What to cook with plantain, from chips to pancakes

A kitchen essential throughout West Africa, plantain is a year-round fruit that shines in both sweet and savoury dishes. 

This article was produced by National Geographic Traveller (UK).

Plantain is a magnificent tropical fruit and a staple ingredient in West African cuisine. It’s often associated with the banana, the main difference being it contains more starch and fewer sugars.

Some of my most distinct childhood memories involve plantain. I remember visiting the markets of Lagos, Nigeria, and seeing the street vendors, in the city’s epic heat. And I remember smelling the roasting plantains and watching people eat them straight out of the skin with joyous smiles.

At Akoko, where I’m executive chef, we’ve used plantain in numerous ways, from serving it up with ayamase stew (a Nigerian pepper stew) to caramelising over-ripened plantain with rum and lime to make petit fours. We source ours from the various West African markets across London.

It’s a versatile fruit and can be used in its different stages of maturity, from green and unripe to black and overripe. It can also be eaten as a snack, starter, main course, side or part of a dessert. And while it’s not widely used in British cooking, with a few tips it can be an exciting ingredient in any kitchen.

1. Dessert

In Nigeria, the younger generation are using over-ripened plantains as a base to make sponge cakes and also as a puree base for ice cream.

2. Etor (mash)

Peel and boil ripe and unripe plantains, then add peanut butter, diced onion and a little oil to make a chunky mix — traditionally served with avocado and hard-boiled eggs.

3. Ipekere (chips)

Green plantains can be sliced very thinly in whatever shape desired, and then deep-fried in oil to make delicious crisps. A great snack that goes well with Ghanaian shito sauce.

4. Boli (grilled)

This is a popular street food snack in Nigeria. There, vendors simply grill ripe plantains over hot coals. It’s often served with the classic Nigerian sauce, ata din-din.

5. Tatale (pancake)

Very ripe plantains are peeled and mashed, then combined with onion, chilli, ginger paste and flour. The mixture is shallow fried and traditionally served with bambara bean stew.

Published in Issue 20 (summer 2023) of Food by National Geographic Traveller (UK).

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