How To Make Sweet Fried Plantains

How to fry plantainsSocial media is interesting, because it sometimes keeps people in our lives longer than they would be naturally. People move away, get new jobs, graduate, and before Facebook, that would herald the end of that relationship. Maybe years later you’d run into that person at Target or the grocery store or some kind of reunion, chat for a few minutes, and move on. Perhaps you’d be struck by the way they’ve changed or haven’t. Perhaps you’d remember their particular quirks or wouldn’t. Maybe you’d finish the conversation by saying, “We really need to get together sometime,” and then you’d say it again in five more years when you ran into them at Target again.

But now I can see the spouses of people I went to elementary school with. I can see the children of former boyfriends. I can find out which movie an old high school pal watched last weekend, and where a college friend took his last vacation. And the thing I find interesting is that whenever I see pictures of these people who I only see in my online life but used to know in my real life is that I’m still surprised by their outward changes.

How to fly plantains - ripeI think that however a person looked when you first met them, you always kind of expect them to still look like that, no matter how many years pass by. It’s as if that first age was their “real” self, and everything else is just time. If you met someone in high school, you kind of expect them to still look 16, and you look at their 36-year-old face and try to find the 16 year old lined in the details. If you knew someone in elementary school, you squint until you find the smile of the 6-year-old you played with at recess.

And when I think of it, it may not just be an internet phenomenon. How many times when you were a kid did an adult look at you in wonderment and say, “I remember when you were just a baby! I changed your diapers!” And then as an adult, how often do you look at kids graduating high school, kids who you clearly remember running around at your feet, saying their first words, and ask amazed, “How did this happen so quickly?” You look at them and expect to see a toddler where a young adult now stands.

Doctor WhoAnd while we all change and grow and time has its effect on us, there are some attributes that seem to stay.   My husband loved stop-motion animation as a boy. He still loves it now. He was obsessed with Doctor Who as a child. And now, every Saturday he avoids the internet to stay away from any Doctor Who spoilers. The more we change, the more we stay the same.

Two of my first early memories involve wanting to make a particular recipe. I know that I was 4 or younger, because of the house where we were living at the time. The first was on Mister Rogers. He was making a dessert using Chocolate Wafers, which he’d then intersperse with whipped cream layer by layer. In our town, we could only find vanilla wafers. But I remember going store to store, keeping an eye out for chocolate wafers so that I could recreate his dessert.

How different is that from my regular grocery store trips now where I’m keeping an eye open for galangal, or lemongrass, or achiote, or some other ingredient that I can’t easily find and therefore becomes a scavenger hunt of sorts? (By the way, I never found those chocolate wafers.  If only I’d had the internet back then…)

My second food memory was from Sesame Street. They were showing what different families eat, and they showed a little girl whose mom made fried plantains with their dinner. That sounded amazing to me – fried bananas! I had never heard of plantains before, and I didn’t know anyone who made them. However, I knew that I would love them.

Years later, once I moved to a large city, I found fried plantains on menus very readily, and just as I’d guessed, I loved them. Now I buy plantains, fry them at home, and enjoy them as a side dish.

There’s this thread that follows us throughout our lives, and we don’t quite know which things we’ll drop and which things we’ll keep. But it’s interesting to know that in every 80 year old, there’s a five year old too, even if it’s hard to see. (Except to his old elementary school pals, for them that’s who they see first.) And inside of myself there’s a 4-year-old, delighted anew about fried plantains for dinner.

How to fry sweet ripe plantains

Check for ripeness

The key to sweet fried plantains is making sure the plantains are ripe enough. As you’ve seen with a standard banana, when it gets brown spots and dots, it’s becoming sweeter and riper. With a plantain the key to sugary sweetness is waiting until it’s very ripe. Otherwise, the starchy plantain will have more of a potato flavor than a banana flavor. (If you want to make savory plantains instead, look for recipes for tostones.)

I like to buy my plantains while they are yellow and then wait for them to ripen at home. That way I can be sure that those black spots aren’t bruises from where someone dropped them. However, that means that it may take several days or up to a week until your plantain is fully ready. If you want to make sweet fried plantains tonight, look for ones that are already very ripe in the grocery store bin.  If you’d like your plantains to ripen more quickly, pop them into a brown paper sack.

To check for ripeness, lightly press on the plantain in the same way that you’d press on an avocado or mango. If it slightly gives under your thumb, that’s a good indication that the fruit is ready.

