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The Versitile Fruit

I love plantains. It's a fruit that is in the same family as the banana, but unlike the yellow banana, a plantain can't be eaten raw. It's also a fruit that can act like a vegetable, which makes it even more awesome in my book.

Last week, I mentioned that cooking for myself is important. Chances are that if I'm cooking for myself (or a small group of people), it's almost positively going to involve plantains. I've had plantains for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; I've had them boiled, baked, fried, and pureed. They can be eaten when they are green and ripe but also when they are practically black and old. They are great with protein (like eggs for breakfast or griot for dinner) or in a soup, but I'm also happy to have them alone. It is without a doubt one of my favorite foods.

I often serve fried pressed plantains as an appetizer, but one of my all-time favorite dishes is plantain porridge (labouyi bannann). I believe this is typically served at dinner in Haiti, but I'm also perfectly happy to have it for breakfast as well. It's one of the dishes that friends and family will usually make for me when I go back to visit New York as a way to show they've missed me and want to share something they know I'll appreciate.

You might be asking how this fruit can turn in to porridge. I'm not sure that the translation is totally accurate, but once prepared, it sort of has the same consistency as cream of wheat (which is why it probably always seemed more like a breakfast food to me). Although I think of this as one of the ultimate comfort foods, it's not one that I normally serve to guests, but I love making for myself. It's filling, fairly fast and easy to make; it's one of the only foods that I don't mind having for leftovers; and it's guaranteed to be worth the time it took to make.

I do have a couple of friends who mentioned that they'd like to try non-party Haitian food, and so I occasionally serve them some of the food I would make for myself (or family) but not for a large crowd. The traditional recipe calls for evaporated milk, but since one of my friends is lactose intolerant, I've also tried this with soy and rice milk, so feel free to swap out the milk in the recipe for one that you prefer.

Plantain Porridge

Ingredients: 1 green plantain 1/2 can evaporated milk 1/4 cup finely grated coconut (or coconut milk) 2 cups water 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 cinnamon stick 2 star anise Pinch grated nutmeg 1/4 teaspoon lime zest 1/4 cup sugar (or to taste)

Directions: 1. Peel the plantain and cut into 1/2 inch slices.* 2. Add the plantain, peel, and 1 cup of water and blend until smooth. 3. In a small pot, add 1 cup of water, cinnamon stick, coconut, and star anise and bring to a boil on high heat. 4. Lower the heat to medium and stir the plantain puree into the boiling water. 5. Cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent from clumping. 6. Stir in the milk, sugar, lime zest, and vanilla extract and cook for an additional 5 minutes while stirring.

*To peel the plantain, cut off the ends (about an inch on each end) and slice the peel from one end to the other (be sure not to cut in to the plantain itself, but also be sure to cut through the whole peel). Remove the peel by pulling the peel away from the incision you just made from top to bottom (or use a knife). If the peel is not coming away easily, try making another incision on the opposite side and then peeling.

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