My 16-month-old daughter has started identifying her favorite fruit, joyfully crying “ba-TA-ta!” as soon as she spies the cheery yellow fruit in our produce basket. She repeats its name in the hopes that I’ll work my mummy magic on the banana, snap the peel open and reveal that sweet, creamy goodness within.
And so, when she spied the much larger lime green banana-looking plantains sitting on the counter this week, she couldn’t understand why I wasn’t breaking one open for her.
I tried to explain that while plantains are related to the sweet bananas she loves, they are much starchier, less sweet and unpleasant to eat raw. Once their peels turn first yellow, then black (or maduro, as it’s known in Spanish), they do begin to sweeten, but still need to be cooked. They are divine when fried, as the sugars create a lacy, honey-crisp coating while the lush interior turns into custard.
She didn’t seem to get it. I expect this won’t be the last time.
If you grew up in a Central American, the Caribbean, South American, Africa or even a South Indian community, you’re probably familiar with the plantain. In all these regions, the plantain is eaten in both its ripe and unripe incarnations. Boiled, braised, steamed or fried, the plantain is as essential to their cuisines as the potato is to ours.
The most popular plantain dish might be tostones, a fritter with a fry-like crunchy exterior and a fluffy, faintly sweet interior. They couldn’t be simpler to make: 1-inch wide slices are fried once, smashed, then fried once more. They make a delightful change from your regular starch, and on Mother’s Day, when you’re looking to spoil the woman who once worked her mummy magic on you, it’s a sweet way to celebrate.
TOSTONES EGGS BENEDICT WITH CILANTRO SAUCE
Start to finish: 30 minutes
4 large eggs
2 small cloves garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup finely minced cilantro leaves and soft stems
Pinch of sugar
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
Canola oil, for frying
2 large green, firm plantains
Heat the oven to 350 F.
Add 1 tablespoon of water to each of 4 cups in a standard muffin pan. Break one egg into each of the cups. Set aside.
Meanwhile, to make the sauce, in a medium bowl combine the garlic and lemon juice, then let stand for 5 minutes. Whisk in the olive oil, then the cilantro, sugar and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Set aside.
To make the tostones, set a medium skillet over medium heat. Add enough canola oil to fill the pan with 1/2 inch. Heat the oil to 325 F (use a thermometer to monitor it).
While the oil heats, prepare the plantains. Slice off the ends of each plantain, then run your knife down the length of each, cutting just through the skin but not through the flesh. Repeat on the opposite side of the fruit. Carefully pull away the peel in 2 large strips. Do not discard. Slice the peeled plantain into 1-inch-thick oblongs.
Line a plate with a double layer of paper towels. Fill a large bowl with water and salt it generously.
When the oil is ready, bake the eggs for 12 to 14 minutes (12 minutes for a cooked white and runny yolk, 14 minutes for a firmer yolk). The water will rise to the surface and look like the egg hasn’t cooked, but it has. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, carefully add some of the plantain slices to the oil, working in batches. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, or until very lightly golden brown, then flip. Cook another minute, then use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the paper towel-lined plate. Increase the heat to medium-high.
Place a fried plantain on a cutting board. Place a plantain peel on top, green side facing up. Gently push down with the palm of your hand to flatten the fried plantain until it is 1/4 inch thick. Repeat with remaining slices.
When the oil is 350 F, one at a time quickly dip each plantain slice in the salted water, tap off the excess, then use tongs to carefully place in the skillet of oil. Be careful of splattering oil. Cook for 1 minute, or until golden brown, then return to the paper-towel lined plate. Season immediately with salt. Repeat until all plantains have been fried a second time.
Place 3 tostones in a circle on each serving plate. Carefully spoon a poached egg out of a muffin cup and place on top. Season with salt and pepper, then drizzle the sauce around the perimeter of the plate and a little over the top of the tostones. Serve immediately.
Nutrition information per serving: 540 calories; 380 calories from fat (70 percent of total calories); 42 g fat (6 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 215 mg cholesterol; 38 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 17 g sugar; 8 g protein; 310 mg sodium.