Apr 30, 2013

Ivorian Aloco {Fried Plantain and Palm Oil}

Delicious, caramelized fried ripe plantains were my favorite snack during my growing up years in the Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast). Known as aloco in the the Cote d'Ivoire, this dish is usually eaten as a snack served on a piece of newspaper, or the evening meal alongside achekey (a couscous like dish made with grated fermented cassava, usually spelled attieke), pepper sauce, and fried fish. Somehow the combinations of these things is just amazing! The western palate, however, general prefers sweet plantain not mixed with savory fish and pepper. 

In Liberia this dish is usually referred to simply as "fried plantain", and in Ghana it's known as kelewele.  Plantain is a very popular food throughout West Africa, and African in general, as well  as many South American countries where the plantain, also know as the cooking banana, is readily available.

Plantains are prepared in a number of ways in West Africa, and are a nutritious part of the indigenous diet. They can be thinly sliced and fried green to make a chip very similar to potato chips (only better!), they are fried when the fruit is yellow and ripe, as is pictured above, which tastes more like soft French fries, or they can be fried when the plantain is black and appears to be rotten, as is done with aloco. In the Cote d'Ivoire plantain is also boiled then beaten in a mortar with boiled cassava to prepare futu, a delicious doughy starch served with meat gravy. Plantains are also served roasted when very ripe over low coals, which is another personal favorite.

When fried with a healthy oil, such as palm oil as is traditionally done, aloco can be a healthy side dish or snack. Aloco is an example of a modern day tribal food and is appropriate for paleo, primal, whole foods, and traditional foods diets. The basics to this recipe are plantain, oil, and salt, but some people add ginger, garlic, hot pepper, onions or a combination of these. My favorite is the ginger. 

Plantains are now available at most large supermarkets, as well as ethnic food stores. You can often find rich red palm oil at your local ethnic food store as well, or order it online at Tropical Traditions. Those who may not like the earthy taste of palm oil should now that it blends perfectly with the plantain and any strong taste is no longer noticeable.

Many people who grew up in West Africa crave aloco. But there are several tricks to getting that authentic taste. First of all, you want the fruit to be at the perfect stage of ripeness. Like the banana, as plantains ripen the starches are converted into sugar and the fruit gets more and more sweet. This is part of the secret to aloco. The plantains should be black with a few spots of yellow still visible.  If you notice some mold developing on the skin the fruit is getting too ripe and starting to spoil beneath the peal. (Though portions of it will probably still be okay to cook). Cooking them has to be done correctly as well. You want the pieces to be perfectly caramelized without falling apart or burning.

Aloco-perfect plantains. Mostly black with a touch of yellow still remaining.

Ivorian Aloco

3-4 Tablespoons palm oil or coconut oil (preferable unrefined for no coconut taste)
2 very, very ripe plantains, cut into 1/2 to 1 inch pieces (not sliced)
2-3 teaspoons finely chopped or grated ginger root, optional
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium-low heat (number 4 on my stove) for about five minutes. Combine the remaining ingredients. Spoon the plantain evenly into the pan. Cook for about five minutes, then with a fork, carefully turn the pieces. Do not use a spatula or spoon as the pieces will be very fragile since they're so ripe. Cook for another 15 minutes, turning carefully at each five minute interval until the pieces are caramelized and dark brown. 

Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Or don't drain if you aren't bothered by healthy oil!

Preparation time: 2 minutes. Cook time: 20 minutes. Servings: 2-3

After about 5 minutes of cooking.

Perfectly caramelized.

{This recipe is linked up at Tasty Traditions and Whole Foods Wednesday.}

 What ways have you found to incorporate plantains into a modern diet?


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