Multiple personalities come naturally to the banana or plantain, which is, surprisingly, classified as a large berry. This botanical berry that certainly resembles no other hangs from an enormous herb, or so it is called. What Appears to be a tree trunk is actually the sheathed bases of spirally arranged broad leaves, which form at ground level.
The trunk-like tube of overlapping sheaths supports the mass of upper leaves and drooping clusters of fruit. The real stem is a large underground rhizome, a bulblike growth that extends massive roots from its underside. When the fruit is picked, the plant is cut down. It then develops suckers that become new "trunks," then flowers, then fruits - for up to fifty years in some areas.
SELECTION AND STORAGE: As far as we can tell, unless a plantain is dry - hard, squishy, moldy, or cracked, it's good for eating. Do not be put off by any amount of browning or blackening; that's the way plantains look. What state of ripeness you choose depends upon how you plan to cook the fruit. Kept at room temperature, it will slowly ripen through every phase and store for a considerable time, as well. (Occasionally plantains do not ripen properly, but harden instead; fully ripe black plantains should give like firm bananas. If they are hard, throw them out.) It pays to buy an oversupply if you don't regularly find plantains in your market. Do not refrigerate plantains unless the are at the stage you wish to use them, or the will stop ripening. Even when ripe, they'll hold for a bit; so unless you have a mass of fruit and a heat wave, there's no reason to fill up the refrigerator with them. Like bananas, plantains freeze well. When sufficiently ripe, peel, wrap each tightly in plastic, then freeze.
USE: Green or greenish plantains, which are very hard and starchy, have little banana flavor and no sweetness. They are generally cooked in the same ways as potatoes and require comparable cooking time. They are best when thin - fried as chips, made into tostones, or boiled in chunks to be added to salty, spicy soups or stews.
Yellow - ripe plantains can be used in these same ways, and will have a lovely creamy texture and light banana scent, once cooked. They are more tender than green plantains, but nowhere near as soft as bananas. You can rinse them, cut in fairly wide crosswise sections, and boil; then peel and serve as a side dish. Add them to soups, stews, and vegetable mixtures - peeling before or after cooking, as you prefer (they hold their shape better with peel). Mash the cooked, peeled plantain, mixing with Sauté or deep - fry plantain slices - diagonals, rounds, or full lengths - to accompany roasts, stews, or broiled meat. Or rinse the plantain. trim the ends, and slit it lengthwise; bake about 45 minutes in a moderate oven and serve as you would a sweet potato.