The history of the plantain can be traced to Southeast Asia as far back as 500 B.C. Alexander the Great brought plantains to Europe around 327 B.C. They made their way to Madagascar from Malaysia and India during the Trans-Saharan trade boom sometime around the 8th century. Along with yam, banana, and other food crops, plantain became an important factor in the prosperity and rapid expansion of the Bantu Kingdom of central and southern Africa around 1500 A.D. Portuguese sailors discovered both plantain and bananas in their travels to the African continent and populated the Canary lslands with their first plantations. It is believed that a Portuguese Franciscan monk first introduced the plantain to the Caribbean island of Santo Domingo in 1516. It wasn't long before the plantain made its way throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. Today, plantain is popular in many parts of the world, and is a staple in Latin American cuisine.
Plantains are cooked either when they are under-ripe and starchy or overripe and sweet. I don't care very much for the bland, starchy taste of under-ripe plantains, so I rarely eat them unless they are truly ripened, with the skin darkened to a deep yellow color that is covered with many black spots. Unless I get extremely lucky and find overripe plantain at my local Latin market, I may have to wait a week or more after buying plantains to prepare this tasty stew.
How wonderful to revisit one of my favorite cookbooks, Veganomicon and find that I only needed to omit 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil to make this a very low-fat dish. I also omitted the cilantro, as I think the flavors of the beans, tomatoes, peppers, and plantain really shine through without it. You can find the recipe here, along with a nutritional analysis.