Friday, July 11

Platinos, Por Favor

We're temporarily staying in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco, which Perrin affectionately likens to Spanish Harlem in her "native" New York. There are literally taquerias and/or Mexican groceries on every corner, and I'm overwhelmed by the culinary possibilities whirling through my brain. Nine-cent limes, vats of fresh queso, the ever-popular chipotles in adobe, entire aisles devoted to neat rows of masa harina -- better yet fresh handmade tortillas...and the requisite overflowing bins of yellow plantains.

Plantains aren't usually hailed as a Mexican staple, instead credited to the austral regions of Central and South America. When I first encountered the humble plantain -- plain, blackened, obtuse in its fickle ripening patterns --- I was skeptical of its reputed charms. However, a few hours later the starchy fruit, fried simply in oil and salt, had inveigled me with its piquant textures and flavors. Here was a food that, though moderately useless and thoroughly unappealing in the raw, could be elevated to heights of sheer succulence in the meager locale of a dormitory kitchen.

Since my undergrad days, I've continued my occasional trysts with the staid plantain. Boasting economic and gastronomic utility, plantains seem to be an ideal food for citizens of developing countries...and newly-impoverished graduate students. For roughly ninety cents per person we concocted this fetching repast of fried eggs, plantains, seasoned black beans, and fruit: simple fare, yet substantial, satisfying, succinct.

Plantains are moderately high in calories due to their starch content, but also high in fiber, potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin K. If you slice the plantains thinly, and use more oil, you can create something closer to chips; conversely, if you try grilling the result will seem softer, even mushy. Which brings me to yet another application: mash boiled or steamed plantains with adequate salt and butter for a unique alternative to that ubiquitous other mashed starch.

The hardest part about working with plantains is anticipating the aforementioned troublesome ripening patterns. Green plantains are starchier, and thus best prepared as one might use a potato (boiled, mashed, baked). They will pass through various shades of yellow and brown until blossoming to a deep black, and which point the plantains are sweet, and ideal for dessert recipes or as an accent to more savory foods.

1 comment:

Neen said...

Yum. Take advantage of the Mexican groceries! My family lived in the Dominican Republic for four years and plantains were a staple right along with rice and beans. It was really impressive how many different ways you could combine plantains, oil and salt... platanos, tostones... mmm..


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