Plantains Are Everyday Superstars

Versatile recipes for starchy plantains and unripe green bananas.

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By Tejal Rao

A few weeks ago, my uninsulated home had a chill in it that I couldn’t chase away. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I started craving my grandmother’s matoke — the small, thick, green bananas she simmers with sautéed onion, tomato and spices until the sauce turns dark and glossy, and the starchy bananas become just tender enough to break apart with a few fingers tucked behind the fold of a chapati.

My grandmother was born in Mbale, in Eastern Uganda, and lives in Nairobi, where East African Highland bananas are plentiful. Since I couldn’t find them locally in Los Angeles, I got a bunch of green Thai bananas from the supermarket and peeled those instead. The result was nourishing and sturdy — just what I needed!

Bananas and plantains are everyday ingredients for cooks all over the world, and for good reason. They’re usually stocked at many kinds of grocery stores, which makes them easy to find. If you don’t already reach for them in your savory cooking, read Yewande Komolafe’s beautiful and practical ode to the fruit to learn more.

Plantains are delicious and versatile at almost every stage of their life, so go ahead and buy a bunch, more than you might need for one meal, and cook with them as they ripen.

First, you can simmer the green, unripe plantains to bring substance and body to a big pot of asaro or vegetable maafé, or grate them to make tender dumplings for bowls of hot gandules. You can fry them to make vegan mofongo — pay attention to Von Diaz’s note at the top and skip the pork, but be a little more generous with the garlic and olive oil. Or fry the green plantain twice (!) to make satisfying, crispy-edged tostones.

As the fruit starts to ripen, and its skin goes from green to yellow with a few black freckles, you can boil it to have on the side with some spinach stew. Finally, when plantains are super ripe, the skin more black than yellow, it’s time to make maduros.

Ghanaian Spinach Stew With Sweet Plantains

Go to the recipe.

Gandules con Bolitas de Plátano (Pigeon Peas With Plantain Dumplings)

Go to the recipe.

Asaro (Yam and Plantain Curry)

Go to the recipe.

One More Thing

In case you missed it, I really enjoyed Ligaya Mishan’s latest column about the origins of chiffon cake, “born of American ingenuity, and perhaps a peculiarly American despair.” The retro cake, made with oil instead of butter and lightened with beaten egg whites, was the invention of a former insurance agent named Harry Baker — but it’s a stranger story than I realized.

And the recipe that Ligaya adapted, from the pastry chef Christopher Tan, looks so good, packed with mandarin orange zest and juice.

Thanks for reading The Veggie, and see you next week!

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