Next, look at its outward appearance. Some blackened areas are just fine, and I’ll even keep plantains that are mostly black in the refrigerator to stop them from going from very ripe to bad. (I do that with avocados too. Once they become the perfect level of ripeness, into the refrigerator they go, so that they don’t become unusable.)

How to fry sweet ripe plantainsPrepare & fry the plantains

Once you’re ready to use the plantain, cut off both ends. Using a knife, gently cut a seam down the middle. (Skins of plantains are thicker than standard bananas and don’t peel quite as easily.) Then peel back the skin and discard it.

How to fry sweet ripe plantainsCut the plantain into half inch pieces on a bias.  Lightly cover the base of a non-stick skillet with a neutral-flavored oil like organic canola or vegetable oil. (I generally use one to two teaspoons.) Bring to a medium to medium-high heat. (Plantains are prone to sticking, and so it’s much easier to use non-stick instead of stainless steel when frying them.)

Put the plantains in the warm pan, being careful not to overcrowd, and let them fry for a couple of minutes until they are brown on one side. Avoid moving the plantains, so that they can get nice brown coloring. Flip them and let the other side brown for a minute more. Then lower the heat, so that the plantains can get fully done inside without burning. At this point, if you need to move and/or flip the plantain occasionally to keep it from burning, go for it. In total, expect the plantains to cook for about 10 to 14 minutes.

How to fry sweet ripe plantainsOnce they’re ready, remove the plantains from heat and serve. Unlike some fried foods, I don’t put cooked plantains on towels to blot the oil, because they are prone to sticking. I don’t want any delicious plantain left behind on a towel. Plus, a little bit of sticky fried goodness only adds to the experience.

In the picture above, I’ve made plantains to go with a refried bean burrito – always tasty. Next week I’ll be sharing one of my favorite meals to serve with plantains! (Update: check out these Boozy Black Bean & Rice Bowls with fried plantains and guacamole!)

Breakfast Nachos with Refried Beans & Cashew Queso

Breakfast nachos - with cashew queso and refried beansWhen my husband and I first started dating, we’d spend every weekend together watching marathon viewings of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and ordering in food for delivery. We’d get pizzas, which we’d then top with chips for our own impromptu taco pizzas (since taco pizza isn’t sold in the Southland), Thai stir-fries, Mediterranean platters, and Indian curries. However, unless we wanted to cook, there was one meal where we were forced to go out into the world – breakfast.

Every weekend we’d lament that there was no available Breakfast Delivery Service. (Breakfast is the time people really don’t want to get up and showered and out of the house before coffee and food. With a breakfast delivery service, you’d just have to make it as far as the front door, hand off some cash, and say good morning to biscuits and gravy.)

Breakfast nachos - refried beans, creamy cashew queso, and tofu scrambleSo at least once every weekend and sometimes twice, we’d head to our favorite diner for breakfast and slide into one of their big, cozy booths. The diner was really old school with swivel stools around a counter, someone walking around with a pot of coffee to give your cup a “warm up,” and a server who already knew what our order would be because it was always the same.

This was before either of us had gone vegan, and after discovering it on the menu, every time I’d order the huevos rancheros. They made their huevos rancheros with a double layering of tostadas. There was one crisp tostada slathered with refried beans, which was then topped with another tostada, scrambled eggs, salsa, and cheese. As I broke my fork into the crisp tostadas with a crack, it made a terrifically satisfying crunch. I liked how there was a combination of hot and cold, soft, smooth, creamy and crunchy.

Breakfast nachos with refried beans, tofu scramble, and cashew quesoDuring the week sometimes I’d pick up a bag of tostadas at the grocery store and make my own version. The tostadas were easy enough to find in Southern California and pretty widely available. Where I live now, they’re less common. Plus, nowadays I like to choose organic corn products as much as possible, because they’re a common GMO crop. Finding organic tostadas is even trickier.  (I did make a baked version of the crisp tostadas for this Southwestern Tofu Tostada recipe a couple of years ago using organic corn tortillas.)

These days when I make my own version of the diner’s huevos rancheros, first, I veganize them with creamy cashew queso, easy refried beans, tofu scramble, tomatoes, onions, jalapeños, chunks of fresh avocado, and a smattering of hot sauce. And instead of round crisp tostadas, I use organic tortilla chips. I call them Lazy Rancheros, or more accurately, breakfast nachos.

(Note: I call for Ancho Chili Powder in the recipe, because I think it has a much better depth of flavor than your average chili powder. It’s the only chili powder I use these days. However, if you can’t find it in your area, feel free to swap it out with your regular chili powder instead.)

