These fried plantains, or ndizi kaanga, are an easy Tanzanian side dish that brightens any plate.
As Ma Vicky taught us, plantains are a huge part of Tanzanian cooking, and there are tons of varietals and different ways of preparing each. These simple fried plantains are best made with bright yellow plantains that are somewhere in between the firm, starchy-green underripe plantains and the super-soft, super-sweet, almost-black overripe plantains. Fried in a little butter (or ghee) and finished with a splash of fresh lemon juice and a sprinkle of both salt and nutmeg, these plantains ride the line between sweet and savory. [Editor’s Note: This and other recipes we’ve seen for this preparation slice the plantains much more thickly than tostones. If you prefer, you can slice them 1/2 inch rather than 1 inch thick and adjust the cooking time as needed.]
Serve on their own for a snack or alongside rice pilaf, cooked vegetables, and grilled meat or fish for a complete meal. You could even sprinkle them with a bit of brown sugar as they cook, finish them with a splash of rum, and serve with vanilla ice cream for a Tanzanian version of bananas foster.–Hawa Hassan & Julia Turshen
Do I need to smash the plantains before cooking?
No, you don’t. Not for this recipe. That’s traditional for tostones, a Caribbean preparation in which the plantains are sliced, then smashed to an even thinness prior to being fried. But this tradition is just as lovely in a different way.
Fried Plantains ~Ndizi Kaanga
- 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 oz) unsalted butter or ghee
- 2 large (18 oz) yellow plantains peeled and cut into 1-inch-thick (25-mm) pieces on the diagonal
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the plantain pieces in a single layer and cook until dark brown on the undersides, 2 to 5 minutes.
☞TESTER TIP: A well-seasoned cast iron skillet works really quite well in place of nonstick.
- Carefully turn each plantain and cook just until the other side of each is lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes more.
- Transfer the plantains to a platter and drizzle with the lemon juice and sprinkle with the salt and nutmeg.
- Serve immediately. Leftovers can be stored in a container in the refrigerator for up to a few days and warmed in a skillet before serving.
☞TESTER TIP: If you have leftovers, just know that they’ll never have that just-from-the-pan bit of crispy-ness contrasted with the soft insides after sitting in a fridge, even if warmed in a skillet.
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We’d love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
It had been a while since I had tasted plantain and I had forgotten how filling this fruit/vegetable could be. This recipe works. It’s fast, it’s tasty, it’s nutritious. The plantain is an acquired not-so-much taste but texture. It’s unexpectedly dense and very filling.
Nutritiously, this fruit/vegetable is higher in potassium and magnesium than bananas. It is also high in fiber and has anti-inflammatory properties. The nutmeg and lemon juice brighten up the flavor. I used flaked salt, as this is my favorite finishing salt, and it delivered. The flavor and texture worked well in my sweet application paired with fresh blueberries and blueberry jam on a Dutch baby pancake. The plantain slices were thick in this application but would have worked well thinly sliced.
The plantain also warmed up well 2 days later to be served as a side to butter chicken and other veggies. I would enjoy this plantain recipe again but as a side vegetable to truly take advantage of the density and texture with a background savory sweet flavor profile.
This is a pleasantly simple recipe to follow! I cook plantains at home semi-regularly because they are so abundant here in the Caribbean, but I always choose between extremely overripe (blackening and attracting flies) for a sweet treat, and green for tostones. This was a nice change—the yellow plantains were not too sweet and still very starchy. The lemon and salt bring out a brightness to the dish that definitely kept me coming back for more.
These were eaten alone! We snacked on them while prepping dinner, and it was a lovely little appetizer, especially with the pronounced salt and acid. It was a delicious replacement for a restaurant bread basket with oil and vinegar.
Plantains are one of the easiest and most surprising instant dessert tricks I can think of, and I am super grateful to have discovered my appreciation for them because they were not part of my family tradition at all. I cooked them for the first time just a few years ago (no, I am not going to tell you how many decades old I am!) and it was a revelation. Again, a completely simple preparation that you can do on the spur of the moment. Also, they are NOT just for dessert!
Having cooked them before, I did panic a bit at the 1-inch-thick thick slice, and when the first side was done, I removed the slices and halved them to 1/2-inch thickness, and they cooked pretty much to the recipe, nicely browned (not scorched) on each side and cooked just enough all the way through so as to not be too raw and starchy in the middle. The lemon works nicely as you want that bit of acid note of contrast (lime would work in a pinch) and went well with a very light grating of nutmeg and a sprinkling of some Maldon salt.
They are so nice to eat right away I can’t see any making it into the fridge for the next day. Himself requested a bit of sour cream, and I added a dollop to the plate. (Crème frậiche would work beautifully or even Greek yogurt—I just picked the first one I found in the fridge.) Spying his empty plate, I asked what he thought of the nutmeg level (I don’t like excess nutmeg), and he said he didn’t taste nutmeg, it just all tasted good. That works for me. It is a lightning fast dessert yet feels special.
I think this is actually a better recipe than the tostones—easier and a great reminder to prepare plantains more often as they are regularly available at most grocers. With the thinner slice, this is a 10+ recipe and is not just for dessert.
Leftovers? What leftovers? A half a plantain isn’t a very large serving, whether served as a snack or a side, and I gobbled up a whole plantain myself, served as a snack on its own, without any trouble. A half a plantain would serve more as a garnish or an add-on to a meal with a number of other dishes.
And since these are so very quick and easy to prepare, I’d rather have them fresh from the skillet than refrigerated and reheated. I strongly feel the idea of serve immediately trumps the idea that these could be successfully reheated—they will never have that just-from-the-pan bit of crispy-ness contrasted with the soft insides after sitting in a fridge, even if warmed in a skillet.
My plantains were yellow, and I believe at just the right ripeness between green and black. I used butter, a lovely housemade butter from a cheesemonger at the farmers market that I happily had on hand and have been using everywhere I can, since it is so delicious. It’s salted, so I skipped the salt at the end, and just sprinkled with the nutmeg. I felt no lack of salt with this methodology. The salt grains atop the buttery fried plantain would have been a nice textural note, however.
And a great big yes to everything here! Butter (not oil)! And lots of it, despite the note describing this as a little butter, it IS quite a lot more than a little butter, use it all! Similarly, the lemon juice – I feared the full amount would be overpowering, but, with the plantain pieces cooked to a dark brown, the lemon perfectly complements the rich butteriness. And the pinch of nutmeg, just a pinch, brings the plantain + lemon + salt to a perfect finish.
Timings! I wanted to honor the cook-till-dark-brown directive, and to achieve this took a full 5 minutes; to get the second side to lightly browned was between one and a half and two minutes.
Lastly, though I ate these solo as a snack, I think they would be great for breakfast, nice with rice, happy as an accompaniment to greens and/or beans—and, I know! There is already the richness of the butter here, but I think a dollop, even a healthy dollop, of dairy like sour cream, crema, or crème fraîche wouldn’t hurt a bit!
Originally published December 19, 2020
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
This was my first experience with plantains and I was pleasantly surprised by the flavor of these. I found I liked them best when they were fried crispy and sprinkled with a little bit of brown sugar while frying. The flavor combination of sweet brown sugar mixed and the tang of the lemon juice was enough to satisfy my urge to snack.
I ate these just as they were, cooked in butter with brown sugar, salt, and nutmeg. They would be good topped with whipped cream.