You have fried green tomatoes? You got nothing on us; we have fried green bananas! You have refried beans? You got nothing on us; we have twice fried bananas! We have THE MIGHTY PLANTAIN, green and not as sweet as its yellow cousin, but still considered a symbol or wealth, power, and virility up to the late nineteenth century. Immortalized in many still life paintings as an embodiment of luxury, it had evolved from humble origins to the tables of the elite before gravitating down to our plates.
Why did Chiquita Banana go North? First she went West, from her birthplace in West Africa to the new colonies in South America in fifteenth – sixteenth centuries, together with thousands of African slaves. Cheap and filling, plantanos quickly became a staple, joining cassava, yuca, and corn in slave menus. Thousands of plantains were imported to Latin America and the Caribbean, and eventually, in the beginning of 19th century, to the United States. A rarity and a luxury at first, they were surrounded by a mysterious aura of strength and virility, perhaps caused by exaggerated images of plantation workers’ physic. I guess nobody told those pampered banana gourmands that nutrition should be combined with physical exercise, and the slaves’ exceptionally powerful physic was due to hard work rather than to a plant-based diet.
With the end of slavery, “slave foods” became popular among the general population and plantanos became plentiful and accessible to all. Banana moved from a paining on the wall of a wealthy home to our plates. Still, it retained some of the old mystique.
Andy Warhol’s banana sticker designed for an album of the group Velvet Underground became as famous as his major paintings. And when T.G.I.Friday crowned hamburgers with grilled plantains, it became obvious: THE MIGHTY PLANTAIN has arrived!
Tostones, or Banana Crisps, as they are still called in West Africa, are usually served with either peppery or garlicky dips. I do it a little differently. Garlic is certainly present here, and so is balsamic vinegar, but I use both to imbue my tostones with flavor while they are frying.
First, though, we need to fry them the first time – remember, they are twice fried! Only I don’t do it; I cheat. I nuke them. You need to cut off both ends and slice the skin lengthwise, making sure you reach the flesh inside but not cut all the way through. Then you microwave them, about 2 1/2 – 3 minutes per plantain. I had a bunch of five, so twelve minutes did it. The skin should turn completely black and quite thin. They will open easily, but be careful! – they are hot, and you have to work with them while they are still hot. Slice each plantain into circles about 1/2 inch (1.5 cm) thick.
You are supposed to use a professional squishing gadget called tostonera, but I am doing just fine with a flat side of my trusty meat tenderizer. The goal is to flatten each piece into a thin disk, and you can accomplish it easily with any flat kitchen utensil or a bottom of a jar. Again, you have to do it while your mighty plantain is still hot, otherwise it will resist. It’s not called mighty for nothing!
And then you just fry those disks on a lightly misted frying pan, together with sliced garlic. It takes only a couple of minutes on each side, and before you remove them from the pan, sprinkle them with salt and balsamic vinegar and give them one more toss.
Hot tostones will be a great appetizer on their own, topped by those delicious chunks of garlic, served on a bed of greens with some fresh cilantro sprinkled on top. But they are just as good as a side dish; in fact, they are often served with ceviche (for recipe, please click here) or any other fish and seafood dishes. Amazingly, they are also great cold, and if you have any of them left (which I doubt!), you can pack them into your lunchbox as a healthy and filling snack.
- Green (unripe) plantains
- Garlic cloves, one or two cloves per one plantain
- Balsamic vinegar to drizzle
- Salt to taste
- Fresh cilantro to garnish
- Cut both ends of plantains, slice skin lengthwise, deep enough to cut through the skin but not the flesh. Microwave for 2 1/2 – 3 minutes per each plantain. Skin will turn black, soft, and thin.
- While hot, open skin, cut plantain into 1/2 inch (1.5 cm) thick circles. Pound each circle flat with a flat utensil or bottom of a jar.
- Preheat and lightly mist frying pan to medium heat. Peel garlic, cut into thick chunks. Fry plantain disks and garlic chunks together for about 2 minutes on each side until golden brown. When ready, sprinkle salt and drizzle balsamic vinegar. Quickly toss and remove.
- Serve hot on bed of greens garnished with fresh cilantro.