“What!?!”you are asking yourself. “Bananas with garlic!?! Eeeeew!!!!”
But wait…this is not a sweet yellow eating banana dish. Nor is it a plantain dish. It is a savory, salty salad, served at room temperature and made with boiled green bananas (basically yellow ones – Musa sapentium – that are not at all ripe and must be cooked). They are widely used in the Caribbean and Central America because they are cheap and readily available. (For more on the origins of Puerto Rican ingredients, buy my ebook: Eat Your Way Through Puerto Rico!)
You might have a bigger challenge finding completely green bananas in your local supermarket; we usually get them at a Latin supermarket. I believe that Indian cooking also uses green banana; it makes sense, since the banana and all its relatives are believed to have originated in the Asian subcontinent, so if you have an Indian grocery near you you may find them there. And I have noticed that Costco’s bananas tend to be totally green; not good if you are looking for a raw fruit snack right away, but great for Latin cooking!
This use of cooked green bananas is something I only do for special occasions and I make a lot of it at once as it can be time-consuming. The cooking and prep time doesn’t bother me; it’s cleaning the pot afterward. Green bananas release some sticky substance when cut and boiled in the skin and it can leave a sticky residue on your pots.
You MUST ADD MILK to the boiling water to prevent this! (Before I knew this trick, I’d go down to the beach for some sand to scour the pots with. These days I have less stickiness and I use baking soda to get the last of it). This also keeps the color of the bananas pale which is nicer for the final product.
I love these cooked green bananas and this dish really attracts attention at the buffet table. Consider it a starchy side, like a potato salad or yuca salad, punched up with garlic and lime. It will feed a crowd and goes well with roasted or grilled meat, and fish with strong flavor. While it is good as leftovers for family, it tends to harden in the fridge, so for your guests, make it the morning of your event, don’t put it in the fridge, and serve at room temperature.
This recipe owes everything to Carmen Aboy Valldejuli’s Cocina Criolla (The English version is Puerto Rican Cookery). I have adapted only ever so slightly and included tips for an easier time in the prep and clean-up!
I really hope you will give them a try next time you see green bananas for sale.Don’t be intimidated by the length of the instructions. All the steps are quite simple.
Guineitos en ájili-mójili
(This will serve 20 as a side dish and is a doubled version of the original. Halve it for fewer people)
16-20 green bananas
1/2 Cup milk
3 Tbs salt
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. In the meantime, cut the tips and tails of the bananas off. With the point of a sharp knife, make two slits in the skin, one down the front and one down the back of each banana. DO NOT PEEL and try not to cut into the banana flesh.
When the water boils, add the milk, then add the bananas. Return to the boil, then lower to a simmer and simmer for 15 minutes, covered. Drain the bananas (dump the water; you’ll use fresh for the next step) and set aside to cool. In the meantime, clean up the pot (use baking soda on any sticky parts), fill with enough water to cover and add three generous tablespoons of salt.
When the bananas have cooled enough to handle, remove the peels (they will come right off usually, but you can clean the sides with a paring knife should some fibers from the peel stick) and return to the pot of boiling water. Boil gently (covered) for ten minutes, add another cup of water, then boil gently for another five minutes, then set aside to cool.
When cooled enough to handle, cut into 1” rounds and place in a glass or enamel bowl.
While all this boiling is going on, you should prep the sauce. A mortar and pestle is advised for this.
3-4 cloves garlic (2 Tbs)
3 ají dulces, seeds removed (sweet peppers; if you can’t find the kind in the picture – and make sure that they are not the spicy Scotch bonnet or Jamaican peppers which look the same – use the pale green, thin-skinned long cooking peppers known as cubanelles or Italian cooking pepper)
5 whole black peppercorns
½ Cup good olive oil
4 Tbs fresh lime juice
1 tsp salt
4 Tbs mild vinegar
Mash up the ingredients in A in a mortar and pestle. When you have achieved a paste, mix in the ingredients in B.
Pour the sauce over the cooked bananas and mix well. Stir occasionally before serving at room temperature, either with toothpicks as an appetizer or as you would a potato salad.