Plantains are big bananas. While they may be unfamiliar in Australian home gardens and restaurants, plantains and dessert bananas are important foods in tropical and subtropical regions. Their starch has a low glycaemic index, so they are a source of sustained energy for physically active gardeners. Whether ripe or semi-ripe, it’s worth exploring the different ways they can suit your palate and be incorporated into your diet. Use them as an alternative to rice, potato gnocchi, chips or mash for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a satisfying snack.
Like all bananas, plantains are ornamental and highly productive plants. They’re suited to a warm, humid, sub-coastal climate. In Australia, they grow well from Wollongong in NSW northwards to Cairns, Darwin, then south to Carnarvon in WA where they are farmed.
Plantains and other green bananas are used like potato, served boiled and mashed. Boiled plantain is also sliced and fried, or the mash can be moulded in a similar way that durum wheat is prepared into pasta and lasagne.
All banana has a low glycaemic index (GI), so their starch 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!
Plantains take longer to ripen than dessert bananas, but by the time the skin is almost black, they become very sweet. They are cooked at varying degrees of ripeness, and semi-ripe plantain can be quite a surprise when mingled with other ingredients in a savoury stew. I like braising ripe plantain in coconut milk and sprinkling it with cardamom.
‘Bluggoe’ is the only plantain cultivar gardeners are permitted to grow in SE Queensland, where I live.
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 20 litre bucket of recycled water every other day in dry weather. 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;
After boiling and slicing, plantain (or green banana) is essentially a variation on gnocchi and can be served in a similar way.
Boiled plantain tastes really good when mashed with milk and butter. Adding wasabi sauce makes a zesty combination and this, plus some gravy, goes well with sausages of all kinds.
Mashing takes a little more effort than potato, so I use an augur-style crushing juicer (they are used to make pasta).
Mashed plantain can be substituted for potato in bubble and squeak. I’ve used home grown sweetcorn, Ceylon spinach, garlic chives and spring onion to make my own bubble and squeak, serving it with home gown, home made sweet chilli sauce.
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 and mashing it up makes a tasty dip to go with corn chips or sliced, crunchy vegetables like carrot and cucumber.
Fried green plantain
Boil and then slice into pieces 2cm thick. Coat in flour and shallow fry on both sides until golden brown. Serve with stir fried vegetables and accompany either with sambal sauce or satay sauce.
Another option is to serve fired green plantain with raita – made by combining natural yoghurt with diced cucumber, fried garlic, chilli and spring onion and sprinkled with Vietnamese paddy herb (or use cumin as a substitute).
2 green plantains
Sunflower oil for deep frying
Serves: 3-4 people
* 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, or with garlic dip, or with cucumber raita.
1 green plantain
3 cloves minced garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
Serves 2 people
* 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.
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 either with eucalyptus oil, Planet Ark’s citrus-based laundry stain remover, or Citro Clean. All clean pans quickly and efficiently.
3rd March 2009