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Going Bananas! Great Ways to Use This Traditional Latino Staple

Updated on May 4, 2014

Bananas are ubiquitous in the US, gracing market shelves everywhere. Easily found, cheap and tasty, most shoppers take a few home when they buy food for the family. Without going into detail about their nutritional value, it is generally known that bananas are a very healthy and easily digested food. They have become so common that most people think all bananas are the same, and have no idea that what they are eating is only one variety of a large family of similar fruits, and that there are many ways to prepare and serve them.

Cavendish: King of Bananas

A Banana is a Banana, is a Banana: the Cavendish

Bananas are broadly classified into two groups: those that are eaten as fresh fruit, and those that are used for cooking. Of the fresh fruit varieties, the most common found in the US and most banana-importing countries is the Cavendish. This is the normal canary-yellow banana that commonly has a large display in supermarkets. Cavendish bananas are picked green and shipped worldwide, left to ripen on the market shelves. As they ripen, the sugar grows more concentrated and the fruit becomes sweeter. Cavendish bananas are at their best when dappled with small brown "freckles", but must be eaten soon or they will rapidly over-ripen. In Honduras bananas of this variety are known as "minimos", and are universally popular.

"Hand" of Lady-Finger Bananas
"Hand" of Lady-Finger Bananas | Source

Lady-Fingers: Good Things in Small Packages!

Another variety sometimes found in US markets is the Lady-Finger. True to their name, they are not much bigger than an average finger, if that much. These are very popular in Central America because they have a more intense flavor than the Cavendish, and are sweeter. The problem is, once they're peeled there's not much left, but kids love them!

Red Caribes

Red Caribe Bananas
Red Caribe Bananas | Source

Red Caribe - Banana of a Different Color

An exotic variety not often found in the United States is the Red Caribe. As the name implies, they can be anywhere from a dark orange to a vivid red color. They are sweet, but not as intensely flavored as the Lady-Finger, with a taste decidedly different from the Cavendish. If you can find them, they are well worth a try for a different taste.

Dried bananas, eaten like potato chips
Dried bananas, eaten like potato chips | Source

Bananas - Chips, Strips & Dips

Sometimes the fresh fruit varieties are sliced and dried into banana chips, or cut into very thin strips and dried making a snack resembling potato chips, even so far as being salted and eaten with dip.

These dried strips are extremely popular in Central America, and are sold in bags in nearly every market.

Bananas for Cooking: the Platano

Plantains, called platanos, or simply "machos" in Honduran Spanish, are large, sometimes twelve inches long or more, somewhat triangular in cross section, with a mottled green-yellow-brown-black color. Platanos are a staple in most Latin American countries, and few traditional Central American meals do not include them in some form. Never eaten fresh, they are commonly found fried, baked, candied, or boiled as a vegetable in most soups and stews. Platanos can't even be peeled like a regular banana. The ends are cut off, a slice is made through the peel from one end to the other, and the inner fruit is unrolled like a scroll.

Plantain, or Platano

The most popular cooking banana in Honduras, almost ripe and ready.
The most popular cooking banana in Honduras, almost ripe and ready. | Source
Chatos, another variety of plantain.
Chatos, another variety of plantain. | Source

Chatos

Another variety of platano, known in Honduras as "chatos", is shorter, fatter and sweeter than the common macho. They have a fine flavor, and can be eaten fresh, but are usually cooked like their larger cousins.

Making the Humble Platano More Appealing

A favorite way to eat platanos in Latin America is in the form of tostones. After removing the peel, the fruit is cut into chunks and shallow-fried in oil to a more-or-less golden brown. Once the fruit is removed from the oil and drained, they are squashed into fairly thick little cakes which are once again fried in the oil to a crispy golden snack. Tostones are customarily served as a side dish along with chismol, but if the platano isn't overly sweet, they can be eaten with dip. Some cooks have a press, called a "tostonera", to make the tostones a uniform shape and thickness, but most just do it by hand. Some tostoneras have another side that will press the platano pieces into little cup shapes that can be filled with avocado, shrimp or other appetizer-type foods. They are especially good when filled with taco meat and topped with melted cheese.

The Crowning Glory of Platanos: Aborrajados!

