How to Make a Malayalee Mad:

1. Call a plantain a banana.

2. Insist ‘It’s the same thing. The difference is just in the size.’ **head meets desk**

A clue-by-four with an unripe specimen of each should sort out the confusion.

Mallus are plantain-proud. Calling a plantain a banana is like pointing to someone’s prize racehorse and saying, “Nice goat”.

(Yeah, we’ve seen Malayalees using the two interchangeably as well. We hope it’s because plantains may not be readily available and may be substituted with bananas in a recipe.)

India accounts for 23% of the world banana and plantain crop, and while Indians use a variety of bananas, both ripe and raw, in a variety of ways, those from Kerala, coastal Karnataka and Goa have a fondness for plantains.

Around 327 B.C., Alexander the Great tasted plantains and bananas in India and took the seeds to Greece, from where they made their way to the east coast of Africa. The Portuguese brought them to Europe in 1516. African slaves popularised these fruits in North America, the Carribean and south America. Now, they are the fourth most important food commodity in the world after rice, wheat and maize.

bananatree.jpg

Banana plant. Singapore, 2006.

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

Technically, all plantains are NOT bananas, but all bananas are plantains.

The plantain is a species of the genus Musa and is generally used for cooking, in contrast to the soft, sweet banana (which is sometimes called the dessert banana). The population of North America was first introduced to the banana plantain, and colloquially in the United States and Europe the term “banana” refers to that variety. The word “banana” is often used incorrectly to describe other plantain varieties as well, when in fact the generic name is “plantain” and the specific varieties are cooking plantain, banana plantain, bocadillo plantain (the little one), etc. All members of the genus Musa are indigenous to the tropical region of Southeast Asia, including the Malay Archipelago and northern Australia.

(Source: Wiki)

In fact, the Spanish word for banana is plátano (plantain), and the ones on steroids that we call ‘plantains‘ are called plátano macho (big plantain).

Bananas have more sugar and less starch, plantains have less sugar and more starch, akin to a potato. It’s the starchiness of the plantain that leads many people to confuse it with an unripe banana. For a pictorial comparison, see THIS POST.

Bananas and plantains are so ubiquitous to Kerala and its cuisine, that the word for banana ( ‘pazham‘ ) is the same as the generic word for ‘fruit‘. Unripe, green bananas are called ‘kaaya’, and are cooked up into a variety of dishes, including banana chips.

The green banana is used to make a stir-fry (upperi/mezhukkuparatti), so is its skin. Banana stem and banana flowers are also part of the menu in Kerala households. The banana leaf is the natural plate on which traditional meals are served.

As for the plantain, in Kerala it’s consumed both green and ripe (unlike in Latin America and the Carribean, where they have a pronounced preference for green plantains, as in Tostones and Sopa de Platano).

plantains.jpg

Plantains

A plantain is not just a longer banana. It has a richer, more complex flavour.

When green to almost yellow, they are very starchy – perfect for boiling and frying. When yellow to brown, they are fruity and firmer than bananas. When the peel is black, they are at peak ripeness and at their sweetest.

They are increasingly available in regular grocery stores, and always in Caribbean, or Hispanic stores.

The most popular dish in Kerala with green plantains is the fried chips. (Varutthupperi)

There is a protocol of shapes when it comes to serving them.

As Ammini Ramachandran explains in Grains, Greens and Grated Coconuts,

Plantains are cut in three different shapes for frying. For serving at feasts, they are generally quartered lengthwise and then cut crosswise into triangular sizes. To serve as a snack, they are cut either as full rounds or as half rounds.

Both the fruit and skins are used to make a stir-fry.

In Kerala, ripe plantains (nenthra pazham) – uncooked or cooked – find their way to the table quite regularly.

There are the sweet fritters fried/grilled in ghee (clarified butter). If there is indeed a path to paradise, it is paved with them. Check this out. And this.

And pazham pori (fritters dipped in a flour batter)

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B’s favourite breakfast and snack: hot steamed plantains.

Steamed plantains go to Hima @ SnackORama for What’s your Favorite …Snack.

And the glorious Nenthrapazha (Plantain) Pradhaman.

