A Plantain Dessert

When I was 12, I read an article in one of my mother’s “women’s magazines” about grilled bananas. We lived in a big old house with two fireplaces where we would often toast marshmallows over the glowing embers. Roasted bananas appealed to my desire for the exotic beyond the isolated UP. My mom was skeptical while I was persistent. She finally agreed to the experiment if the bananas were wrapped in greased tinfoil and placed in the embers. She wisely prevented me from poking a banana on a marshmallow stick—the result was a gooey mash of burnt banana and margarine…

That magazine article must have been about plantains, a sort of banana which was unheard of in my childhood. Plantains are a food staple in equatorial Africa, the Andean regions of South America, and in southern Asia and India. Plantains/bananas fruit all year ’round so they provide a reliable all-season staple food, particularly for communities in mountains or forests with inadequate food storage, preservation and transportation technologies.

Plantains, as compared to our usual bananas, are much larger, firmer, and have thicker skins. When they are green or pale yellow, they are starchy like potatoes so they are cooked in savory dishes: in stews, steamed, or fried as chips. When they develop black spotting on their skins, they are often mashed or shredded and fried into cakes or dumplings to be eaten as side dishes.

A few years ago, during a stay in Hollywood Florida, Mr. Tess brought me to a small neighborhood Columbian restaurant an acquaintance had told him about. As we stood in the door the singer ended her song, and the Spanish conversations went silent. I had a moment of “Oh no! We don’t belong here.” But almost immediately, the owner declared, “Welcome! Sit here!” and he brought us menus. Someone asked, “Where are you from?” and we answered, “Michigan!” After some banter with the customers the music started again and we ordered: I love a good tongue stew. It had starch chunks that were not potatoes, but plantains! As we ate, the singer dedicated a Beatles song to the Americans. Everyone was clapping and singing along…

Oh, but then, but when plantains are black and look like rotten bananas, they are sweet, still firm, and ready to eat out of hand. And it is then that one can simply slice and pan-fry them on low heat with a little butter—the slices become caramelized, sweet, soft and slightly flavored like cinnamon.


2 thoughts on “A Plantain Dessert

  1. Love baked bananas!
    have you also tried them with a bit of batter on them? It’s a special kind of batter that’s very soft and sweet once it”s fried but I can’t remember what kind. Really good!

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