Here's a sweet and savory side dish that's economical and easy to make. Sweet fried plantains, or plátanos maduros in Spanish, are a staple of Latin American cuisine, and are found in a few West African dishes as well. These chewy, slightly caramelized disks pair well with black bean soup, roast chicken, rice, or simply on their own.
The preparation technique is similar in most areas, but the garnishes are different. For example, in Venezuela, cinnamon is added. In Honduras, they are served with sour cream. In Cuba, they are served as-is. I prefer the Cuban version - I really like the flavor of the cooked fruit and I don't think the plátanos maduros need anything else.
Plantains are very similar botanically to bananas, but have less sugar. Like bananas, they are picked and shipped while green, and change color to yellow and then to black as they ripen. The yellow stage of the plantain is firmer and contains a lot of starch, and has a mouthfeel similar to a potato when cooked. For plátanos maduros, you want to buy the extremely ripe plantains - the black ones. These contain more sugar and have a softer texture. Since I live in San Francisco, I buy them at my neighborhood bodega, but if you don't have any Latin American grocery stores in close proximity, plantains are often found at supermarkets next to the bananas or in the exotic fruit section. They are bigger and thicker in size than bananas, and the seams are more pronounced.
Plátanos Maduros Recipe
1 very ripe plantain with black skin
Canola or corn oil
Optional: fresh lime
Heat enough oil in a skillet so that the oil is about ¼ of an inch deep. Peel the black skin from the plantain and slice it diagonally into rounds that are about ½ inch thick. When a drop of water sizzles in the oil, add the plantain slices and cook until the bottom is golden brown. Turn over each slice and cook until both sides are evenly golden, with a hint of caramelization on the edges. Remove from oil and transfer to paper towels to drain; pat off any excess oil. Serve hot. Squeeze some fresh lime juice on them if you desire.
Cooking By Feel: Latin American Ingredients and Flavors
Good Question: What Goes With Black Bean Soup?
Eating Well From The Corner Store: Bodega Party in a Box - includes a different plantain recipe
Ingredient Spotlight: Huitlacoche
Making Horchata: Which Rice Is Best?
(Image: Kathryn Hill)