Plantains are a natural go-to plant for followers of the Paleo eating lifestyle. The philosophy encourages its followers to eat only what they can hunt and gather, like before farming existed. And plantains are definitely something you can grab off a tree and eat. But … unlike bananas, they're not as appetizing when raw. Whether or not you care about Paleo eating, plantains are a versatile, forgiving, filling ingredient to play with in the kitchen.
Used in Latin kitchens all over, the starchier cousin to the banana can take the heat. Plantains are less sweet, and they need to be cooked. They want that heat. So give it to them, either by frying, sautéing, baking, or roasting. Blend them, mash them, slice them, fry them, bake them, mold them, and whip them into creations that go beyond their usual incarnations.
Plantains are more versatile than bananas in that you can use them at all ages: from greenest green to fully ripe. Find out more about the difference between bananas and plantains. When cooking with plantains, make sure to use the directed color of plantain in the recipe. Ripe and unripe plantains have different baking properties and can not be used interchangeably, says Lauren Geersten, a nutritional therapy practitioner on her site, Empowered Sustenance. Their mild sweetness only shows up when fully ripe — so ripe that they'll be black on the outside and look ready for the trash (or compost bin, you conscientious cook, you).
When cooked, plantains have a heavy, filling, potato-like character to them, which has cemented their status as a staple across not only Latin America, but also the Caribbean, and west and central Africa. If you'd rather go the banana route, check our banana recipes. And try our Latin American page stuffed with more recipes, articles, and videos.
You can create the pillowy or crispy texture you crave with plantains. It's just a matter of finding the right recipe. Check out some of our favorites:
1. Whipped Sweet Potatoes and Plantain Mash
Bake both plants and then blend them with coconut oil, almond milk, and the like for a creamy, sweet mash that's much more interesting than just mashed potatoes. To add textural contrast, sprinkle on some chopped walnuts. It's a great post-workout dish too, says Kevin of FitMenCook. Get the recipe.
2. Bolon de Verde (Green Plantain Dumplings)
Laylita's Recipes has a scrumptious-looking dish that can be breakfast, brunch, side dish, or appetizer. Fried green plantains are mashed and molded into dumplings stuffed with cheese, chorizo, or chicharrones and fried until crispy. It's a typical Ecuadorian food. Bolon is a slang term that means "large ball," but it's probably a better food translation to call them dumplings. Get the recipe.
3. Plantain Lasagna
Also called Pastelon, this is a Puerto Rican-style lasagna with ground beef layered between plantains, spiced with with cumin, garlic, smoked paprika, and oregano, and topped with cheese and eggs. Leave out the cheese if you want your lasagna to be Paleo. Swap proteins if you want. Imma of Immaculate Bites, her African and Caribbean food blog, made this a flexible dish. Get the recipe.
4. Patacón Hamburgers
Patacón hamburgers are a street food in the cities of Colombia. Here, you substitute regular burger buns with patacónes — crunchy slices of green plantain, also known as tostones. Dress the burger with fry sauce, a mix of mayonnaise, tomato sauce, and lemon. Get the recipe.
5. Flourless Gingerbread Waffles
Purely Twins offers this gluten-free, flourless, dairy-free waffle recipe for waffles with a soft and chewy texture and flavor of gingerbread. Blackstrap molasses, cinnamon, nutmeg, and of course, ginger, have something to do with it. Get the recipe.
6. Black Bean and Plantain Empanadas
You can use frozen puff pastry and then make the filling from scratch, and it's as good as 100-percent homemade. That filling is spiced with cumin, cayenne, cilantro, and lime. This isn't Paleo either, but who cares? It's amazing. Get our Black Bean and Plantain Empanadas recipe.
7. AIP "Chocolate" Cake
Toasted carob provides the chocolatey flavor. Plantain, banana, and pumpkin do the binding, and a few seasonings add some depth. Plus there's a creamy banana-avocado frosting. This recipe may sound weird (it follows Paleo autoimmune protocol), but it’s everything you want in a cake: Moist, rich, and decadent. Get the recipe.
8. Coconut Rice with Black Beans and Fried Plantains
The rice and plantains are pretty straight-forward in this savory-sweet side dish which could double as a main dish if you want. It's not boring at all: The black beans are full of vegetables and spices, even bacon. Of course, this isn't Paleo, unless you swap rice for cauliflower rice, which wouldn't be too hard. Get our Coconut Rice with Black Beans and Fried Plantains recipe.
9. Puerto Rican Mofongo
You can't do a piece on plantains without including mofongo. Anthony Lamas' version of this staple on The Latin Kitchen pairs slow roasted pork served over a plantain and bacon mash with a tangy citrus vinaigrette, sending in a breeze of the Caribbean to lighten this savory, dense dish. Get the recipe.
10. Baked Tostones (Green Plantains)
You just slice the green plantain — you don't want the sweeter, softer yellow or brownish plantain in this case — and smash it with a fork, according to SkinnyTaste. Add a touch of salt and cooking spray and bake it. There's a microwave trick in there too. What makes these even better is the zesty avocado cilantro dip. Get the recipe.
11. Sautéed Plantains
Here's one of the most basic ways to cook plantains, requiring only the fruit, butter, salt, and pepper. You might as well also make black beans, roast pork, and our Mojito recipe. Get our Sautéed Plantains recipe.
— Head Photo: A Clean Plate.
Amy Sowder is the assistant editor at Chowhound in New York City. She loves cheesy things, especially toasties and puns. She's trying to like mushrooms. Her running habit is the excuse for her gelato passion. Or is it the other way around? Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and her blog, What Do I Eat Now. Learn more at AmySowder.com.