Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

West African Staple Food - Plantain {With Recipe for Spiced Fried Plantain}

Plantain Market, Nigeria
Photo Credit: International Institute of Tropical Agriculture

Throughout West Africa, plantains are regularly consumed either as a snack or side dish. They are related to bananas, but they are much starchier and the sweetness is more subtle. Though they can be eaten raw when ripe, they are usually cooked. Plantains can be fried, baked, boiled, pounded or dried and milled into flour.  They can be used at all stages, whether still green or overly ripe. 

A common way throughout West Africa to enjoy plantain is by frying it. Often known as dodo, green to ripe plantains are peeled and sliced diagonally, sprinkled with salt, and fried until golden in shallow oil. We tried Kelewele, spiced fried plantain, a popular snack in Ghana. They were tasty and fun.

Road side stall selling Dodo, fried plantain in Burkina Faso
Photo Credit: Roman Bonnefoy
This was my first time cooking with and eating plantain. The biggest challenge was getting them to ripen evenly, which is not an uncommon issue in cold areas (and our house is cold). Keep plantains in a warm area, and hope they ripen properly - sometimes they just harden up and become inedible. The riper they are, the sweeter they become, and we wanted just ripe plantains. They are also much easier to peel when at warm temperature, and soaking them in hot water for a few minutes can help.

How to Peel a Plantain

Peeling a plantain is not as easy as peeling a banana. Here are the steps, as demonstrated by Elle. 

  • First, cut off both ends.
  • Hold the plantain firmly, and cut through the skin without cutting into the flesh. Cut along the length of the plantain.
  • Carefully peel off the skin. Some pieces of plantain will stick to the peel (let it go), and some pieces of peel will stick to the plantain (cut off with a knife). Green peel will be much stiffer. 

Kelewele: Spiced Fried Plantain

We all enjoyed this snack. Make sure to eat them when warm - they do not taste good reheated. This recipe makes a small snack for 4 people, and can easily be doubled. Adapted from The African Culinary Network

  • 2 plantains
  • 2 tbsp roughly chopped red onion
  • 1 tbsp peeled and roughly chopped ginger
  • 1/2 tsp aniseed
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (or more depending on how spicy you like it)
  • Pinch of pepper
  • 2 tbsp water
  • oil for frying
  • roasted peanuts to serve with
1. Cut the plantain in half lengthwise, and cut into small bite sized pieces.

2. Combine onion, ginger and spices into a food processor or grinder, and process into a paste. Stir together the plantain pieces and paste together, and let sit to absorb flavors for 20 minutes. 

3. Heat a pan, and fill with about 1/2" of oil. Heat oil until hot, but not smoking.
4. Fry the plantain in batches, making sure not to overcrowd them. Fry, turning once, until golden, approximately 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Best for an adult to be doing this part, as hot oil can splash and burn.

5. Serve warm with roasted peanuts or try them alone. 



  1. Replies
    1. They were tasty, though I wouldn't say they are a favorite.

  2. They serve plantains at a couple of the restaurants we go to sometimes, and Jeff really likes them. I haven't tried them yet...


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