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Appetizers, Sides

Seasoned Mashed Plantains (Machuca de Platano)

When Hernan Cortes first landed in Mexico in 1519, he brought with him an African slave he'd bought in Cuba. Thousands more would follow in the coming centuries, forever changing the face, the rhythms and the flavor of Mexico. Mexico ... Read more

Total time: 45 minutes | Serves 6 to 8
  • 3 large yellow plantains
  • 2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 2 to 3 jalapenos, stems removed, coarsely chopped
  • 1 white onion
  • 3 tablespoons lard, preferably home-rendered
  • 1 teaspoon salt, optional

Step 1Cut the tips off the plantains; cut each crosswise into 3 chunks. Place in a medium saucepan with water to cover by at least 1 inch. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, and cook until a knife easily pierces the skin and flesh, 20 to 30 minutes. If you are using less ripe plantains, the cooking time must be increased. Green ones may take 30 to 40 minutes and will not be as sweet as yellow ones. Drain well and peel, using a knife tip if necessary, to help detach the skin. Return to the pan and mash as smooth as possible with a wooden spoon or potato masher.

Step 2While the plantains are cooking, crush the garlic and jalapenos to a paste using a mortar and pestle, or puree in a mini-processor. Chop the onion.

Step 3In a small skillet, heat the lard to rippling over medium-heat. Add the garlic-chile mixture, onion and optional salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir the mixture into the hot mashed plantains. (Alternatively, heat the lard and cook the aromatics in a large skillet, then add the hot mashed plantains; the texture will be more dense but just as good.)

Step 4Cook, stirring, until the flavors are well blended, 3 to 5 minutes. Serve at once. (You can make the dish several hours ahead, but it will seize up to a most forbidding texture when it cools and should be briefly reheated in a microwave to restore the original consistency.)

Note: If you have ever eaten the fufu of West Africa and the Caribbean, you'll recognize the original of this dish. Fufu was once made (and still is in some areas) by laboriously pounding some cooked starchy ingredient by hand in a big tub or mortar until it came together in a ball and could be eaten. The track of African slaves in the Caribbean is also the track of fufu. The big variable in machuca de platano is the ripeness of the plantains. The dish is most suave and unctuous when made with ripe plantains. Green plantains (which would have been cheaper and more available) produce a very starchy mash that tends to become leaden if not eaten quite hot. Experiment if you like, trying to remember that plantains go through more stages of stubbornness and tenderness than can be exactly timed in any recipe. My own preference is to choose them on the semiripe side, yellow without a lot of black spots. My recipe is adapted from a version of machuca de platano in Raquel Torres and Dora Elena Careaga Gutierrez's important collection "La Cocina Afromestiza.".
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