In Praise Of Plantains
Plant a few "cooking bananas" in your lunch
My favorite part of ordering from any kind of Latin, African, Caribbean or even Southeast Asian restaurant is the inevitable procuring of a massive side (read: plate piled high) of fried plantains. That's right, I'm too lazy to fry bananas. Unless they're these bananas. As beloved as the potato, and consumed since the dawn of man — those are two strong statements right there — a good plantain is hard to beat.
What I believe about plantains — fried, sauteed, baked, boiled, mashed, what have you — is that the cuisine of their regions of origin must have developed around them. I mean, plantains were there first, right? Think about it: what do you really want to complement your jerk chicken? Something else crisp and savory and starchy, like fries, or something sweet, creamy and starchy? What would pair with grilled fish on a beach in Thailand? What is missing on your Venezuelan braised pork sandwich? Have you ever even been to a Cuban restaurant where a pile of platanos didn't flank your your mojo-doused slab of meat? If you're not craving sweet, fatty and spicy right now, I'm worried.
Plantains are one of the most versatile foods around. Since the dawn of man...oh, I already used that? Okay. Swapping crunchier plantain chips for your Cape Cod salt 'n vinegar will not only make you look more culturally diverse than a lacrosse player, it'll satisfy your sweet and salty craving in one fell swoop and your sandwich will love you for it.
Ever heard of pastelon de amarillos? It's like a Latin lasagna, using thinly sliced plantains instead of pasta. How about mofongo? You're going to like this: mash lightly fried plantain slices with garlic and chicharrones (deep-fried pork skin), add some chicken stock and form into a tamale-like roll stuffed with the braised meat of your choice. I hereby revoke macaroni and cheese's status as the ultimate comfort food and transfer all rights to mofongo.
There you have it. Find ethnic food that goes with the plantain preparation of your choice (that world just got a lot bigger) and enjoy a flavor experience Americans are largely missing out on. Making them at home is a cinch: find a Latin grocery, grab an awesome torta and a bunch of plantains, fire up the grill, slice plantains lengthwise, brush with olive oil and toss them on the grates. Folks have been doing it since the dawn of man.