We all have a particular food that brings forth sweet nostalgia. For me, it’s the green plantain.
As a child of Dominican immigrants, I grew up eating plantains in all forms. Plantains have sustained generations of my family, and the families of so many others throughout Latin America, Africa and other Caribbean islands. And, of course, that continues here in the United States for plantain lovers and foodies. These members of the banana family can be boiled and mashed into a dish called “mangu,” which I almost always eat with salami, cheese or eggs. They can be pressed and fried into what’s commonly called “tostones.”
The green plantain has a tough exterior with browned edges and scarred skin, and it's not to be mistaken for the sweet, yellow plantains. For much of my childhood, it was my breakfast, lunch and dinner. Which is why, recently, I have taken a special interest in cooking plantain dishes at home. I enjoy the process leading up to a delicious, warm meal.
Unfortunately, it takes a while for this 20-something to peel plantains; I don't have the skillful hands of my mother and father, who with a few flicks of the wrist and quick movements get the job done. But I try my best, and have improved with each peeling attempt.
A bite instantly transports me back to when I was a young girl with a bushy ponytail (still have this), seated at the dinner table in a Brooklyn apartment and delightfully chewing on plátanos — as plantains are called in Spanish. I remember tasty meals with my parents and younger brother, and conversations over plates piled high with hearty food.
Another bite transports me to just a few years ago when I was living with my grandmother in her cramped third-floor apartment in New York City. I was in graduate school at the time and rarely home because of how grueling the program was, but whenever I’d arrive at the apartment, a plate of food wrapped in foil would be waiting for me atop a toaster oven. It was almost always a a plátano dish.
Sometimes food is about much more than health and nutrition. Food can be about family, that one special flavor that you love so much, and a way to tap into your childhood memories, even if only for a moment.
For anyone interested in trying “mangu” or other plantain dishes, here’s a helpful link with recipes.