Plantains are originally from south east asia. Linnaeus, the famous botanist created the name Musa, which is similar to several Arabic words for the fruit to honor the Muses. The Koran called this the "Tree of Paradise" so Linnaeus named it Musa paradisiaca. The Arabs believed the sages in India ate this fruit, "the plant of the wise," hence the name Musa. At about 327 B.C. Alexander the Great during his India campaign ate this fruit and ordered it planted around his Mediterranean dominions, particularly in the coast of Africa. Plantains along with their sweeter cousins Bananas were introduced in the 1500's to the Caribbean islands by Dominican Friars from the Canary islands. Plantains are easy to grow from the shoots at the base of a plant, they like rich muddy soil. Plantains together with rice are the most frequent companions of protein around the caribbean. Plantains are sold fresh in 3 stages of ripeness, green (verde), semi-ripe (pinto or pinton) and ripe (maduro), they have different applications. The green are used for its starchy firmness, the semi-ripe for its combination of firmness and sweetnes, and the ripe for its sweetnes. African slaves were the first to cultivate and consume plantains in America since they knew it in their homeland.
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Musa paradisiaca
ENGLISH NAME: Plantain
LOCAL NAMES: Platano, Platano macho (Mexico), Banana-da-Terra (brazil)
NUTRIENTS: Plantains are a type of banana that contains less sugar than the common yellow banana. Plantains are low in sodium and high in vitamin A, potassium, fiber, and vitamin B6. They are also a good source of magnesium, carbohydrates, vitamin C, riboflavin, and biotin. Plantains are packed with several nutrients, especially potassium, which is one of the most important electrolytes in the body because it helps to regulate heart function and also fluid balance. The regulation of heart function and fluid balance are key factors in regulating blood pressure. Studies have shown that potassium rich foods are very effective in lowering blood pressure and protecting against heart disease and stroke. Bananas contain a high amount of pectin. Pectin is a soluble fiber that lowers cholesterol, is soothing to the gastrointestinal tract, and normalizes bowel function. Studies have shown that plantain bananas may be effective in the treatment of peptic ulcers.
PROCESSING: Cut the tips and discard; cut the skin legthwise; introduce your fingers under the skin and lift it.
STORING: Plantains do not keep well since they tend to ripen very fast and their skin turns black. You can delay the process keeping them in a cool place, but they will ripen anyway. It is better to get them green and used them in different recipes as they ripen.
FRIED SWEET PLANTAIN (TAJADAS DE PLATANO): Tajadas de plátano are one of the most popular side dishes in around the Caribbean where plantains are prepared in every form imaginable and this way is delicious and simple to make. Peel 3 large ripe plantains and cut diagonally into ½ inch thick slices; In a large pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Fry the slices in a single layer for about 2 minutes on each side; Remove the plantains with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Serve warm. For added flavor you could spray some cinnamon or coarsely grated white cheese or both. Tajadas go very well with saucy beef or chicken dishes accompanied by rice.
TOSTONES O PATACONES: Very common side for fried fish around the caribbean. To make you need green plantains cut in 1 inch slices; fry them in deep hot oil until slightly golden (about 2 minutes); take them unto a hard surface spray some seasoning over them, which could be finely chopped garlic, a combination or chopped garlic and ground cummin, or simply a spiced salt like Adobo of which there are many local brands; flatten the pieces somewhat with a plantain press (tostonera), the botton of a glass or a good round stone (my favorite), the thickness should be about half. Refry them in the hot oil until golden and serve warm.
PLANTAIN SLAW: A variation of Cole Slaw originated in the Dominican Republic. Peel 3 large green plantains and cook in boiling water no more than 15 minutes; grate them coarsely; add 1 small coarsely grated carrot, 2 tablespoons each of chopped red onion and green pepper; Make a sauce with 1/2 cup of mayonaise, 1 teaspoon of mustard, 1 tablespoon of white vinegar and 1 tablespoon of sugar mix well; add sauce to vegetables and toss well; add salt and pepper to taste; to serve cover with some ripe seeded tomato cubes.
PLANTAIN CHIPS (PLATANITOS): These are very versatile to serve many kinds of foods, use them to serve Ceviche or dips; the japanese use them to serve sliced pickled onions, they think it is a delicacy. To make them, heat some deep oil and using the one blade side of a grater slide a peeled green or semi-ripe plantain in a quick repeated motion to drop thin slices into the hot oil, process about a 1/4 of the plantain at the time; they should fry until crisp and golden; remove the chips with a slotted spoon onto absorvent paper to dry and while still warm spray with salt or spiced salt (adobo, my favorite).
PLATANOS EN TENTACION (TEMPTING PLANTAINS): These are typical in Panama. They can be used as a side or dessert. To make peel and quarter 3 large semi-ripe plantains; fry them in deep hot oil until golden, about 1 minute, remove with slotted spoon onto absorvent paper to dry; peel and chop 1 small ripe pineapple and blend with a little water until you get a thick juice; in a pot place the fried plantain quarters, cover with the pineapple juice, add 2 sticks of cinnamon broken in pieces, 1/2 cup of raisins, 1 cup of cherries in syrup and 1/2 cup of dark brown sugar (panela or raspadura); cook this stew until it becomes syrupy, about 40 minutes; serve warm with rice as a side dish to beef, pork or chicken; for dessert cut each quarter in thick slices, cover with some syrup, raisins and cherries and top with some vanilla ice cream. Sometimes these plantains are cut on one side and a piece of white cheese is wedged before cooking them in the pineapple juice, in this case they are called Platanos Enamorados (plantains in love).