5 November 2009

plantain in vain


I don't know why, or what it says about me, but I go through these intense, whirlwind infatuations with foodstuffs, consume vast amounts of them, and then move on, breaking it off as fast as it started. There was lentils, then oats...later tofu followed by soy products in general...then plantains. At the moment it's tahini. Make of this what you will. The only good thing we can take from this is that my eating patterns usually settle into something more normal afterwards. Like, not soy products six times a day. This post will outline my brief but heady flirtation with plantains.

As far as food goes - as far as any old thing goes, in fact - plantains are pretty special. They look like bananas, but clenched and stumpy. Like a banana that has tensed up in anticipation of getting a punch to the face. They're infomercial-tastic in their multipurposeness. They start off green, tight-skinned, firm and savoury, with a flavour echoing kumara (or sweet potato.) Then they progress into a yellow shade, becoming sweeter - but wait there's more! They finally blacken, becoming even softer and more sweet in the process. Something particularly cool about the plantain is that they have similar complex carbohydrates that you'd find in a potato, but they cook in about ten seconds flat. If you have the deep misfortune to be a coeliac type-one diabetic, you could do well to look these up.

I grabbed them on a whim from our local supermarket because they were cheap and intriguing, like all good things in life. Unfortunately they don't seem to be stocking them any more. The lesson is - I should have updated this blog sooner. However bear in mind that a lot of the time, bananas can be readily substituted for plantains - even in savoury dishes. The following though, is something you'll have to get the actual article for. I first dipped my toe in the water by taking firm green plantains, peeling them, slicing them thickly and frying them in a sizzling dab of butter and drop of rice bran oil till they were golden and crisp on the outside.

And there you have it. Looks like banana, tastes like potato. Truly. They cook up in about five minutes, but have that same solid, fluffy bite of a baked potato. With a banana's potassium! This made a fantastically sunny side dish to something - I can't even remember what it was now - and was repeated several times over in the following days.

Following an idea from Simon Rimmer's The Accidental Vegetarian, I tried stirring some fried, sliced plantains through dahl made with red lentils. Amazingly, surprisingly good. The graininess of the lentils and the fried plantains worked excellently together. However the photos I took were kinda heinous and I won't subject you to them. You're better off without them.

Realising I'd enthusiastically brought far more plantains than I could really deal with, and that they were ripening with alarming speed, I decided to use them for sweeter pursuits, and turned them into Plantain Ice Cream. A cursory Google search didn't throw forward any recipes so I made up my own. I threw about 6 ripe, soft plantains into the food processor and blended them till smooth. I then added 2 crumbly tablespoons muscovado sugar and 2 tablespoons of juice from a can of pineapples and continued to process till it was light, fluffy and moussy. I considered adding some coconut milk but decided to leave well alone and not be so damn obvious with my flavour pairings. When I say moussy - the blended plantains really were curiously aerated and could actually have been chilled and served as some kind intensely natural alternative to those powdery, whizzed up instant puddings of my youth.

And then I froze it.

Having made virtuous ice creams before of fruit and not much else, I remembered how utterly rock-hard they set, and had intended to give this a cursory second blitz in the food processor before tasting it. Well there must be some enzyme in plantains which makes them awesomer than other fruit because it was perfectly spoonable straight from the freezer. Curiouser and curiouser!

And completely, amazingly delicious. The fun thing about it is that you're more or less eating just fruit, which is quite the exciting concept to grasp when your brain is sending "ICE CREAM, OOH BABY BABY" messages around your body. It tastes sugary, but it's pretty damn healthy. In terms of taste, sure it's banana-y, but the plantain is somehow zestier, zippier, (apologies for the supercilious vagueness of my description there) almost citrussy compared to the banana. Which is not to say that you couldn't get perfectly fine ice cream out of a banana, I've done it myself and you may substitute freely if plantains aren't available. Just make sure you process it again after it has frozen, to break up the ice crystals it will form.

I just realised that I've purposefully not included a photo of the dhal that I snapped just before it was eaten because it was terrible, whereas these carefully styled photos of ice cream are here on display. In the past I might have obstinately included the terrible photo of the lentils simply because I have this feeling that blogging about what you're cooking and eating should show what you're eating as it exists in real life, not how it looks in a studio set-up, painstakingly lit and strewn with vanilla beans or...autumn leaves or something. And yet here I am, choosing the created over the real. I mean, I can assure you that I stood there leaning on the windowsill, eating the ice cream while I was taking photos of it, but it was in my bedroom, on my chest of drawers, and that blue fabric is a scarf of mine. Eh. I'm not quite sure where I'm going with this. I'd like to think I'm relatively principled in my aims for this blog. But ice cream is prettier than under-exposed, grainy CCTV-esque footage of lentils, let's face it.

I guess I shouldn't get so wound up about stuff I can't really explain adequately. All that aside, the ice cream is an ideal use of this beguiling fruit and worth letting them sit around to ripen for. Cooling, refreshing, not at all heavy and arrestingly delicious. Thus...if you see plantains at your local market or whatever, don't be afraid of them. They're cool. Take a walk on the wild side.