Breakfast nachos with cashew queso, refried beans, and tofu scrambleThis recipe has endless options. If your early morning energy fights against you making cashew cheese, refried beans, and a tofu scramble, by all means just pick two. Or make it as breakfast-for-dinner, or swap out the refried beans or tofu scramble for black beans instead. Or use these ingredients for a breakfast burrito! Stuff a tortilla with the scramble, beans, tomatoes, and onions, and then smother it in the cashew cheese sauce.

I am very heavily in the savory breakfast camp, and this platter of breakfast nachos is nearly perfection for me. A spicy scramble with hearty refried beans and creamy queso is a beautiful way to start the day.  So what is it lacking? Well, if I could just find a way to have it delivered to me while I’m in my pajamas, now that would be heaven.

Breakfast nachos - with tofu scramble, refried beans, and cashew queso

Breakfast Nachos with Refried Beans & Cashew Queso

Serving Size: 4


    Creamy Cashew Queso
  • 1/2 cup raw cashews
  • 1 cup vegetable broth (or water and half a vegetable bouillon cube)
  • 2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon white miso paste
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ancho chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt**
  • Tofu scramble
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup yellow onion, chopped small to medium
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup orange, yellow, or red bell pepper, chopped small to medium
  • 10 ounces super firm tofu from a vacuum-packed package*
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ancho chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup jarred salsa
  • Refried beans
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup yellow onion, chopped small
  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups (1 15 ounce can) pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3/4 cup water + a few tablespoons more, if necessary
  • 1/2 teaspoon ancho chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Ground pepper, to taste
  • Breakfast Nachos
  • Tortilla chips
  • 1 batch Tofu Scramble (above)
  • 1 batch Refried Beans (above)
  • 1 batch Creamy Cashew Queso (above)
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1 to 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • Toppings: chopped tomatoes, jalapeño slices, hot sauce


    For the Creamy Cashew Queso
  1. If using a non high speed blender, soak the cashews for 8 hours in water, and then drain them. If you're using a high speed blender, soaking isn't necessary.
  2. Using a blender, blend raw cashews, vegetable broth (or water and half a vegetable bouillon cube), nutritional yeast, white miso paste, cumin, ancho chili powder, and salt. Blend until totally smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides if necessary.
  3. Transfer the cashew mixture to a small pot. Bring the pot to a medium heat, stirring constantly. Continue stirring for about 10 minutes. If it begins to simmer, lower the heat. Continue stirring and cooking until the cashew mixture has reduced and thickened, making a velvety smooth queso.
  4. For the Tofu Scramble
  5. Bring a large skillet to a medium heat. Add extra virgin olive oil to the skillet, and sauté the onion, garlic, and bell pepper for a few minutes, until the mixture is fragrant and softened.
  6. Crumble the tofu into the pan with your hands. Add water, lemon juice, turmeric, cumin, coriander, paprika, ancho chili powder, and salt to the tofu. Stir until the spices are evenly combined with the tofu and cook for a few minutes, until the tofu is warm throughout.
  7. Add the jarred salsa to the tofu, spread evenly throughout the mixture, and cook for a couple minutes more until warm and combined.
  8. For the Refried Beans
  9. Bring a large skillet to a medium heat. Add extra virgin olive oil to the skillet and sauté onion and garlic a few minutes, until fragrant and translucent.
  10. Add pinto beans to the skillet along with water, ancho chili powder, cumin, oregano, and salt.
  11. When the water begins to simmer, lower the heat and continue cooking for about 15 minutes until most of the water has been absorbed, except for a couple of tablespoons.
  12. Using a fork or potato masher, mash the beans until smooth. If the beans are too dry, add water by the tablespoonful until they are soft and smooth like mashed potatoes, but not too watery.
  13. Add ground pepper and taste for salt, adding more if necessary.
  14. For the Breakfast Nachos
  15. Spread tortilla chips across a platter.
  16. Evenly spread spoonfuls of tofu scramble and refried beans. Generously spoon creamy cashew queso across the nachos.
  17. Add dollops of fresh avocado, fresh cilantro, and the toppings of your choice. Serve immediately with plenty of napkins.


*I like to use super firm Wildwood Sproutofu, which comes in a vacuum-packed package and doesn't have to be drained. If you use water-packaged tofu, first drain the tofu before using. You may not need to add the 1/4 cup of water, because the tofu will already be logged with water inside of it.

**I use a low-sodium bouillon cube. However, if your broth or cube is salty, either eliminate or reduce the added salt.

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