We also make savoury dishes with Ripe Plantains.
One of them is Kaalan – a coconutty yogurty curry with vegetables. Kaalan is an important part of any Malayalee festive meal. Ripe Mango Kaalan is out of this world, but it was a surprise to find this recipe for Kaalan with ripe plantains in Grains, Greens and Grated Coconuts.

The word “curry” often evokes a sense of tropical spiciness. Although in Kerala we prepare a variety of spicy curries, we also have some mildly sweet, tropical fruit curries that are cooked in a mellow coconut and yogurt sauce.

The tartness of the yogurt, the heat of the green chillies, the creaminess of the coconut, and the sweetness of the plantains and the jaggery create a perfect balance of flavours.

In addition to ripe mango and ripe plantain, kaalan is often made with ash gourd (winter melon), spinach and taro root.

Always keep the curry on medium heat. High heat will lead the yogurt to split.

curious-turtle-copy.jpg

Nenthrapazha Kaalan (Kaalan with Plantain)

(from Grains, Greens and Grated Coconuts)


2 firm, ripe plantains, peeled and cut into half-inch chunks
1 tsp crushed black pepper
salt to taste
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
2.5 cups freshly grated, or frozen coconut (we used 1.5 cups)
3 to 4 serrano or Thai green chillies
2 cups thick yogurt (we used 1.25 cups)

For seasoning and garnish:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tsp. dried mustard seeds
1 dried red chilli, halved
12 to 15 fresh curry leaves
1 tsp fenugreek seeds, panfried and crushed
2 tbsps. jaggery (or brown sugar) (we used 1 tbsp)

1. Cover the plantain chunks with water, add black pepper, turmeric and salt and cook over medium heat until fork tender.

2. Meanwhile, grind the coconut, green chillies and half the yogurt into a smooth paste.

3. Add this to the cooked plantain pieces with the remaining yogurt, stir and cook on medium-low until it comes to a boil.

4. Heat the oil. Add the mustard seeds. When they pop, add the red chilli and curry leaves. Remove from the stove. Add the crushed fenugreek and pour the spices over the curry.

5. Stir in the jaggery, cover and let it rest for ten minutes, to allow the flavours to blend.

Serve with plain boiled rice and another side dish, as is traditional.

- B.

Nenthrapazha Kaalan is our entry for Jihva for Ingredients, hosted by Mandira @ Ahaar. The current theme is Planta… Bananas.

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Thanks, Manisha. :D

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46 Comments

  1. Cynthia says:

    Well thank you very much for this post and the info, I don’t have to do much searching for info on the plantain :) My column this week talks about the Caribbean love for plantain and some of the dishes we make with it.

    I have been confused as I’ve read blogs using the words banana and plantain interchangeably, thanks very much for clearing it up for me.

  2. Manisha says:

    I thought you meant that prize racehorse and goat were used interchangeably! :rofl:

    Ammini’s kaalan is fabulous. It changed my mind about ripe cooked plantains forever!

    So did Jai ever wear it?! :-D

    he’s saving it for a special occasion with a lot of mallus around. – b.

  3. musical says:

    Kaalan is the best, especially manga kaalan :) . My friend Ms. Moon always tells me that even without fridge, kaalan has a long shelf life, running into more than a cpl. of days!! Very cute post, folks :-D

    Hotel Kerala Fornia, :D

  4. Nags says:

    hehehe.. nice write up on mals and plan.. oops! bananans. Though I was born and brought up in Kerala, to be really honest, I used to use the terms interchangeable too :D

    thanks a ton for linking to my ghee-fried bananas. They sure are heavenly.

    Took me 27 minutes to completely read your blog, following most of the links in it :)

  5. Nags says:

    Ok, two corrections in my comment above.

    bananans = bananas

    interchangeable = interchangeably

    * I hate typos!

