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Monthly Archives: July 2016

Plantains for all: paleo, vegan and vegetarian

What is a plantain anyway?  It certainly looks like a banana and is often mistaken for one, although it’s usually longer and slightly larger – and firmer, especially the green ones;  concrete firm.

It does indeed belong to the same Musaceae family as the banana, however a plantain is a vegetable – starchy and not sweet like its quasi-sibling, even when it’s very ripe.  Plantains also need to be cooked.  Don’t eat raw.

plantain photo

Plantains are the go-to starchy veg on the plates of a wide array of cultures;  the  ‘potatoes and rice’  of many African,  Asian, South American and Caribbean countries. 

Native to India, they grow in most tropical climates around the globe and can be found in food markets in cities or in larger conurbations;  certainly in some supermarkets (not that I’ve found them yet here in Dorset.  Despite some larger conurbations – and supermarkets.   I’m now on a mission to promote them to our local green grocer).

They are a great starchy vegetable to have if you are on a grain-free or paleo diet.  Or if you just want a change from the usual rice and potatoes, or even from the more unusual sweet potato or roasted butternut.

Mash, bake, grill or fry them to replace potatoes which can be a problem food for some  - they are high in solanic acid which can be pro-inflammatory, like all nighshade vegetables.

You can bake or fry plantain chips or ‘lengths’;  bake plantain wedges or delicious crackers (yes to those off gluten or grains; here’s another alternative to eat with your guacamole, nut butter or dips).

They are a great fibre source, contain more vitamin C and A than bananas; more potassium too.  And, like bananas, they are a good source of B vitamins, esp B6.  Hooray for B6, my favourite B (lowering those homocysteine levels).

When I first shopped for plantains (at Brixton market in London) I took a half-empty suitcase, thinking that would give me plenty of space.  However I was faced with a wider selection than I anticipated: very firm green ones – like unripe bananas;  yellow, black-mottled, firmish ones – like ripe bananas; and finally, less firm and virtually black plantains – more like throw-them-out bananas.
Once they do ripen to this extent, they can go off quickly – as bananas can – so don’t procrastinate; use them as soon as possible.
Needless to say I bought some of all varieties and couldn’t lift my suitcase.

If you have an allergic reaction to bananas or their skins, you are very likely to have the same reaction to the peel/content of plantains, so take care.

The green, starchy plantains can be tricky to peel.  Make a vertical cut down the length and  then carefully unravel the skin so that you don’t also peel away some of the very firm vegetable.

With the green ones I made savoury biscuits (slightly less crispy than shop bought but still delicious) with chopped fresh thyme, garlic and sea salt.  I also made crisps – some of which I crushed to ‘crumbs’ so I could dip-n- coat some chicken strips.  And I also used them for soups.

Initially I thought I’d be wanting to use the riper plantain more (since I have a sweet tooth), however the green p makes far better ‘snack’ food than the riper ones and is the basis for most of the following recipes.
Saying that, by the time I made a second batch of the ‘cracker’ or savoury biscuit recipe (adapted from Haber’s “The Healing Kitchen” recipe book) the plantains had ripened to yellow.  It was a delicious sweet treat but stayed soft and, like the baked long slices (see photo), I had a flashback to those halcyon days of barbq’d bananas and ice cream.   I served up those sweet baked lengths with some grilled chicken. Fabuloso!

Here we go, some plantain recipes for you to try out.

Plantain chips/crisps:

So easy, these only require 2 or 3 sentences.

Peel the green plantain then slice into thin rounds, toss in olive or coconut oil and some sea salt then bake for about 10 minutes in a medium oven.  Don’t forget to watch at all time.  Turn and bake another 5-10 mins until coloured (but not burnt), then cool to let them crisp up.  You can add allsorts to your oil – cayenne, chilli (if you’re not off the nightshade family), or turmeric or freshly chopped herbs…

 Plantain savoury biscuits:

Hard to say how many these serve as I ate a lot of them whilst watching Wimbledon on TV.  Should be enough for 4 people to have with dips, or with some almond butter….

2-3 medium plantains
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (or coconut oil)
2 cloves garlic
1 full tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
some sea salt to sprinkle

Method:

Preheat the oven to 160C degrees (about 350F).  Line your oven shelf with parchment or greaseproof paper.
Peel and chop the plantains into even chunks and put in your food processor.  Add the oil, garlic and thyme.  Blend until quite smooth (a few small bits make it more interesting).
Spoon the mixture onto your parchment or greaseproof paper and spread thinly, about ½ cm. Sprinkle with some sea salt and bake for about 10 minutes.

Remove and score the dough in a grid pattern so you have small savoury biscuit ‘squares’ then put back in the oven for another 15 miutes.  Remove when you see the edges browning.

Cool completely before breaking apart the squares.  They are a softer version than shop-bought biscuits, but delicious, and a great alternative to wheat crackers, bread, rolls etc.

 Plantain-lettuce soup

The name just didn’t float the boat for my family.  Lettuce is such an underrated plant isn’t it.  So high in tryptophan, all insomniacs should be eating cartloads.  This dish turned out to be absolutely delicious (perhaps, too, because my plantain had slowly been ripening and added a distinctly sweet flavour to the soup).  I would therefore not worry if the recipe’s green plantain is on the yellow side of green.

Serves 4

1 green (or yellowish!) plantain, peeled and cut into chunks
3 tbsp olive or coconut oil
1 sliced red onion
2 cloves garlic, squeezed or finely chopped
2 large heads of lettuce, roughly chopped
½ litre chicken or vegetable broth – perhaps more at the end, wait and see….
optional: coconut cream to drizzle at the end; I used the hardened part of coconut milk in a can

Method:

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the onion until it has softened.  Then the garlic and sea salt, followed by those chunks of lettuce.  Stir and watch the lettuce begin to wilt, then add the broth and plantain chunks (see photo).  Bring to the boil then simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes.  That’s it.  You could of course add some cayenne, or ginger or cumin….however, I’m keeping this recipe clean.  It definitely holds its own.

Blend until deliciously smooth. Serve with a drizzle of coconut cream or some chopped chives or flat parsley or with nothing else.  Very yum indeed.

Enjoy this tour of the plantain, and do please share any ideas or plantain recipes you have either here or on my appleaday facebook page.