Plantains are the übermensch of the banana family. Although they can’t be eaten raw (who wants an ingredient that gives everything up on the first date anyway?) plantains are delectable when cooked. Rich, savoury, sweet, and complex, plantains stand up to strong seasonings and (in my opinion) complement EVERYTHING.
I have been trying to lure my lovely friend Sweety, chef extraordinaire, to my kitchen with the promise of plantains for at least a month. Last night I succeeded. I set out an array of spices and ingredients before her and cleverly put her in charge of cooking the plantains. I think of this dish as “Caribbean” because of the use of scotch bonnets, rum, thyme and coconut, but as always I am taking slight liberties in ascribing an origin to a dish. Whatever it is, this dish is spicy and dense with flavour, and I DON’T WANT TO STOP EATING IT.
3 ripe plantains, peeled and sliced into rounds
½ onion, diced
½ head garlic (about 8 cloves), coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons salt
1 moderately spicy red chili, coarsely chopped
2 scotch bonnet chili peppers, seeded and minced (We used two because we both love our food very spicy. You should reduce this amount if your spice tolerance is low, but don’t omit altogether as scotch bonnets have a very particular and distinctive flavour.)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Five ripe tomatoes, blanched, seeds and juice separated from the flesh and reserved, and flesh coarsely chopped (you can also use very good quality whole tinned tomatoes)
2 teaspoons rum
2/3 cup coconut milk
Four tablespoons olive oil
Coarsely chopped fresh coriander for garnish (optional)
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat and sauté the onions, garlic, salt and chopped chilis until the onions begin to turn translucent and are just starting to brown. Add rum, then gradually add the liquid from the tomatoes, stirring frequently until liquid evaporates almost entirely (about 15 minutes)
Stir in the chopped tomatoes one by one, stirring to incorporate and again allowing liquid to evaporate. Take your time. You are looking to make a dense, rich sauce. Add thyme leaves, reduce heat, and cook for a further five minutes so flavours incorporate. Stir in coconut milk, cook for a further five to ten minutes, and remove from heat.
In a heavy bottomed frying pan big enough to fit all the plantains in a single layer, heat the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil and cook the plantains until soft and starting to caramelize on both sides, about ten minutes.
Pour sauce over plantains and toss gently. Return to low heat until just heated through, and serve, garnished with chopped fresh coriander (if you like).
Serves four to six as a side dish.