4 Healthy Ways to Cook Plantains
I am a big fan of plantains and have cooked them in a number of different ways. Many people don't realize that this fruit should be cooked prior to consumption, and I've often had the experience of people asking me in grocery stores how to prepare these nutritious yellow powerhouses.
Healthy Ways to Cook Plantains
- Grilling or baking using an open pit
Of these methods, the healthiest are grilling, baking, and roasting. Personally, I prefer roasting in the oven because then I don't have to deal with the smoke from the grill or pit, but I get the same delicious results—if not better.
Cooked plantains can be eaten as a snack (plain, dipped in butter or salted palm oil, or topped with roasted Spanish peanuts), or they can be incorporated into a meal (in a soup or stew, as a side dish, or with scrambled eggs).
What's the Difference Between a Plantain and a Banana?
Plantains and bananas are closely related; in fact, plantains are a member of the banana family. There are some important differences between the two fruits, though.
Compared to bananas, plantains are:
- More firm
- Thicker skinned
- Higher in starch
- Lower in sugar
- Usually cooked rather than eaten raw
- A staple food across Latin America, the Caribbean, and West and Central Africa
Because plantains have less sugar and more starch than regular bananas, they are generally cooked before they are consumed. Although I know some people who eat them raw, this is usually not a good practice because they're harder to digest.
How to Tell When a Plantain Is Ripe
When cooking plantains, it's important to be able to identify whether it is ripe. The color of the skin should be your guide.
- Green = Unripe. Unripe plantains are usually green. They are less sweet, more firm, and more difficult to peel. They are also said to contain high levels of iron. Unripe plantains are sometimes used as a meat substitute in West African cuisine. They are great for making chips and/or patties (they are first mashed and then fried).
- Yellow or Yellow-Brown = Ripe. Ripe plantains are usually yellow or yellow-brown. Compared to unripe plantains, ripe ones are sweeter, easier to peel, easier to slice, and not as firm.
1. How to Boil Plantains
This method is very simple; it involves simply boiling the plantains in salted water. No additional ingredients are needed.
- Plantains (as many as you like)
- Rinse the unpeeled plantains to remove any dirt residue.
- Leaving the skin on, cut the plantains into 2-inch chunks.
- Add the chunks into 2 to 3 cups boiling, salted water. Cover and simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes.
- Drain and allow to cool. Remove skins.
- Boiled plantains taste a bit like a sweet potato.
- Leaving the skin on while boiling helps the fruit retain most of its nutrients and also helps keep it from getting soggy.
- Use this as a substitute in soup or stew recipes that call for potatoes. Also tastes great with scrambled eggs.
2. How to Fry Plantains
Frying is the most popular method of cooking plantains, although some people are gradually beginning to move away from this method due to health concerns.
- Vegetable oil (whichever type you prefer)
- Peel the plantains.
- Cut the fruit into chunks, cubes, or coins. Different people like to slice it differently.
- Set your frying pan or wok on the stove over medium heat. Add oil.
- Once the oil is hot, gently drop the plantain pieces into the pan. Note: Splattering hot oil can cause serious burns, so be careful with this step.
- Fry the pieces for about 5 to 10 minutes, stirring or turning occasionally.
- Once the pieces are golden brown, remove them from the pan.
- Drain excess oil by dabbing with a paper towel.
- Fried plantains can also be eaten plain, in a soup or stew, or as a side dish with rice and beans.
- Try serving with scrambled eggs and salsa. This combo makes a great breakfast meal that is both sweet and healthy.
- Fried, unripe plantains are very crunchy. They are usually turned into chips.
- Fried, ripe plantains, on the other hand, tend to be very sweet and soft. Because of their sweetness, kids usually love them.
3. How to Grill or Bake Plantains Using an Open-Pit Method
Plantains can also be grilled or baked. It is said that this method allows the fruit to retain all of its nutrients (unlike when they're boiled or fried). Grilling or baking are considered to be the healthiest cooking methods and are preferred by health-conscious plantain lovers. It is also a healthy option for Weight Watchers.
- A grill of some sort
- Peel the plantains.
- Place them over a grill or open fire pit until they're golden-brown. This could take up to 40-50 minutes.
- In Nigeria (my native country), roasted plantains are called boli or bole. In this part of the world, plantains make a full meal by themselves.
- Some people prefer to grill this fruit with the skin on, while others prefer to have the fruit in direct contact with the coal.
4. How to Oven-Roast Plantains
If you do not have a grill or an open charcoal pit, you can roast plantains in the oven.
- Ripe yellow plantains
- Peel plantains, but do not cut or slice into pieces.
- Heat oven to about 400 to 450 degrees (depending on the oven).
- Place peeled, whole fruits in the oven. Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes, turning occasionally to achieve an even roast. They are done when they become golden brown.
Where Can I Buy Plantains?
Plantains can be found in the produce aisle of most grocery stores today. They can also be found at most farmer's markets that cater to Eastern Mediterranean cuisines as well as in some Chinese markets. But you will most definitely find them in any African store or market.
When buying plantains, stay away from those that are overly ripe and mushy. The yellow, ripe-but-firm ones are better. These are perfect for grilling, frying, and boiling.
I like to keep a few plantains in my kitchen at all times. They are handy as a quick snack or they can be incorporated into a delicious breakfast or main meal. Whichever method you choose to prepare your plantains, one thing is certain: you and your family will enjoy eating them!
If you've never tried plantains before, will you try them now?
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