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BIG BANANAS I HAVE KNOWN

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There’s just no way you can discuss bananas – especially a banana sometimes called Macho –  without heading straight into the gutter, yaknowwhatImean? So go ahead and snigger away. I’ll wait.

I don’t like bananas much. I did when I was a kid, I guess, because I do have faint memories of peeling and eating them, but somewhere along the way I started to dislike them. I think it’s the smell: like Play-Doh, which I really cannot stand the smell of (I couldn’t bear it when I was a kid either). I know bananas are good for you and all that, but I Just. Don’t. Like. Them. If I am in a social situation where there is no getting around them, I will of course choke them down with no fanfare, but I don’t go out of my way to say, “Oh yes, more, please!”

About 20 years ago there was a restaurant here called The Flamingo (I think) which I liked very much. Apparently I was one of the few people who did like it ’cause it went out of business fairly fast, but I ordered some Thai prawns which came with fried bananas, and I thought they were really good. I don’t remember now if they had sauce on them or were just fried or what, but I assume they were plantains because they didn’t have that Godawful banana smell.

Now if you are in the produce section of the supermarket, you might see the big display of bananas, and then a much smaller display of plantains. They look more or less the same, but the plantains cost twice as much and are usually bigger. You might have bought one and taken it home to eat it, and been so horrified that you spit it out and threw the rest away. Plantains gotta be cooked.

So one day my husband goes grocery shopping and comes home with a plantain because I had said I liked fried plantains. Now I’ve got to put up or shut up, so I did some fast research. Turns out you can cook them when they’re green and make tostones, or wait until they’re ripe and make fried bananas. This one was not green any more but had not reached the blackened ripe stage, so I waited about a week and dove in.

I removed the black peel, sliced the plantain about 1/3″ thick, and heated some butter in a frying pan. I fried the slices until they were lightly browned on each side, put them on a plate and lightly salted them, and served them up. They were really quite good: a vague banana taste, caramelized exterior, creamy interior. Yum! A new addition to the food line-up.

From there I decided to make tostones. I had read that they are hugely popular in Cuba, Latin America, and the Caribbean, but I didn’t know anyone from there to guide me, so I winged it.

Below: green plantains and slightly riper plantains. Green are what you want for tostones.

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The green plantains are a bitch to peel. They make plantain peelers, and if you Google that phrase you will come across a surprising array of  weird diagrams that look like instructions from The Joy of Plantains and a lot of  phallic images and devices you will use once or twice and then throw into a drawer until it becomes a yard sale item.  Here’s what you do.

Make half a dozen lengthwise cuts in the peel – which will feel rather crisp as you slice – all the way to but not into the fruit, all around the plantain, and if you want, cut off the ends too.

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Then soak the plantains in hot water for 20-30 minutes.

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They’ll peel a lot easier.

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Cut the plantain into slices 1/2″ to 1″ thick.

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Heat some vegetable oil in a frying pan; when it’s hot-but-not-smoking, carefully slide in the plantains.

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Turn them over to lightly brown each side, then remove to paper towels.

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So now here comes the part I don’t understand: Who was it that said, “Hey – I bet if we sliced these machos, then fried them, then took them out and smashed the shit out of them and then fried them again, they’d be good!” Who thought of that that? But that is what you do. Smash those fried bananas. If you Google “plantain masher” you will come up with a lot of folding devices that are going to join the plantain peelers on the yard sale table.

Just take a coffee mug or a drinking glass – or your fist – and mash them suckers.

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And fry them again.

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Remove them to more paper towels, sprinkle with salt, and serve.

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You’re supposed to serve them as a dipper with salsa, so I’d suggest you do that. But I have to confess: I wasn’t all that crazy about them. They’re quite starchy and bland, though the crunchy texture is nice. I can see how if you grew up eating tostones, you’d love them, but I probably wouldn’t make them again unless I was feeding Cubans.

The rest of the story:

We had a couple of plantains ripening on the counter, waiting for me to fry them up and caramelize them. Then The Dark Angel of High Cholesterol struck. One of us got a call from His doctor with a Lipitor prescription waiting in the wings. One of us did some fast talking and bought a month’s time to try to bring His cholesterol level down by diet.  Buh-bye frying.

The other night my husband barbecued some chicken and some corn on the cob, but there were still some hot coals left. I tossed the two ripened plantains onto the grill and moved them around now and then for about eight minutes, then wrapped them in foil and let them calm down.  We ate them with dinner, just pulling the peels off. Though they lacked that lovely crispy edge, they had that great brown-sugar taste. We can have our fried bananas after all – just roasted without the oils. They’d make a great banana split for dessert, or just serve alongside the rest of the barbecue.

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