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Bento Recipes: Plantains, not your average banana


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Plantains are like bananas with potato envy. They are bigger than regular bananas, are often green when you buy them, and are much too starchy to eat raw unless they are very ripe. They can be baked or fried. I do both.

Baked Plantains: This is best done with very ripe plantains, as the less-ripe ones I've had have turned out bland. (Or maybe I just wasn't cooking 'em right.) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.Take a dark yellow or black plantain and cut off the ends. Oil the peel with a thin layer of cooking oil. (Just rub it in with your hands. You need very little.) Make one cut through the peel end to-end. Place on a cooking sheet with the cut upward and bake for a half hour. When they're done they're a bit of a pain to get out of the peel, but then you have a nice sweet banary side dish. Cut into coins for bento purposes.

Like bananas and other starchy foods, plantains can get ugly and discolored if exposed to air for too long. I hit on packing them in their own peels as a way both to preserve the color and to keep its sweetness from clashing with nearby items. To serve it in its own peel, separate the fruit entirely from the peel, cut it into coins, then wrap it back in the peel before packing it in the box. Leave as little of a gap exposed as possible to avoid discoloration.

Leftover bakes plantans should be refrigerated without peeling, and eaten within a few days.

Fried Plantains: The basic plan is to cut a plantain up and then deep-fry it in oil. I like to use canola oil at the average frying heat; which is 7.5 on my stove's dial and I don't know what on anyone else's. Let's just say that if the things are cooking too fast to keep up with the oil is too hot, and if they hardly seem to be cooking then it's too cool. Anyway, you can cook plantains at any stage of ripeness for this. A green-skinned plantain will be starchy and potato-y. A yellow plantain will be sweetish, and a brown or black one will be desserty. For all of these just cut them up - I usually do coins and ovals about 1/4 inch thick, often thicker for the ripest ones, and for the really green ones I make french fry shapes or even create potato chip-like "crisps" by shaving the plantain with a peeler. When you've got them cut, put 'em in the oil and fry them until golden brown, turning once. Then drain them on a plate covered with lots of paper towels. I serve the less ripe ones with salt, and the sweeter ones by themselves.

Light Fried Plantain Chips - This is like the above fried plantains, but without the pool of oil. Get a ripe plantain, yellow without any green, possibly starting to darken. (If it's greenish it won't be ripe enough, and if it's black it'll be too ripe and mushy.) Cut that into very thin coins, around 1/8" thick. Heat a large frying pan to the upper side of medium, and oil it lightly. Then cover the bottom with a single layer of plantain coins. Let them cook for a few minutes. When the thinner ones start turning buttery yellow turn one. If the cooked side shows some brown "scorch marks" turn the rest. Let them cook a couple of minutes longer, then scoop them out onto a paper towel to drain (not that there'll be a lot of oil to drain), re-oil the pan, and continue with some more coins. Continue until they're all cooked. The end result will be a lot of thin, sweet, non-greasy plantain chips.