I remember watching an episode of one of my favorite shows on the Food Network, Chopped and one of the contestants was completely clueless on what to do with one of the mystery ingredients-plantains. I remember him saying, “What can you do with a plantain? It is nothing but starch!” I chuckled as I’m sure anyone who grew up eating plantains would. Plantains are so versatile! You just have to know the three types of plantains and it will help you decide what recipe to make. Plantains range from starch to sugar. The less ripe they are you can fry like a potato and the riper they are, the sweeter. There is the green plantain and that is used to make fried crispy tostones, then the yellow plantain that is semi-ripe that is used in soups, mashed plantains (mofongo) and other dishes and then the ripe sweet blackjack plantain that is used as a side with most meat and rice dishes or for deserts. There is so much you can do with plantains! You just have to be creative and not be afraid to experiment.
I’m sure when the potato came to the New World most people were unsure on how to prepare the potato but eventually they found 1,000 or more ways to create delicious dishes using the potato. Just like in New Orleans, the famous dish Bananas Foster was created because New Orleans was a major port for bananas from Honduras. Tons of bananas were flowing into New Orleans ports daily and one day in 1951, Chef Paul Blange at Brennan’s restaurant in the famous French Quarter created the mouth watering desert and the rest is history. Now of course, Latin Americans were making sweet banana and plantain dishes and deserts for years but Chef Paul Blange helped to make Bananas Foster a favorite in the history of American cuisine. It just goes to show you that Chefs and cooks who have an imagination can take a staple ingredient and give it some amor and creativity and voila! A dish that is passed down forever.
Sweet Plantain Lasagna or Pastelon de Platano Maduro is a contemporary dish. I assume the dish was made when Italians and Latin Americans crossed paths at some point. Perhaps in New York where Puerto Ricans and Italians would mingle. I’m curious to find out the history on the pastelon. Nevertheless, Pastelon de Platano Maduro is typically made in Puerto Rican or Dominican households. The sweetness of the plantain and the savory meat plus the melted cheese makes this dish a favorite in any household. My secret ingredient is sour cream. The sour cream makes the pastelon creamier.
6 yellow plantains (buy 2 extra plantains)
1 cinnamon stick
3 cracked eggs
2 cups of grated cheese
¼ cup of butter
½ cup of sour cream
1 tsp of sea salt
1 lb. of ground beef
3 8oz. cans of Spanish Style Tomato Sauce (Goya)
2 sprigs of chopped cilantro
1 small red onion
1 minced garlic clove
1 squeezed lime
1 tsp. of cumin powder
1 tsp. of Adobo seasoning
2-inch tall baking dish
- Season ground beef with salt, pepper, Adobo seasoning and cumin powder in a mixing bowl.
- Finely chop the onion, mince 1 garlic clove and chop cilantro. Set aside.
- In a shallow pan cook meat with onions until the meat is cooked.
- Drain the meat mixture. Add the meat mixture back to the pan and add the tomato sauce, minced garlic, 1 cup of water and chopped cilantro
- Re-season if necessary. Squeeze a lime over the meat mixture and simmer for ten more minutes.
- Remove from the heat and reserve.
- Peel the plantains and cut in large chunks about a ¼ diameter. The plantains should not be too mushy. If they are too mushy your pastelon will be watery which is why you should buy extra plantains. Take your thumb and press against the peeled plantain. If it is too ripe and you can sink your thumb into the plantain easily you will need to replace it with another one.
- Boil in water for ten minutes with 1 tsp. of salt and 1 cinnamon stick. Make sure that the plantains are tender.
- Drain, discard the cinnamon stick and set the plantains aside in a bowl to cool for ten minutes. After the plantains have cooled add butter and 3 eggs. Mash with a fork or potato masher.
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
- With a large spoon or spatula spread a light layer of the plantain mixture at the bottom of the baking dish.
2. Add the next layer with meat.
3. Take a spoonful of sour cream and spread it over the meat mixture lightly.
4. Add a layer of grated cheese.
5. Repeat layers steps and cover the rest with cheese.
6. Bake until golden brown and let the pastelon cool for at least ten minutes.