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For various reasons, historical (see: United Fruit Company, CIA involvement in Latin America) and practical (hold up during long shipments, ripen after being picked), bananas are one of the most common fruits in the United States and Europe even though they are grown far, far away. Plantains, on the other hand, are rarely seen. Before living in Colombia, my interactions with them were pretty much limited to the sweet plantains that come alongside the moros y cristianos (black beans and rice) served in Cuban restaurants, and as much as I may have enjoyed them, I never gave them too much thought.
Cue Colombia, where plantains are featured in some way or another at almost every meal. There are different varieties of plantains, from tiny finger-sized ones to large ones far bigger than any banana, and plantains are categorized by their ripeness: verde (green), pinton (in between), and maduro (yellow/sweet). Depending on the stage they are in, plantains are cooked in different ways. One of my favorite plantain preparations is the aborrajado, a classic of valluña (from Cali) fritanga. Sweet plantains are split, filled with cheese and sometimes guava paste, and then fried in a tempura-like batter. Yes, it is as delicious as it sounds. Yes, my sister double-ordered enormous aborrajados the first time she had one. And yes, you can make them at home! See below.
Cut the ends off the plantains, then slice through the peel to cut each plantain in half. Cut each half in half vertically through the peel, then remove the peel (see the first photo at the beginning of the post). Lightly film a skillet with oil, then sprinkle it with salt (this will help keep the plantains from sticking and season them just a bit). Place the plantain quarters cut-side down in the skillet, then cover the skillet and place it over low heat. Cook for a few minutes until the plantains are golden (check on them to make sure they aren't browning), then use a spatula to flip the plantains over. Cover the skillet again and cook for another couple of minutes while the second side turns golden. Turn off the heat.
Remove the plantains to a cutting board and use the spatula to gently flatten them, being careful not to break the plantains. Cut the cheese into 4 long, narrow slices so that each slice will fit within the confines of the flattened plantains. Place one plantain, cut side up, in front of you, then place a piece of cheese on top, then another plantain, cut side down, making a sandwich. Press down gently but firmly to secure it as best as possible, making sure that no cheese is sticking out the sides. Continue making sandwiches with the rest of the plantains and the rest of the cheese.
Heat 2 inches of oil in a medium pot over medium-low heat. Line a plate with paper towels and set it next to the stove. In a shallow bowl, whisk together the flour, egg, sugar, a pinch of salt and 2 tablespoons of the water until smooth; you should have a thick pancake batter. If it´s too thick, whisk in the rest of the water by the tablespoon. When the oil is hot (test this by dropping a bit of batter into the oil-- if it sizzles and floats up immediately, the oil is ready), dip a plantain sandwich into the batter, covering it on all sides (this can get messy, it is what it is), doing your best to keep the sandwich closed and together. Immediately drop the sandwich into the oil. After a minute or two, when the aborrajado is light golden brown on its underside, use a spatula to flip it over and continue to cook another minute until it´s light golden brown all over. If the aborrajados are browning very quickly turn down the heat. Remove with a slotted spoon or spatula to the paper towel-lined plate. Continue with the rest of the plantain sandwiches.
Serve hot or room temperature. Serves 2 (2 small aborrajados per person).