This article is presented by National Geographic Traveller (UK).
Hailing from the tropics, the magnificent plantain fruit is a staple in West African cooking. Often confused with its relative, the banana, the plantain stands out due to its higher starch content and lower sugar levels.
My childhood memories are filled with vivid impressions of plantain. I recall the bustling markets of Lagos, Nigeria, where amidst the city’s intense heat, vendors sold plantain. The aroma of roasting plantains and the sight of people relishing them, right out of the skin, is imprinted in my memory.
As the executive chef at Akoko, I have incorporated plantain into a multitude of dishes, from pairing it with ayamase stew (a peppery Nigerian stew) to creating petite fours by caramelising overripe plantain with rum and lime. Our supply comes from various West African markets throughout London.
Plantain is a flexible fruit, usable in varying stages of ripeness, from green and raw to black and overripe. Its versatility extends to the course of a meal, where it can be a snack, appetiser, main, side, or even a dessert component. Although not a common feature in British cooking, a bit of guidance can transform it into a fascinating addition to any kitchen.
The younger culinary crowd in Nigeria uses overripe plantains as a fundamental element in baking sponge cakes or as a puree base for ice cream.
- Etor (mashed)
Boil a mix of ripe and unripe plantains, then blend in peanut butter, chopped onion and a dash of oil for a hearty mixture — traditionally accompanied by avocado and hard-boiled eggs.
- Ipekere (crisps)
Thinly slicing green plantains into your shape of choice and deep-frying them results in delicious crisps. Pair them with Ghanaian shito sauce for a delightful snack.
- Boli (grilled)
Boli, a popular street food in Nigeria, consists of ripe plantains grilled over hot coals, often accompanied by ata din-din, a traditional Nigerian sauce.
- Tatale (pancake)
Overripe plantains are peeled, mashed, and combined with onion, chilli, ginger paste and flour. After shallow frying the mixture, it is typically served with bambara bean stew.
This article was featured in the 20th issue (Summer 2023) of Food by National Geographic Traveller (UK).
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Cooking with Plantains
What are some ways to cook with plantains?
There are numerous ways to cook with plantains. You can use overripe plantains to make desserts such as sponge cakes or as a base for ice cream. For a savoury dish, you could boil ripe and unripe plantains to make Etor, a chunky mix served with avocado and hard-boiled eggs. Green plantains can be used to make Ipekere, which are delicious crisps that pair well with Ghanaian shito sauce. Boli, a popular street food in Nigeria, involves grilling ripe plantains. Lastly, overripe plantains can be used to make Tatale, a pancake served with bambara bean stew.
Where can I source plantains?
The author of the article sources plantains from various West African markets across London. However, plantains can generally be found in local grocery stores, farmers markets, or international food markets.
What’s the difference between plantains and bananas?
Plantains are often associated with bananas but have a higher starch content and lower sugar levels, making them more suitable for cooking.
Can plantains be used in every stage of their ripeness?
Yes, plantains are versatile and can be used in different stages of maturity, from green and unripe to black and overripe. Their taste and texture will vary based on their ripeness, which allows them to be used in a variety of dishes.
Is plantain common in British cooking?
While plantain isn’t widely used in British cooking, with a few tips and recipes, it can become an exciting and versatile ingredient in any kitchen.