Growing And Cooking Plantains (and other green bananas)

Cooked plantains are an important alternative to rice in Afro-Caribbean cuisine.

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Plantains are big bananas. They’re rarely grown by Australian home gardeners. Australians also rarely eat green plantain or other green bananas even though they’re important foods in tropical and subtropical regions.

Like all bananas, plantains are ornamental and highly productive plants. They’re suited to a warm, humid, sub-coastal climate. They grow well from Wollongong in NSW northwards to Cairns, Darwin, then south to Carnarvon in WA.

Generally plantains and other green bananas, are served boiled and mashed and used like potato mash. For one special event I provided 150 guests with a vegetable curry using thinly sliced boiled plantain instead of rice. Mashed boiled plantain is often fried, or it can be moulded in a similar way that durum wheat is prepared into pasta and lasagne.

Being low GI (Glycaemic Index), plantain (and other green bananas) is a filling and very sustaining food. Boiled plantain tastes a bit like potato, but the texture is different. So if your diet requires you to limit the amount of potatoes you eat (potatoes being high GI), try growing plantains or bananas instead.

Plantains produce bigger than average fruit – the bunch pictured is carrying 51 bananas and weighs 25 kg. That’s enough starch for a feast for 51 people! Green plantain are highly astringent and unpalatable unless cooked.

Plantains take longer to ripen than dessert bananas, but by the time the fruit have turned almost black, they become very sweet. I like braising ripe plantain in coconut milk, maple syrup (syrup or treacle) and cardamom.

‘Bluggoe’ is the only plantain cultivar gardeners are permitted to grow in Queensland. You must first get a licence from the DPI and Blue Sky Tissue Culture is the only government approved source of certified disease-free stock.

Plantains need just the same treatment as ordinary bananas – well composted, freely draining soil, full, all day sunshine and shelter from gales. Half a handful of dolomite sprinkled around the base each autumn provides a valuable supplement of magnesium and calcium. I feed mine once every three months with poultry manure (a quarter of a bucket per plant).

Each plant gets a bucket of recycled water every other day in dry weather. I foliar feed them with seaweed fertiliser routinely once every two to three weeks all year round. Normally it takes eighteen months from planting to flowering stage, but mine flowered at eleven months old. The fruit took another two months to mature.

So how can you prepare plantains?

Boiled green plantain

* Slice off the tips;
* Use a sharp knife to slit the skin lengthwise;
* Slice each fruit into halves;
* Boil in salted water for twenty minutes. Drain and allow to cool. The skin will fall away with a little help;

Boiled plantain (or any green banana) tastes really good when mashed with a little milk and garlic butter. Adding wasabi sauce makes a zesty mash, ideal for sausages or all kinds.

Mashing takes a little more effort than potato, and for large batches I use an augur-style, crushing juicer (they are also used to make pasta).

You can serve mashed plantain as bubble and squeak. I use home grown sweetcorn, Ceylon spinach, mild-flavoured chillies, garlic chives, and spring onion. Served with sweet chilli sauce, this was a very successful, sustaining lunch.

Baked green plantain

Bake whole plantains at 190C for 45 – 50 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, butter and serve. Adding sour cream, chilli and garlic makes a tasty dip with corn chips or sliced vegetables like carrot and cucumber.

Tostones (Cuba)

You’ll need:
2 green plantains
Sunflower oil
Salt
Serves: 3-4 people

To prepare
* Heat the oil to 190C;
* Peel the plantains, and cut into 2cm thick slices;
* Fry in hot oil for 3 minutes until a light golden colour and a semi-soft texture;
* Remove slices with a slotted spoon, and drain on paper towelling;
* Maintain the oil’s temperature;
* When the slices are cool enough to handle (about 1 minute), crush them flat into rounds;
* Re-fry the rounds in the hot oil for a further 3 minutes until they become crisp and golden brown tostones;
* Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towelling;

Serve and salt to taste – possibly serve with sour cream and chilli, with garlic dip, or with mint and cucumber raita.

Aranitas

You’ll need:
1 green plantain
3 cloves minced garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
Sunflower oil
Grater
Serves 2 people

To prepare
* Peel plantain, then coarsely shred;
* Store in salty water for ten minutes. This prevents them from oxidising before cooking;
* Drain on paper towelling;
* Mix in minced garlic;
* Heat the oil to 190C;

Fry the shredded mix by the spoonful, in clumps, and until golden. This takes about five minutes;
Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towelling;
Serve and salt to taste – possibly serve with sour cream and chilli, with garlic dip, or with mint and cucumber raita.

Cleaning up

This is important information. Banana sap permanently stains clothing. If you do get stained hands, use a flannel and some warm soapy water to clean them.

I have been unable to find any references to the fact that boiling plantains and green bananas leaves a gummy residue around the water level in saucepans. Ordinary washing up detergents don’t remove this, they can make the rime even stickier.

After a long process of elimination, I’ve found using a soft scourer with Planet Ark’s citrus-based laundry stain remover or Citro Clean work quickly and efficiently.

Jerry Coleby-Williams
3rd March 2009