A woman I love, let’s call her OD, recently asked me to help her make more-Paleo choices that could reduce her inflammation and arthritis pain without requiring serious life changes. I told her to focus on replacing grains in her diet with non-grain starches like sweet potatoes and white rice, and replacing seed oils (like canola oil and other “vegetable” oils) with coconut oil and butter. That seemed doable enough for her–except for breakfast.
OD and her husband are big fans of traditional breakfasts: oatmeal and pancakes are staples. I suggested sweet potatoes as a replacement for oatmeal, and OD was on board–but her husband doesn’t like sweet potatoes. So I investigated paleo pancakes.
As I’ve said before, I don’t make a lot of paleo substitutes for non-paleo foods, mostly because I don’t like them as much as the “real thing,” and because I think there are enough naturally paleo foods I like that I don’t feel like I need substitutes. But I have a sweet tooth too, so I’ve done my fair share of paleo baking! The normal flour substitutes in paleo recipes are almond flour and coconut flour. They’re fine, and they serve a niche, but I find that they make baked goods too dense for my taste (besides, they’re relatively expensive, and almond flour is high in Omega-6, which makes it inappropriate for someone whose goal is to reduce inflammation).
First Attempt: Pumpkin
So when I was looking for pancake recipes for OD, I focused on recipes that didn’t rely solely on almond flour. I tried Paleo Pumpkin Pancakes that used canned pumpkin and a little coconut flour (I forget where my original recipe came from, but it was similar to this one). I thought the flavor was nice, but the texture was still a little dense for my taste. They were a bigger hit with my husband and toddler than they were with me.
Second Attempt: Plantains
I had never cooked with plantains before. I had a vague idea that they were like bland bananas, and I think I had mofongo once at a restaurant. But I didn’t really know how to pick a good one or what they were good for.
I’ve been hearing a lot about plantains recently because I’m really into gut bacteria these days. (Gut bacteria are at the heart of basically everything health related. I’m sure I will write more about this another time.) Green plantains are high in resistant starch, which is food for good gut bacteria (it’s called “resistant” because it is resistant to digestion–our bodies don’t use it as food right away, which leaves it available for good bacteria to use as food instead). I had already decided that I needed to make an effort to eat more green plantains when I stumbled across this pancake recipe from Paleo Mom.
They were so good! They were light and fluffy like regular pancakes, and they have no ingredients that I don’t feel great about consuming! There’s no almond flour or coconut flour (which I consider to be “sometimes foods”), and there isn’t even any sweetener (most paleo baked goods use honey, maple syrup, or coconut nectar). I kept feeling like I had to pinch myself, so good were they–flavor, texture, and healthiness were all right on.
Unfortunately, I got the stomach flu that night, so I never want to eat them again. But I am going to use more plantains in my life now that I’ve had one runaway success—I think it might even be the secret ingredient that changes my mind about paleo baked goods!
If you’re like I was a week ago–i.e., not totally up to speed with what plantains’ deal is exactly–here are the basics so you too can feel comfortable cooking with them for the first time:
How do I pick a plantain?
- Green plantains are the highest in resistant starch and lowest in sugar, so they’re the healthiest. They have a pretty neutral flavor, which some people compare to potatoes, but they still taste like bananas to me.
- Yellow plantains are basically pointless. If that’s all that’s available at your grocery store, leave them on your counter until they ripen.
- Almost-Black plantains (yellow, covered almost entirely with black spots) are ripe. These are sweet and banana-y.
How do I get them open??
- Cut them in half crosswise, then again lengthwise, to make quarters. Pry your thumb between the fruit and the peel. It’s basically the same principle as opening an envelope.
What do I do with them now?
- Plantain flour–if you have a dehydrator, dehydrate green plantain slices, then grind in a food processor to make a flour that you can substitute 1:1 for wheat flour in recipes (more on that here if you’re interested).
- Plantain chips–I fried up thin slices of ripe plantain in coconut oil and topped with a little kosher salt. They were great–the perfect combination of sweet and salty.
- Mofongo–this is a Puerto Rican side that is often served with pork.
- Ripe plantains can be grilled or boiled and mashed for a sweet side dish. You can even eat them plain if you like them–they’re basically just less-sweet, more fibrous bananas.
- There are all sorts of fancypants South American preparations you can read about on Wikipedia. Let me know if you try something you think I should add to my repertoire!