain. On a sandwich from Tina’s Cuban in midtown Manhattan, wedges of ripe plantain are tucked between bits of shredded fried pork. Fany Gerson of sweets shop La Newyorkina tells me that her menu will soon feature fried-to-order plantains served with cajeta, a goat’s-milk caramel sauce.

The best thing about treating them like sweet potatoes is that they can be cooked right in their thick, leathery skins without any peeling, cutting, or wrapping in aluminum foil. Once cooked through, you just peel back the skin to reveal the soft, creamy flesh.

In their recipe from Provisions, the Rousseaus top the plantains with chopped avocado, lime juice, crunchy peanuts, and a spicy pepper compote. They also recommend trying a combination of olive oil, salt, fresh herbs (like basil, cilantro, and mint), and chèvre, or grilled onions, tahini, fresh mint, toasted pepitas, and pickled chiles. Or if your refrigerator contents are limited, you can opt for hot sauce and cilantro, like I did recently, or keep it classic with butter and salt.

Ingredients

  • 2 whole ripe plantains
  • 1 cup raw shelled peanuts, with the papery skins still on
  • 2 medium avocados
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, (optional)
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • African Pepper Compote (see below)
  • African Pepper Compote
  • 5 Scotch bonnet peppers (a mixture of red, green, and orange), washed and hulled
  • 3 plum tomatoes, cut into quarters
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 1 scallion, washed, trimmed, and cut into 1-inch lengths
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Memories of the homeland were never far from the minds of our displaced Afro-Caribbean ancestors. Despite isolation from friends, family, tribes, and community, they brought with them a shared memory and a collective knowledge of how and what to eat. This knowledge has been passed down over generations, and it never ceases to amaze us how intricately connected we still are to our motherland, Africa. With dishes like this one, inspired by a popular African street food, it is easy to see that the roots of our dining habits are deeply entrenched in a shared heritage with our ancestors from across the seas. Our friend Nadine from the Ivory Coast speaks so passionately about the delicious street food from her homeland that it makes us drool. Here, the combination of sweet plantain, spicy pepper compote, creamy avocado, and tart lime makes for a simple and fresh snack or side. Add the crunch of roasted peanuts, and the result becomes a totally different take on the typical roasted provisions of the Caribbean.

    African Pepper Compote

  1. Place the peppers, tomatoes, garlic, onion, scallion, and Dijon mustard in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel chopping blade. Pulse several times until the mixture is wellcombined but chunky. Scrape the mixture into a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes, until the mixture thickens. Add salt and pepper to taste. When the sauce resembles chunky salsa, it is ready. Transfer to a sanitized container and store in the refrigerator.

Roasted Ripe Plantain

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Place the plantains, with the skins still on, on a baking sheet, and pop it in the oven. Roast them for 35 to 40 minutes, until cooked through. (Alternatively, you can cook the whole, unpeeled plantains on a grill over a medium flame.) Keep the plantains warm until it’s time to serve them.
  3. While the plantains are roasting, spread the peanuts on a smaller sheet pan, and place them in the oven as well. After 10 minutes, remove the peanuts from the oven, and set aside, keeping them warm.
  4. Slice the avocados in half, remove the pit, and scoop the flesh out of the skins. Roughly mash the flesh, and arrange it on a serving plate. Squeeze lime juice over the avocado, and dust it with paprika, cinnamon (if using), cayenne, and sea salt.
  5. Roughly chop half the peanuts, and sprinkle them over the avocado. With the skins still on, slice the plantains in half, and add them to the platter. Dollop or drizzle the plantains with African Pepper Compote. Garnish the platter by sprinkling the remaining whole roasted peanuts over the top.

Anna Hezel

Anna Hezel is the senior editor of TASTE.

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