  6. Madhuli says:

    My mallu friends would make me say ‘pazham’ and laugh at the way I pronounced it! lovely photos as usual!and that turtl/tortoise looks so cute in the Nenthrapazha Kaalan photo! :)

  7. Nabeela says:

    Hotel kerala-fornia……….. :rofl:
    gosh, you guys come up with some of the funniest stuff :tongue:

  8. Sig says:

    Hehe hotel kerala fornia is funny :rofl: Is that a t-shirt, and where can I get one? :laugh:

    yep, it’s a t-shirt. don’t know where to find it – got it as a special gift ! – j

  9. Rachna says:

    yeah haaaaa :rofl: i actually called up my hubby and sang karela-fonia and he was :rofl:……..can i email it to my mallu friends, pleeeeeeeez

    ….yeah i luw… hot steamed plendens with puttu… and pazham pori… thangew thangew… for dis loowly post…
    :love:

    here’s a more reader-friendly version.
    http://churumuri.wordpress.com/2006/06/13/gods-own-country-oh-hell/
    - b.

  10. pelicano says:

    Oh my! That’s quite a little ditty to the tune of that song that I seem to only hear when a bit …er…tipsy. Have you and Manisha been smoking nanner-peels and getting mellow yellow on the sly? :-)

    I might have to disagree with you on just one little-itty-bitty statement in your post [ducks to avoid the whip]: When I was in Mexico we had fried ripe plantains for brekky a few times. [ducks again] Dusted with cinnamon and sugar. [ducks and runs for his life] Really good!

    cinnamon? yikes!!! we think cinnamon should be restricted to savoury dishes. so that dish you mentioned is not legit. :nono: – b.

  11. pelicano says:

    Oooops… can you unslant me after “smoking”?

    done

  12. Raaga says:

    I heard this song at a neighbours and man did we laugh!!

    We don’t get nendrams here… but I like the prep :-)

  13. sra says:

    :laugh:
    My earlier comment didn’t get through I think – here’s another jingle for you (allowing for spelling mistakes): celebrates the Malayali in quest of fortune – to be sung in a Malayali accent. Not sure if it’s Mal or Mal-accented Tamil

    Nyaan oru lottery bumper ticket vaangi
    Naalai nyaanum oru millionaire aagum
    Patrakarangal ende photo edukum,
    Jolly life, ah, jolly life!

    Bombay ku poyi, Oberoi il thangyi
    Cabaret kaanum,
    Ende (bathroom)kooda AC aagum!
    Jolly life, ah, jolly life!

    yeah, someone sang this for us the last time we were in india, guitar and all. :D – b.

  14. Zlamushka says:

    Hi Bee,

    oh, i love the little cute turtle trying to get into the bowl… Oh, it makes the whole dish look so yummy.. ;;)

  15. lakshmi says:

    so would vazhakkai (in tamil) be a plaintain that’s a banana? i think of it as unripe plaintain, though its quite common to label it raw banana (as it shows up in the bill) in madras – i hope head doesn’t meet desk.

    Vazhakkai would be green banana. Nendrankkai would be plantain. At least one other person in the blogosphere thinks so! ==> http://srefoodblog.blogspot.com/2005/06/vazhakkai-podimas-plantaingreen-banana.html -j

  16. Asha says:

    I always keep telling people that! Bananas are NOT Plantains!!:)
    Kalan looks yum.

  17. Kanchana says:

    so hilarious! Love the kerala-fornia…

  18. Padma says:

    I first fall in love with Kalan was when my Mallu friend used to bring this in her lunch box, I used to digg in after those long hours of standing in our chemistry lab-T.Y.Bsc ….this reminds me of her mom preparing and my friend used to bring that in big horlicks bottle for me, when my mom was out of town…lot of memories attached to it and thanks for refreshing them Bee!

    And I am not confused anymore when I hear a mallu saying Plantain n we call it a banana :D

  19. Rajitha says:

    mmm..i loove kalan…it always tastes better the next day tho..yummy!!

  20. Mekhala says:

    Do you know what the reddish colored banana (both the pulp and the skin have a red tone) is called in Kerala?
    In Kannada cuisine, the the inner stem of the plant (‘dhindhu’ in kannada) is also used, specifically to make a yogurt based dish, almost like a raita. Do you happen to have any recipes for the stem?

    http://www.pachakam.com/recipe.asp?id=997

    http://www.tarladalal.com/ViewContributedRecipe.asp?recipeid=1794
    – b.

  21. sandeepa says:

    Hotel Kerala -Fornia…. :laugh:

  22. mandira says:

    J & Bee, great to see a delicious entry from you. Wouldn’t have expected anything else :) the t-shirt is awesome.

