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The plantain – a staple of African cooking

Bananas feature in most fruit bowls. But when people in Europe say “banana” we generally mean those big yellow ones from the Caribbean. Among the others that we overlook is the plantain, a small starchy banana sometimes called the "potato of Africa". You probably won’t find plantains in your local supermarket, but it’s worth looking further afield, maybe in an Asian speciality shop, because plantains are a rich source of potassium, magnesium, manganese, vitamin B and dietary fibre. They’re also low calorie – 100 g of plantain contain 124 calories and less than 1 g of fat.

Cooking develops the aroma

The plantain, or cooking banana, grows mainly in Africa. The fruit flesh is creamy to yellowish and the fruit looks more angular and thicker than a ‘normal’ banana. Raw plantains are inedible; heated they develop a unique aroma. The best way to start preparing plantains is to halve them, then make several lengthwise cuts in the tough skin, which you can then peel off in sections.

Green, ripe, overripe – pick the right level of ripeness for your recipe

Depending on how ripe they are, plantains are suitable for different dishes. Green-yellow plantains can be used like potatoes, in stews and soups for example. They contain a lot of starch, so that they can be used as a flour substitute, for example, for thickening sauces or for baking. Plantain flour is suitable for people with a gluten intolerance. A yellow plantain with black spots is ideal for roasting, baking, stewing and frying. If the plantain has black skin, it will be sweeter and especially good for a dessert.

Tips for cooking and buying

For a delicious side dish for a main meal, peeled plantains are boiled in salt water, mashed to a puree and flavoured with coconut milk and curry. Cooking plantains is quick and easy. Peel and cut the fruit into slices. Boil for 15 minutes in salt water. Then fry in a little oil, sprinkle with chilli and serve with an avocado dip. If you want something sweet, sprinkle the slices with some sugar and leave them in the pan to caramelize slightly.

 

Plantains can be found in Asia shops, but you might strike lucky in a well-stocked supermarket – usually next to the potatoes or the exotic fruits. Choose fruit that look fresh and plump. Once you’ve got your plantains home, they will continue to ripen if you store them at room temperature in a dark place.

 

Source: Heike Kreutz, www.bzfe.de