Tim and I just got back from seeing Elaine Paige live in concert. What a night. She was so dynamic, so engaged, so sparklingly classy and in such good voice. I know I joked a while back that I'm surprised she didn't play Elphaba in the London transfer of Wicked, but truly - she has been in so many shows, and it was amazing to hear a kind of retrospective of many of these. As she was singing Don't Cry For Me Argentina, I reflected on how astounding it is that I have been able to see the original London and the original Broadway stars of Evita sing this song in less than six months, in New Zealand - Patti LuPone back in July, and now Elaine Paige. She didn't sing Nobody's Side, as I'd hoped, suspecting a live version would have more passion and soul than her strangely (or not so strangely, really) sterile pop version. Instead she came out and sang Someone Else's Story, and then I Know Him So Well, with the orchestra filling in on the other part. Well, I guess she had to do that one. There were so many classic songs she gave us that it was hard to keep track but a highlight was when she poured herself into the character of Edith Piaf and gave a stunning rendition of Je Ne Regrette Rien. It was an incredible night and...we were easily the youngest there. I felt lucky to be a part of it all.

If you get the chance, check out Glee on TV3 on Friday nights at 7.30pm (with repeats on C4TV at the same time on Wednesdays). It's a bit strange to me to see all these Broadway stars plastered across New Zealand media channels and hearing people talk about them. Not in a snobby way, like I don't want anyone to know about them - but literally in a strange, blinky kind of way. I double-take every time I see a picture of Lea Michelle or Matthew Morrison in a local magazine. I'm just used to a large chunk of the pop-culture stuff I like being completely obscure to the general population. If it means that things like choirs and singing and musical theatre and dancing are made to seem okay and 'cool' to young people, then bring it on. All that aside, I've seen most of season one already and it is sharp as a tack and great fun. Find it!


On Shuffle while I type

Smart Women by Stephanie J Block, from her debut album This Place I Know. While I admire SJB and think she's a fantastic singer, actress, and surely person too, I really didn't click with her album. But this song from it, oh my. I'm obsessed with it. Don't even try to listen to it or you will be too. It's beautiful.

Dominoes by The Big Pink from their album A Brief History Of Love. Okay, the lyrics to the verses are kind of useless, and it is maybe derivative and will probably get ridiculously overplayed, and normally the only music from Big Pink I'm interested in is the one coming from The Band but all that aside...WHAT a chorus.

Title comes to you via...The Clash, Train In Vain. Why? Because...I like The Clash almost as much as I like inserting rhyming words awkwardly into places they don't belong.

Next time: I predict that next time I will be deeply, deeply in denial that it's November already and a good chunk of it has passed at that.


  1. I go through those love affairs with food. For a while it was seitan - most people dont even know what that is. There I was like a mad scientist in my kitchen- thinking I might create something perfectly meaty with no meat involved- WHY? Because I guess I'm crazy like that. I'm not vegan. Go figure.

    But anyway- I love plantains. And they are really great. I have never made ice cream with them and I have to say I am totally intrigued by this ice cream.

  2. Know what you mean about Glee being totally weird when your friends post about it on facebook and you're all 'huh?'... especailly since I'm friends with Lea on FB... which is even weirder.

    Jealous you got to go to Elaine, It sounded like a fab night... how were the views? Can't wait to catch up so you can tell me ALL about it. x

  3. We watched Glee on Friday night, on your recommendation. Looks fun and worth following and sure beats America's Next Top Model in the same time slot previously.

    Glad you enjoyed Elaine P. That's a pretty fair line up of all your favs coming to NZ over the past few years.

    I'm so pleased to discover what plantains really are. I always thought plantain was a type of paddock grass and I was starting to wonder...

    I recognise the scarf backdrop too...

    If you don't like Harrogate (the yellow ones?) try the coconut ones (pink) or malt (blue). Make sure your fillings are secure first.

  4. I do, too. It's not so much a love affair with me as it is...like, a binge. I get really into one food and eat it for months and then I wake up and one day can't look at it anymore ever. For a while anyway.

  5. Lori: I've never tried seitan but it sounds a little ominous. Definitely try the plantain ice cream - it's really good.

    Olivia: It was indeed a fab night, view wasn't as bad as I thought! Phew!

    Mum: The second episode is even funnier :) I'll choose Mackintosh lollies in this order: Egg Cream, then coconut, then mint, and then Harrogate. Never malt, ugh.

    Sadako: Tell me about it!

  6. Great post. Food has that affect on lot of us. More so the food photographs.

  7. they do look like bananas! it's weird. i gotta have me some of this. i have yet to try plantain and have never seen em around any of the grocery stores here. i'm intrigued. Might have to search around borough market for them i reckon :D

  8. yummmy,this I must try out definitely! Thank you for sharing :-)

  9. I was at yours on Thursday (you were at work and I stole Glee from your comp) LOVE IT LOVE IT!!! Cried in Ep1 , 3 and 5. So emotionally labile when I don't sleep. Anywho I digress, Tim offered me a schkoop of your ice-plaintain thang.. such a yummy different flavour!! Like tangy kiwifruit. Hope to see you soon sister! PS I passed med 5!!

  10. I think all of us go through changes and little trends like that. It's almost like eating seasonal on a small daily or weekly scale. It keeps you creative and honest :)

    I do think I'd be confused if I ate a banana shaped potato, like you mentioned. But, it's worth a shot, if not totally for the awesome potassium richness :)

  11. I like to mix ripe fried plantains into my oatmeal. Absolutely delicious!