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Recipes from a Colombian Beauty Parlor: Fried Green Plantains

Posted Aug 07 2009 12:19pm

When you go to the supermarket in the United States, you probably see green plantains next to the sweet bananas in the produce section.  Green plantains have a firmer peel, less sugar, and you need a knife to remove the skin.  If you go to a Hispanic grocery store, you will most certainly see plantains sold in two different stages of their maturity.  The green variety, and the really ripe kind that are used for a side dish called, maduros, or sweet fried plantain.  Both green and ripe plantains are traditionally cooked before eating, unlike the regular Chiquita banana that we generally eat raw in our cereal or in a fruit salad.

My preferred method of preparation for plantains is the fried, green variety.  Plantains go by a few different names, depending on where you eat them.  Among Colombians and Ecuadoreans, they are known as patacones.   In Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic they are called tostones.  Guatemalans refer to them as tajadas and Haitans simply say bannan fris.   Tostones, patacones, tajadas, bannan fris, whatever you choose to call them, they are sure to become one of your preferred side dishes or snacks, as long as you serve them freshly made with a little homemade salsa on the side.

The recipe I share with you here is pretty straightforward.  Unless of course, you want me to include the small variation on the recipe that I learned about while sitting in a Colombian beauty parlor in Cartagena, Colombia back in the year of 2001.  You see, the pension where I was staying in Cartagena had a small issue with running water.  In fact, the issue was so significant that a change of accommodations was in order, as soon as we could possibly get a room elsewhere.  In that interim, before another room was available down the street, I had to figure out what I would do with my hair.  Ordinarily, I could have lasted a few days longer without a shampoo, but I was in Cartagena, a Carribean city on the coast of Colombia, where the evening breeze is warm, moist, salty, and brisk at times.  My hair by day two of my trip was a snarly piece of salt water taffy that no brush could penetrate.  Yes, it was that bad…

Had my hair been a bit longer, I might have gotten it braided by one of the Coastal women on the beach who walked along announcing their mobile , “trenzas” businesses.   Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough hair on my head to make the braid option work, so I went in search of a beauty parlor, and I ended up with more than a washed and styled head of hair.

It didn’t take me that long to find a beauty parlor in Cartagena. The woman who took care of me was the owner of a small salon near my pension and she was fascinated by me, a young North American woman with such a expansive knowledge of Colombian cuisine.  She asked me what I liked most about the cuisine of “La Costa”, and I explained that I was partial to patacones.  From that moment, she launched into a step by step cooking lesson while she ran the comb through my freshly shampooed head of hair.  Everything she told me, sounded like the recipe I will share with you now, except for one detail.  She explained that in between the first and second frying of the plantains, I should dip the plantain piece quickly in garlic water before I return it to the frying pan for a second fry.  This step, she assured me, would give the patacon extra crispiness and a little extra flavor.    Although I don’t always dip my patacones in garlic water, I do it from time to time.  I especially like to try out the “hairdresser variety” if I am entertaining.  I normally prepare one set of patacones with the garlic water, and another set without the water.  Then I let the guests tell me which patacones they like best.  And of course, I get throw in my tale of how I came about this recipe one hot day in Cartagena, Colombia in late December of 2001. 

2 green plantains, peeled and cut into 1 inch thick pieces
1 clove garlic, chopped
1  cup cold water
1 cup canola oil

Frying pan
Metal tongs
A glass or Miss Tostonera for flattening the plantains


Place the chopped garlic clove in a bowl of water and set aside.

Remove the plantain skin.  Cut off the ends and cut the plantain in half so you have two 4-5 inch long pieces. With a knife, carefully cut a slit down the length of the two plantain pieces, being careful not to cut into the plantain.  With a spoon, peel back the skin without pulling off pieces from the plantain.   Once you have removed the peel, cut the plantain crosswise into 1 inch thick pieces.

Prepare a plate lined with paper towels, while heating the oil in a pan.

When the oil is hot, place the plantain pieces in the pan.  Cook until golden on all sides for about 2-3 minutes.  Be careful to remove them before they turn brown.  Place them on the plate and pat with a paper towel to remove excess oil.

Turn off the oil while preparing to flatten the plantain pieces with either a glass or a Miss Tostonera tool.  This tool can be found in Hispanic grocery stores. 

Flatten the plantain pieces one by one and return to the plate. 

Heat the oil again and prepare the plantain pieces to be quickly dipped in the garlic water before returning to the frying pan.  Be careful not to keep the plantain piece in the water for too long, as the plantain will fall apart.

Carefully return the flattened plantain pieces to the frying pan and monitor closely.  Turn the pieces with metal tongs and fry for a total of about 3-4 minutes until golden on both sides.

Place the fried plantain pieces on a plate lined with paper towel to remove excess oil.  Move to a fresh plate and salt generously.  Serve immediately as an appetizer or a side dish.

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