I stopped by a Puerto Rican/international food market the other day just because I was in the neighborhood. Although there were tons and tons of interesting products stocked in the many isles of this deceivingly small market, my eyes were fixed on ripe plátanos (plantains) from the moment I opened the door (and smelled the ever-present smell of dried cod). Plantains can be found in most big supermarkets around Cleveland, but they are smaller than the ones I grew up with and they don’t ripe as well. Plantains are cultivars of bananas; that means that plantains are to bananas what Brussel sprouts and cauliflower are to cabbage. Just like bananas, you can use them either green or ripe, but they make totally different dishes. The green plantains are starchy and savory, while the ripe ones are sweet, with a creamy texture, which makes it crucial to commit to one ripeness state. When you want a green plantain make sure it’s green, and when you want it to be ripe, make sure that the peel is yellow with black spots; just yellow won’t cut it. If a plantain is not ripe enough, its texture, its flavor and its sweetness will be underwhelming.
In Puerto Rico, most of the plantain recipes require deep frying. But my grandma, who was a fierce advocate of healthy eating back in the day when high fat and high carbs were still in, was not having any of it. She would instead, make us boiled plantains (they were terrific!). To this day, I prefer to eat plantains boiled rather than fried. They are so easy and simple to make too. You make some slits on the peel, and boil them in salted water until a fork can go through.
The boiled plantains have a beautiful sweetness to them that is unlike anything else. The main problem is that although they may be tasty and very nutritious, they don’t look too appealing. If I remember correctly, my sisters, my cousins and my parents were somewhat thrown off by the looks of these plantains, so they would often avoid eating them. (More plantains for me!)
To give these guys a little bit of a pick me up, and make them more appealing, I mash them. I use some butter and brown sugar to enhance their creaminess and sweetness, and I garnish them with fresh thyme to get a nice lemony aroma. That’s it. Now the boiled plantains remain delicious, but they are much more appetizing. They really look much more luscious and luxurious than their 3 minutes-ago counterparts. Easy, simple, delicious!
On the road shortcut
253 calories, 59 g carbs, 4 g fat, 2 g protein per serving (4 servings)
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon brown butter
Fresh thyme to garnish
Bring salted water to a boil. Make some slits on the plantain peel, on a spiral pattern. Add them to the boiling water and cook until a fork can go through easily.
Remove the plantain peel. (You may need to wait a few minutes so the plantains are easier to manage since they’ll be hot!) The peel should be easy to remove. I use to forks to pull them apart from opposite ends.
Transfer the plantains to a mixing bowl. Add the butter and the brown sugar. Mash the plantains. Transfer the mash to a serving dish, and garnish with fresh thyme.