Sunday, 24 June 2007

kelewele - spicy fried plantains

I’ve been wanting to cook plantains for a long time but I’ve never seen them in the grocery store. I guess that’s because I’ve been living in an Italian area for the past six years.

Recently Jonas and I moved into a new area. Initially I was a little sad and reluctant, because I’d moved away from a wonderful supply of ingredients, but now I’m beginning to brighten up.

I’ve discovered new ingredients from cuisines I’ve barely touched upon in the past. A specialist grocery store across the street contains an amazing array of items from the Pacific islands, India, Africa and Latin America. Fufu powder, palm oil, ajowan and tomatillos are just the tip of the iceberg.

And then I saw the plantains . . . a perfect final WHB before Jonas and I embark on our belated honeymoon in Bali, an island of Indonesia.


I’ve read that this Ghanaian snack is often sold by street vendors in Africa but that many Americans may be familiar with the dish through Kwanzaa cookbooks.

Traditionally kelewele are cubes of plantains, but I just couldn’t resist keeping the banana-like shape to remind me of the exciting source of this starchy snack.

I got this recipe from the website, which has a variety of Ghanaian recipes gathered from various online sources.

We did tweak the final step a little, using smoked sea salt rather than regular salt. This added a beautiful earthy, smokiness to the crispy pieces.

Recipe from Serves 2-3 as a side dish or snack.
2 plantains
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground chilli (cayenne)
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Vegetable oil for deep-frying
1. Mix the ginger root, chilli and salt then mix with water.
2. Toss together the plantain cubes and spice mixture. Allow to rest for at least 5 minutes.
3. Heat oil in frying pan then fry until golden on both sides, making sure they don’t gather together while frying.
4. Drain on paper towels, sprinkle with sea salt and serve immediately.
Note: some recipes use other spices such as ground cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, red pepper flakes and water instead of lemon juice.

It’s really important to keep the spice count up as plantains can be a bit bland on their own. They taste of potato with a slight hint of banana.

Plantains are very starchy fruit which are used more like a vegetable. They must be cooked before being eaten and are low in sugar content, although I suppose a black plantain (at its ripest stage) may be eaten raw.

It seems that green plantains are best for savoury dishes but when they get a little riper you can use them for desserts too.

Green plantains are very hard to peel and I used a potato peeler to get into the starchy flesh. In fact it’s so starchy my hands were coated with sticky starch even after washing.

Apparently they come from tropical South East Asia, particularly the Malay Archipelago, but they feature heavily in the diets of the Caribbean and west Africa. There they use plantains the way Europeans use potatoes: they can be fried, boiled, mashed or baked.

In Vietnam and Laos the plantain flowers are used to make salads and soups and the large leaves can be used as plates or wraps when cooking food. As the plant will only fruit once, after the harvest the stalk can be peeled to reveal a soft shoot which is also eaten.

This Weekend Herb Blogging is hosted by Astrid from Paulchen's Food Blog. Check out her site to see what's happening in the world of herbal cooking.

See you all again in two weeks!




  1. Mmm, quite interesting. I've eaten plantains in restaurants a few times, once in Miami and once in Puerto Rico. I was surprised to find they didn't taste as sweet as I expected, but I did like them. Interesting hearing the process for cooking them. I'm always learning new things from you.

  2. Never have eaten these but it's a very lovely dish I think!
    Thanks for joining WHB.

  3. I love fried plaintains but I've never tried them spiced. This sounds great!

  4. i've never heard of plantains is it like a raw banana?

  5. Kalyn - the plaintains were probably not sweet cos they were green :) When they are ripe they are VERY sweet :)

    Anna - like we were on a similar wave length, I also posted fried plaintains this week, but mine were ripe not green :) Hope your honeymoon is amazing :)

  6. I had plantains in all variations during our stay on Cuba, but I never found it here in Northern Germany.

  7. A while ago, I started telling myself to get a little more adventureous - I should go and track down those plantains!

    Have fun in Bali - I envy you, still stuck in the rain here in Sydney!

  8. I love Plantains! I first tried them years ago, when I was student teaching. During our "Around the World" Thanksgiving festival, several dishes with plantains were included. These look delicious...

  9. Have a great time in Bali - I just got back from a holiday there this week. I have food highlights posted over at if you get to see it in time, I hope it is of use.

    If you can find fresh kencur/'white tumeric' in Sydney on return, please post about it!

  10. This is a very popular dessert in Ghana. The recipe absolutely requires that the plantains be ripe, otherwise it's not kelewele. Had you used them ripe you would have found out that they taste anything but bland, they are very sweet; marinated in spices they take you to heaven

  11. I found Plantains at Walmart and I am frying them three different ways: regular with nothing but canola oil, cinnamon and sugar cane, and sweet paprika and smokey pepper blend. So far they are awesome.

  12. That recipe looks fantastic! I first discovered plantains while travelling in Africa, and love them - I've never been able to eat regular bananas, so plantains were a revelation. Any tips on where to find them in Melbourne?


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