I'm told aborrajados originated in Colombia. They are not widely known in Central America, but are received with great acclaim where-ever they are introduced. In my opinion, they are absolutely the finest way to serve platanos.

The best way to explain these wonderful treats is to offer a traditional recipe:

INGREDIENTS:

Ripe Platanos (not hard, but not soft ripe)

Quesillo, or shredded Mozzarella

Cooking oil


Batter (adjust the amounts for the quantity you wish to make):

2 Eggs, beaten

1/4 cup milk

4 tbsp flour

1 tsp vanilla

1 tbsp sugar

1/2 tsp salt

Peel the platano, and cut into four to six pieces, depending on size of the fruit. Shallow-fry the pieces in oil until lightly golden. Remove fried platanos and drain on paper towel.

Platano pieces after first frying
Platano pieces after first frying | Source

Mix the batter ingredients in a bowl, whisk until no lumps remain. Adjust the consistency of the batter by adding more flour if needed. You should be able to coat the pieces well without being runny. A little cinnamon could be added if you want to give it an extra kick for a sweeter treat.

Place a piece of the platano on a sheet of plastic wrap or aluminum foil, put another sheet over it, and press down with a flat object to make a pancake-like shape. Do this with all the platano pieces. Put some Mozzarella or Quesillo on one of the "pancakes", and cover with another so that the cheese is totally enclosed in banana. Dip these in batter to cover, and fry in oil again. A trick here is to not fry too fast. The cheese needs time to melt into a delicious gooey mass.

If you use Quesillo, taste it first, as some is salted and some not. If you have the salted variety, adjust the recipe accordingly.

Voila! A banana taste sensation!

Aborrajado ready to eat!
Aborrajado ready to eat! | Source

The slightly acidic taste of the cheese perfectly complements the sweetness of the banana, and the addition of a crispy coating makes these a true gustatory joy!

¡Buen Provecho!

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    • bearnmom profile image

      Laura L Scotty 3 years ago from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

      Thank you for answering my concern. It makes me feel safer about continued use of bananas which I love on cereal and in fruit salads.

    • Lew Marcrum profile image
      Author

      Lew Marcrum 3 years ago from Tegucigalpa, Francisco Morazán, Honduras

      I did read a story about a spider outbreak, in England, I think.

      Spiders are common in Ecuador, which exports probably two-thirds or more of the bananas that reach the US and Europe. Brazil has a spider problem, and they have been found in Costa Rica.

      Bananas are inspected and fumigated for insects before shipment, and normally go through a rigorous inspection when they arrive at their destination. Any shipment that is infested is returned to their port of origin. That's how it normally works. It sounds like the inspectors dropped the ball in England.

      The spider that causes most concern is call the Brazilian Wandering Spider. They are called a "banana spider" only because they like to hide in the many dark and damp places on a banana plant. A banana plant is not a tree, but a large weed, the "trunk" being the result of many leaves wrapped together to make a structure strong enough to hold the fruit. The spiders find the spaces between the leaves ideal for a temporary sanctuary, but they do not eat bananas.

      Here in Honduras bananas are everywhere. We've picked them right off the plant, even whole stalks, but I've never encountered a spider. We buy fruit from street vendors, sometimes right off the truck from the plantation, and from markets of all types, but never have we found a spider infestation on any yet. Perhaps it's because the bananas in Honduras are grown at a higher elevation and cooler climate than Costa Rica or Ecuador.

      The banana spiders need a hot and humid climate to survive. In most of the US, and probably all of Europe, they would only live a very short time, and certainly would not have the conditions to reproduce. Even in the tropics very few people get bitten by the Brazilian Wandering Spider, though it is aggressive, because they simply don't have the mouth parts needed to effectively bite large prey.

      The US has very strict standards for importation of bananas and other fruit, so spiders are a minor concern. Any you buy in a supermarket should be safe.

      I hope this addresses your concerns, and I appreciate your interest and the opportunity to help.

    • bearnmom profile image

      Laura L Scotty 3 years ago from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

      Thank you for sharing your knowledge of the various varieties of bananas. Your article is well written and I am interested in the recipe at the end. I'm somewhat afraid to bring bananas into my home since there was an outbreak of spiders hatching on the skins and infesting a home. Perhaps you could tell us more about this danger and if it should be a concern.