Bananas, Plantains Go Sweet or Savory
Published by Tribune Media Services June 2010
When you’re hungry and in a rush, reach for your
curvy, tropical friend, the banana. This potassium- and Vitamin
C-rich gem has filled the bellies of the ravenous since ancient
times. No wonder. Whether you pluck it off a tree or buy it
from a fruit stand, grocery store or coffee shop, the ubiquitous banana
is easy to find, transport and eat.
North America’s favorite fruit
hails from Southeast Asia. Although Alexander the Great first
encountered the long-leaved plant in 4th century BC India, it took the
efforts of 15th century Portuguese explorers to carry it to Europe and,
specifically, the Canary Islands. From the Canaries a 16th
century Spanish missionary transported banana roots to the Americas
where the palm tree-like perennial quickly spread throughout the
While many varieties exist,
there are two main types of bananas – eating and cooking.
The familiar yellow Cavendish, its smaller version the apple or lady’s
finger and the aromatic red banana are known as eating bananas.
The longer, thicker plantain falls into the category of cooking for it
is unpalatable when raw.
Whether for eating or cooking all are picked green and ripen during
shipment. They are the one fruit that tastes better when ripened
off the bush.
When shopping for eating bananas, look for plump, evenly colored ones
with slightly green tips. Speckled, yellow peels will
indicate ripeness and the ideal time for consumption. At
this point bananas possess the least amount of starch and highest
amount of sugar and, as a result, will be at their sweetest.
To hasten the ripening process, place the bananas in a paper bag with a
ripe piece of fruit. Likewise, to speed the maturation of green
tomatoes and avocado, put them in a container with bananas. The
ethylene given off by bananas accelerates the mellowing of other
Once this fruit has hit its prime, it can be used in a wealth of
breakfast entrees and desserts. Banana bread, muffins, crepes and
pancakes kick off the day while banana cream pies, puddings, ice cream
sandwiches and splits bring a luscious ending to dinner.
If you crave bit of a spectacle with dessert, whip together the
flamboyant New Orleans classic Bananas Foster. For this dish
sauté sliced bananas in a mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon, unsalted
butter and banana liqueur before setting them aflame in dark
rum. Once the fire dies out, spoon the caramelized fruit
and rich, amber sauce over ice cream.
Along with the aforementioned butter, brown sugar, and rum, bananas go
well with blueberries, chocolate, coconut, ginger, macadamia nuts,
green mangoes, oranges and walnuts. A versatile food, they can be
baked, broiled, caramelized, deep fried, grilled, poached and sautéed.
In terms of versatility plantains go a step further. Mild
and somewhat squash-like in flavor and a bit firmer than eating
bananas, they appear in both sweet and savory dishes.
In the latter instance they are
used much as a potato would be. You can serve them baked, boiled,
grilled, mashed, pureed, pan fried, deep fried and sautéed.
A staple of Latin American,
African and West Indian cuisines, plantains are starchier and less
sugary than bananas. Only when fully ripe do they possess a
slightly sweet taste.
Unlike bananas, plantains are
usually cooked when green. However, they can be used at any point
from green to brown to black.
When buying, remember to choose
plump plantains. Avoid any that appear cracked or shriveled
or feel overly soft. As for skin color, any shade from green to
black will do.
Although most often seen in fried form, green plantains can be
incorporated into soups and stews, added to omelets or sliced, baked
and offered as chips. They pair well with bacon, chili peppers,
curry, garlic, lime, pork, salsa and oranges. Allspice, cinnamon,
cloves, coconut, ice cream, rum and sugar compliment black, completely
For a truly memorable plantain dish try a jibarito. A Puerto
Rican specialty from Chicago, the éclair-sized jibarito consists of
pieces of steak, slices of tomato, lettuce, garlic and mayonnaise
layered between two flattened, fried green plantains.
Versions of this crisp,
delectable sandwich can now be found in Puerto Rican restaurants
throughout the Midwest and East Coast. Along with the traditional
steak filling these jibaritos feature chicken, ham or vegetables and
include American or Swiss cheese.
