Yes, fried green bananas! This is a very popular thing to eat in Colombia and surely many countries in the tropical zone, but Colombians have a love story with this versatile fruit. It is very often included as a must in their daily set lunches at most small, locally owned restaurants and still more eat it as a snack on the go, for breakfast and for their own meals at home.
Before you start cooking, there are a few things that need to be said about plantain:
1- It is generally cooked differently depending on whether it is still deep green - so not ripe yet - or yellow, like a regualr banana.
2- It tastes almost like a banana but has a consistency much more similar to a potato, making it much easier to work with for cooking.
3- In North America, you might only be able to find the ripe plantain as people there typically don't eat fruits when they're not ripe. Also, with the travel time required, they may have had time to ripen along the way.
Here are a few dishes that are typically made here using plantain:
'Maduro' means ripe, and this is what they call the plantain when you only just skin it when it is fully ripe and cook in vegetable oil as is. If you don't want to use enough oil to cover the entire banana, make sure half is covered, then flip halfway through to finish the cooking. This way, it tastes incredibly sweet and makes for a nice dessert. You can even top it with a fruit sauce or perhaps - like they do here - open the middle and add vegan cheese.
This is another way of cooking plantain when it is ripe. 'Tajada' means sliced, and they cut it along its length to make long, oblong-shaped slices with it, about 1/4 inch (one to two centimeters) thick. Once again, it is deep fried in plenty of oil, but much less is needed. You can leave them as they are, or add some salt and perhaps a bit more spices with it.
'Tajas' means slices. You may have noticed that, so far, the names are pretty ordinary and common words. That's how common eating plantain is here... if you say 'I want slices', everyone knows you're not talking about bread. Seriously, I would even say that sliced bread is probably the exception and not the norm here. Ask anyone if they like sandwiches and half of them answer 'huh?'.
Tajas are very simple. This is for cooking the green plantain and is - you guessed it! - fried again, but not deep fried. Slice them sideways - meaning in coin-size bites, like you would slice your regular banana to put in your cereal. You can get away with only grilling these with a bit of oil and salt (or a lot of salt, like they do here). If you want, you can do this with ripe plantain as well, although it's not as popular.
This is perhaps the only plantain dish with its own name that doesn't mean anything. For this one, you need to take a few steps and a couple of tools. First, cut the green banana in half. Deep fry it until it is nice and soft. Then, take two wood cutting boards. Put the cooked plantain on one of them, standing - not lying down. With the other board, squash the plantain. You should be making it into a round pancake shape. Fry again. Top with any topping you want. The most famous one here is a sautee of tomatoes, onions and fresh coriander.
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