Tostones (Twice Fried Plantains)

Let’s go to South America!

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When it comes to international travel, my tastes run more towards Eastern Europe than anywhere else. I studied several languages in high school and college, to include Russian, and I spent the first two years of my overseas career living in he gorgeous utopic country of Slovenia. Needless to say, the Balkans are near and dear to my heart. I’ve done extensive travel throughout Europe and I’ve seen my share of the Middle East, but interestingly enough the one language I’ve never studied is Spanish, nor have I traveled to any Latin American countries. I’ve recently decided that I need to remedy this, for one reason alone: the food.

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Oh, the food. Cuban sandwiches. Plantanos. Tostones. Mofongo. With the exception of the cuban sandwich I’d never before heard of any of these exotic dishes until recently, when I was introduced to a friend of my husband who hails from Puerto Rico. Just listening to him talk about the food makes my mouth water! It also made me want to try some of these dishes he was talking about, particularly the ones that involved plantains.

I can’t remember the first time I ever tried plantains, but boy do I love them! I shared a recipe for sweet fried plantains very early on, as you can tell my the horrible photography in that post. Plantains can be sweet or savory, depending on the ripeness of the plantain and how they are prepared. And they are ridiculously cheap – the grocery store where I do the majority of my shopping sells them for 2/$1.00, and ALDI sells them for .35 each! Major win.

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Having already tried my hand at sweet fried plantains and savory fried plantains, I decided to try my hand at Tostones. According to the all-knowing Wikipedia, the word comes from the spanish verb tostar, which means “to toast”. Literally, they are plantain slices that are fried once, smashed thin, and then fried again.  Kevin and I both tried our hand at smashing the plantains – apparently there is a special tool called a tostonera, which is used to smash the plantains thin, but we just used the bottom side of a regular old plate and it worked just fine – and we found out that while my plantains tended to end up on the thicker side, Kevin mashed his a lot thinner, so they turned out crispier and more like chips. Interestingly enough, once they were fried up we found out each of us liked the other’s way better!

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These make a great snack just eaten like chips, but they taste even better when topped with pork carnitas, green salsa, and some avocado pieces. Yum.

TOSTONES (Twice Fried Plantains)

serves: 2

prep time: 10 min

cook time: 20 min

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

2-3 unripe (green) plantains, peeled and cut into one inch pieces

olive oil

salt

small bowl of tepid salt water

WHAT YOU’LL DO:

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a deep skillet. You don’t want to completely cover the plantains in oil, you just want a thin layer on the pan. Once the oil is hot, fry the plantain pieces for a few minutes, making sure each side is nicely browned. Set aside on paper towels to dry, but don’t turn off your pan of oil. Using the bottom of a plate or other flat, sturdy object, smash the plantain with decent force – you want a thin plantain slice. NOTE: I would recommend using a metal flipper to peel the plantain from the plate; otherwise it might fall apart. Dip the plantain into the bowl of water and set on paper towel to dry slightly. (This keeps the plantains crispy, and maintains their color during frying.) Then re-fry the plantains in your hot oil for about two minutes on each side. Blot the tostones on another paper towel, sprinkle liberally with salt, and serve immediately.

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A Tropical Treat

So, I’ve never had much of a sweet tooth. I know it may sound crazy to some of you (like my sisters), but yeah. Most of the time if I’m given an option between something sweet and something salty, I take the salty. Usually in the form of french fries.

Apparently, I get this from my Mom.

But tonight I wanted something…sweet-ish. Nothing too crazy, particularly because if I DO eat something sweet, I don’t like it to be too late or it messes with my sleep, but I did want a little something-something. And as I stood there in my kitchen waiting for inspiration to strike, to what did my wondering eyes appear but…a lovely brown plantain!

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Ok, so the plantain didn’t actually appear…it was one of my spontaneous purchases during last week’s shopping trip. But I needed to use it up, so everyone wins!

Anyway, it looks like a banana, right? It’s like, banana’s surly cousin. I mention surly because it’s essentially unsuitable to eat raw. According to the internet, it’s a starchy, lower in sugar member of the banana family that can be used in sweet OR savory dishes…which essentially means it’s perfect for me.

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I haven’t had too much experience with the savory side of plantain cooking, but one thing I can do pretty well (basically because it’s super simple) is make caramelized fried plantains. Yum.

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Basically all you need to do is slice your plantain (I cut mine in half and then slice it longways, you can also slice it in little rounds like coins), toss is in a skillet with some hot ghee or coconut oil (I find the coconut oil lends a little taste of the tropics to the already-somewhat-exotic-plantain), sprinkle with cinnamon, cloves, and chile powder, and voila!

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I like to add a little bit of chili powder for just a hint of a kick – it’s one of those things where you take a bite and there’s some sort of je ne sais quoi that you can’t put your finger on, but you know you love. It’s beautiful. Plus, chili powder + cinnamon? C’mon, people!

The plantains get a nice, crystallized outer edge but inside they are soft and creamy. It’s perfect for an after dinner dessert that’s not too heavy or sugary…if you’re in to that kind of thing.

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One thing to be aware of – you need to use very, very ripe plantains in order to make sweet plantains. You can buy them in the grocery store when they are green or bright yellow, but take ’em home and let them sit on your counter until they are black. Or at least dark yellow with a lot of black spots. Trust me on this – the more black and spotted they get, the sweeter the plantain flesh will be. (Alternatively, if you want to use your plantains in a savory dish, you can use them when they are still yellow and spot-free. Interesting, no?)

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I bet if you ate this while wearing a bikini and floppy hat, it would totally be like you’re in Belize.

Or not.

What you’ll need (serves two)

one medium-large ripe plantain (not green or bright yellow!)

coconut oil

cinnamon, whole cloves, and chili powder to taste

What you need to do

– Slice your plantain as desired – either in round coins, or slice in half and then slice longways into slices

– Heat your coconut oil (or ghee) in a skillet with a couple of whole cloves tossed in

– Once the oil is hot, carefully add your plantain slices and sprinkle with ground cinnamon and chili powder to taste – I use less because I find the subtle-sweet flavor of the plantain and the coconut oil to be enough for me. Fry til golden brown and caramelized on either side (about 1-2 minutes each side). You can do this in batches depending on how many slices you have.

– Drain the plantain slices on paper towels

– Sprinkle plantain slices with a hint more cinnamon just before serving. Enjoy!

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PS. I totally took those photos with my new iPhone. Sweet!