Banana Ice Cream Sandwiches with Toffee Sauce
Inspired by a dessert at Manhattan’s The Red Cat, these ice cream
sandwiches will take a little time to assemble. However, the
results are definitely worth the effort. If you’re in a rush, use
store-bought banana ice cream and replace the toffee sauce with
For the ice cream:
1 ½ cups whole milk
1 ½ cups heavy cream
¾ cup sugar
8 egg yolks, beaten
1 ½ ripe bananas, mashed
For the sandwich:
2 ripe bananas, mashed
2 eggs, beaten
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ cup blanched almonds, ground in a food processor with 1 teaspoon
sugar (you should have roughly ¾ cups of ground almonds when finished)
1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
For the sauce:
1 2/3 cup sugar
½ cup unsalted butter
½ cup whole milk
¼ teaspoon vanilla
For the ice cream:
Place the milk, cream and sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to a
boil. Remove from heat and slowly add half of the milk mixture to
the eggs, whisking constantly. Once the hot liquid has been
incorporated, pour the egg-milk mixture into the saucepan and return to
the stove. Whisk the ingredients over medium heat until they
begin to thicken, about 5 minutes. Pour through a fine mesh
strainer and into a bowl and set in the refrigerator to cool.
Once cooled, place in a blender with the 1 ½ ripe bananas and
blend. Freeze in an ice cream maker and then follow the
manufacturer’s instructions for making ice cream.
For the sandwich:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease an 8 1/4” x 4 1/4” loaf pan.
In small bowl mix together the eggs, banana and sugar. In a
separate bowl stir together the salt, baking soda, ground almonds and
flour and then make a well in the center of the mixture. Pour the
liquid ingredients into the well and stir to combine. Spoon
the batter into the greased loaf pan. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes,
until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool
in the pan for 10 minutes before removing and placing on wire
rack to cool completely. When cool, cut the loaf into 12 slices.
For the sauce:
In a medium saucepan melt the butter and sugar, stirring to
combine. Bring the mixture to a boil, add the milk and vanilla
and cook until thickened, approximately 5 minutes. Cool slightly.
Place once slice of banana loaf onto a dessert plate and place one to
two scoops of ice cream onto to it. Cover with another slice of
banana loaf and press down to flatten slightly. Drizzle toffee
sauce over the top and around the sides of the ice cream
sandwich. Repeat to make the remaining 5 sandwiches. Serve
Grilled Plantains with Cinnamon-Brown Sugar Glaze
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons dark rum
4 ripe plantains, peeled and sliced lengthwise on a bias
3 tablespoons canola oil
Preheat the grill on high.
In a small saucepan melt the butter, cinnamon and brown sugar, stirring
to combine. Reduce the heat to low, add the rum and cook for 2 to
3 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Brush the plantains with canola oil. Place on the grill and grill
until golden, about 4 minutes on each side. Brush with the
cinnamon-brown sugar glaze during the last 1 to 2 minutes, adding more
glaze before serving. Serve immediately with an optional
scoop of banana or vanilla ice cream.
1 green plantain, peeled and sliced lengthwise into 4 pieces
canola oil, enough to fill 6” of a deep, heavy skillet
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ yellow onion, sliced
dash of salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
8 ounces skirt steak, cut into strips
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tomato, sliced
4 lettuce leaves
ground black pepper, to taste
Fill a deep, heavy skillet with six inches of canola oil and heat over
medium high. Using heat-proof tongs, place the plantain pieces in
the oil and fry them. Remove, blot them on a paper towel and then
fry again. Place them on paper towels on top of a cutting
board. Place another cutting board over them and, pressing down,
flatten the plantains.
Heat the two tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan. Add the
onions and dash of salt and sauté until softened. Add the garlic,
cayenne pepper and skirt steak and fry until steak is cooked
Assemble the jibaritos by placing 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise on 2
plantains slices, followed by equal amounts of steak, sautéed onions
and garlic, tomatoes and lettuce. Sprinkle ground black pepper
over top and place the remaining 2 plantains slices over the
filling. Serve hot.
© 2010, Kathy Hunt. Distributed by Tribune Media Services Inc.