Social 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.
I 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.
And 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.
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.)
Prepare & 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.
Cut 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.
Once 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!)