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Cooking the "big banana" of the starch world

They're sold by the bananas, but they probably belong closer to the potatoes.
/ Source: The Associated Press

They're sold by the bananas, but they probably belong closer to the potatoes.

Because while plantains may resemble bananas, they taste and cook more like a tuber. And in much of the world, that's how these starchy fruit — sometimes called a "cooking banana" — are used. In Africa and India, they often are used as the base of stews and curries, much as potatoes would be.

In this one-pot dinner from Brazil (inspired by a similar recipe in Leticia Moreinos Schwartz' "The Brazilian Kitchen"), simmered plantains make a delicious base to a chicken curry. They also provide a natural starch that thickens the sauce.

When shopping for plantains, look for large, firm fruit. The thick skin can vary from green to yellow to black. Green is unripe, while yellow to black colors indicate the plantains are ready. But be warned — even ripe plantains are not pleasant eating when raw. Stick with recipes such as this one for cooking.

Got leftover plantains? They also can be thinly sliced and fried, then dusted with salt, paprika and sugar.



Start to finish: 45 minutes

Servings: 4

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into chunks

Salt and ground black pepper

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 large yellow onion, diced

2 green bell peppers, cored and cut into chunks

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1 tablespoon minced jarred jalapeno slices

2 cups chicken broth

15-ounce can coconut milk

1/4 cup tomato paste

2 bay leaves

3 ripe (skins should be yellow and black) plantains, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Place the chicken in a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven. Sprinkle it with salt, pepper and 2 tablespoons of the oil. Stir to coat, then cover and set aside for 10 minutes.

Set the Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Saute the chicken until lightly browned, about 6 to 8 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the chicken to a bowl. Cover and set aside.

Return the Dutch oven to the heat and add the onion and bell peppers. Sauté until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger and jalapenos, then saute for another minute. Return the chicken to the pot, then add the broth, coconut milk, tomato paste and bay leaves.

Bring the mixture to a boil and cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Add the plantains and cook, uncovered, for another 15 minutes, or until the plantains are soft but not mushy.

To serve, remove and discard the bay leaves, season with salt and pepper, then sprinkle with cilantro.

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 780 calories; 330 calories from fat (41 percent of total calories); 37 g fat (23 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 135 mg cholesterol; 58 g carbohydrate; 59 g protein; 7 g fiber; 500 mg sodium.


EDITOR'S NOTE: Food Editor J.M. Hirsch is author of the cookbook "High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking." Follow him to great eats on Twitter at or email him at jhirsch(at)