Plantains are a staple in Latin American cooking, but they’re relatively unknown in the US, Canada, and other western, industrialized countries. This is unfortunate, because they’re one of the most versatile starches available (as you will see below). They’re also rich in nutrients like potassium, beta carotene, vitamin B6, and vitamin C, and a good source of dietary fiber.
While I’m a huge fan of plantains, I’ll admit they have a couple of disadvantages as a staple starch, at least in the U.S.: they’re difficult to find in some places (especially organic), and they are shipped from places like Mexico and Central America. I make a big effort to eat locally for many reasons, and that is simply not possible with plantains.
Got plantains? Discover 9 delicious ways to eat this Paleo-friendly starch.
That said, if you live in a place where they are available (try Latin markets if your supermarket doesn’t stock them), they can make a great occasional addition to your diet.
Make sure to use the correct type of plantains called for in each preparation method below.
#1: Fried Plantains
This is the method that most people who’ve eaten plantains are probably familiar with, as it’s common in Latin American cuisine. If you’ve ever eaten at a Brazilian restaurant, or spent time in Costa Rica or Nicaragua, you’ve probably had fried plantains.
Use plantains that are somewhere between just starting to ripen (light yellow) to very ripe (yellow with black spots), depending on your preference. I happen to like them not as sweet, so I go with light yellow/green. Slice them into 1/2 inch rounds, and fry at medium heat with expeller-pressed coconut oil, ghee, lard, or other stable cooking fat.
#2: Plantain Chips
You’ll need a dehydrator (this is a good starter model) to make these, but they’re worth the effort. Plantain chips are not only delicious, they’re also a great source of resistant starch, which has many benefits. And they make an ideal travel snack and addition to your children’s lunch boxes.
(Note that plantain chips will only contain resistant starch when they’re made with a dehydrator, since cooking plantains at higher temperatures destroys most of the resistant starch they contain.)
Buy green plantains, slice into 1/4” rounds, add sea salt to taste, and place in a dehydrator. Dehydrate until crisp.
#3: Plantain Tortillas
This is one of my “secret” uses of plantains, but I can’t claim to have figured it out on my own. I learned the recipe from Simone Shifnadel, the author of The Zenbelly Cookbook (one of my top 3 favorite Paleo cookbooks).
I grew up eating a lot of Mexican food, so I like to have a “taco night” every now and then. When we do, we’ll make seasoned ground beef, prepare bunch of toppings (tomatoes, lettuce, avocados, fresh salsa, etc.) and wrap it all in these plantain tortillas. Yum!
Here’s the recipe, which Simone has graciously allowed me to post here. Check out her book for some other fantastic creations. She catered my book launch party last year, and the food was incredible.
*Make sure you have parchment paper for this recipe
- 3-4 yellow plantains (about 2 to 2 & 1/2 pounds)
- 1/3 cup egg whites (2 to 3 large eggs)
- 3 tablespoons lard or fat of your choice, melted, plus more for greasing the parchment paper
- 1/2 teaspoon finely ground sea salt
- 1 teaspoon lime juice
- Preheat oven to 350 F.
- Peel the plantains by cutting off the tops and bottoms and slicing through the skin along the length of the plantain.
- Roughly chop the plantains and place in the bowl of a food processor or high-speed blender.
- Add the egg whites, melted lard, salt, and lime juice. Blend until very smooth.
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (or work in batches if you only have one).
- Grease the parchment paper liberally.
- Using a small ladle or disher, drop four 1/4-cup portions of batter onto each pan, leaving plenty of room between each one.
- Using the ladle and/or a rubber spatula, smooth out the batter into thin circles. Get them as thin as you can while still keeping them intact.
- Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until they are dry to the touch and just starting to brown at the edges. If using two pans at once, switch halfway through.
- Repeat with the remaining batter, making sure to grease the parchment paper each time.
#4: Plantain Pancakes & Waffles
I’ve never been fully satisfied with the Paleo pancakes made from almond and coconut flours. They don’t get fluffy like pancakes should, and many people are sensitive to nuts or the insoluble fiber in coconut flour.
The great thing about these pancakes/waffles is they’re not only gluten- and grain-free, they’re also nut- and flour-free! They’re made with whole plantains and eggs, so eating these is really not that different than having scrambled eggs and sliced plantains for breakfast. Guilt-free pancakes!
And if you have kids, these will be an absolute hit. Sylvie loves them to death.
The recipe comes from Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, aka The Paleo Mom. You can find it here. She’s got a lot of other great recipes for people following an autoimmune Paleo diet on her blog, as well as an autoimmune Paleo cookbook. Check them out!
#5: Smashed Plantains
This one comes from Brendan & Megan Keatley over at Health-Bent, another fantastic blog for Paleo foodies.
This is a very simple—yet nourishing and hearty—recipe. You can use smashed plantains as a savory substitute for mashed potatoes or mashed sweet potatoes.
Check out the recipe here (and make sure to poke around their site for other delicious recipes).
#6: Garlic Tostones
Tostones—also known as patacones, chatinos (Cuba), fritos verdes (Dominican Republic), and banan peze (Haiti)—are fried slices of (usually) green plantains. They differ from the fried plantains in #1 in that they are often smashed after cooking, and sometimes twice-fried.
Here is a recipe for tostones that I found online. I would recommend using expeller-pressed coconut oil or ghee for frying, rather than the vegetable oil they suggest. If you are sensitive to FODMAPs, simply omit the garlic.
#7: Plantain Soup (Crema de Plátano Verde)
This is a simple, cheap, and delicious soup that can be enjoyed at any time of year, but is particularly nourishing during the winter months.
Here’s a traditional recipe that you can work from. We will typically add either bacon or shredded chicken—or sometimes both.
Mofongo is essentially fried green plantains that are mashed and mixed with bacon and fat. They can be served as a side with any meat dish, formed into small balls and dropped into soups, or used to stuff meats and vegetables.
Here is a recipe that can get you started. Again, I’d suggest using expeller-pressed coconut oil or lard as the cooking fat rather than canola oil.
#9: Plantain Stuffing
I had to include this one with the holidays approaching. If you’re looking for an alternative to bread stuffing, and don’t want to use a meat-based Paleo stuffing, this is a good choice.
Here is a recipe that looks good. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, substitute a safer cooking fat like ghee or expeller-pressed coconut oil for vegetable oil. (Note: I haven’t tried it myself, but I’m planning on it for Thanksgiving this week.)
There are so many more dishes that I could have listed here, including deserts like Platanos al Amibar, stews like Sancocho, and holiday dishes like Pasteles en Hoja (time consuming, but worth it!). Plantains really are incredibly versatile.
What about you? What are your favorite ways to prepare and eat plantains? Let us know in the comments section.