  23. Mekhala says:

    Thanks Bee. I forgot to mention in my previous post, as usual this write-up was very nice. Very hilarious! So, do you know much about the reddish colored banana?

    i don’t know much about it. – b.

  24. Saju says:

    never mind plantains – what about matoke?
    the East African green banana! the best of course hehe

  25. “A plantain is not just a longer banana..” ROFL! :rofl: :laugh:
    Very informative post, as usual! Mallu joke: What did the mallu bank manager tell the customer that made him (customer) faint? :)

  26. Shweta says:

    I am still laughing!!! :rofl:
    And thanks for visiting my blog and for the tip about FoodBlogDesam. I am there now :)

  27. Anh says:

    Bee, your post is wonderful! I before didn’t know the differences between banana and plantains. But after cooking with both of them, now I know! So much differences! See, the look can be deceiving!

  28. Pravs says:

    Good to see a post to clear out the differences and show the yummy dishes that can be made with plantain. Steamed plantain is my fav too.Thanks for the link up.

  29. Mekhala says:

    ‘Most welcome’ for your comment on the menasina saaru. I was checking with you about those bananas because we used to call a reddish colored banana ‘nendhra baale’ and we used to be told that it was from Kerala. I’m guessing it was called so because it was a type of plantain.

  30. Swapna says:

    Funny title, lovely kaalan, and hilarious song. I just sang the whole song on the tune of Hotel California. :D

  31. Suma Gandlur says:

    I don’t think I have ever come across ripe plantains. I checked Manisha’s blog for the pics.
    Are green plantains ripened? Can we do that at home?

    you can probably leave them in the pantry until the skin is blackish. – b.

  32. sharmi says:

    thats a lovely post. I have a doubt, do you just have to steam and eat them? would love to try the kaalan sometime.

  33. Hima says:

    This snack is something new to me. Never tried a steamed plantain. Will have to try it sometime. Thanks for sending it to me for my event.

  34. pelicano says:

    ;;) Don’t blame me! The Mid-easterners did the cinnamon-sugar thing first…I’m just a messenger. :dance:

  35. pazino says:

    nyaan oru malayali alla pakshey enikki kurcho interest unndu. pinnae ningaludaiya anaivarukkum nyaan namaskaaram

  36. pazino says:

    vazhai pazham enbathu migavum nalla pazham .ithu namathu udalukku niraya nanmaigal tharum.anmai aaraichiyil intha pazhathidku iruthayam sampanthapadutha noyei ethirkhum aatral undu enbathu theriya vanthullathu.nandri.

  37. [...] Plantain is different from Bananas at Jugalbandi [...]

  38. Chennette says:

    I know this is an older post, but I must have missed it :-D
    while the Latin American caribenos may focus on green plantains, in our parts of the Caribbean (English speaking) we use ripe plantains alot – steamed as in your picture and served as a side dish to our creole cooking, or sliced and fried till it’s caramelised and yummy – the latter we grew up eating with sada roti and fighting for the browner/blacker bits.

  39. Purnima says:

    HAAAAAAAA! Whery Hillarious-Fonia! :D

  40. Zarina says:

    Hi,…the Kaalan recipe looks so good. I’d like to know if the grated coconut used is the one with skin or without. I have some grated coconut with skin. Can i use that?
    Thanks!

    fresh, not dried – preferably without skin.

  41. Anonymous says:

    Can we get Nenthrampazham here in the US? What name is it sold under? I fell in love with the steamed ones a long time back, and hoping to try it again.

    yes, in the hispanic stores, caribbean stores or even in walmart. it’s called ‘plantain’.

  42. [...] If you’re not familiar with plantains, please check out how a Plahnden is differend from a benana. [...]

  43. [...] is a type of warm salad where starchy veggies (like tubers or green plantains) are cooked with spices and coconut, mashed (while retaining their shape), and served topped with [...]

  44. Hello, I’m interested in Caribbean cooking and am using it for my ICT GCSE. (Don’t ask how!) But I want to know who took the second picture,(The one with the two whole plantain.)as I need it for my questionnaire and do I ghave permission to use it and your website? Many thanks!



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