One of the things I like most about chefs here in Ecuador is that many seem willing to share their recipes. Of course, a recipe here is basically a list of ingredients, not always the amounts. There are a lot of assumptions made that the recipient (me) is going to know what to do with said ingredients as well. Luckily, I am a versatile cook and can usually figure it out.
That’s how I came to make Bolas de Verde – literally translated as balls of green but more appropriately called green plantain dumplings. A young Argentine who was cooking and groundskeeping at the Chirije Lodge made these for us. They were yummy and I just had to make them for ourselves! He gave me a list of ingredients, some basic instructions, and voila! I am now competent at making them.
When I first started talking about this online, I found out that family in England had never heard of plantains and then realized that there is a good chance that many Americans don’t know what they are either. They look like big bananas and come from the same family but they are a different beast. Green or unripe plantains must be cooked in order to eat them. They are very hard, almost like a potato. Peeling them leaves a sticky residue on your fingers that I was only able to remove by rubbing a little vegetable oil on my hands before washing them. Here in Ecuador, cooked green plantains are often made into a masa or dough to form pancake shaped tortillas or dumplings like the bolas de verde you’re reading about today. But they are also fried into chips, called chifles. Or into patacones which are round slices of plantain that are fried, flattened with a spatula, then fried again. They are a perfect compliment to ceviche!
Ripe plantains can be eaten raw but in Ecuador I have only seen them served cooked, usually pan fried until meltingly sweet. They are dessert-like but are served as a side dish to a main meal. They are delicious! If you let your green plantains sit on your counter for too long, they will become ripe – or as they are called here, maduros. Don’t get rid of them! Experiment and try cooking them too. We had them while camping – peeled then wrapped in foil with a little brown sugar and lime juice, topped with dried fruit and nuts, placed in the embers of the campfire for a half hour or so. Delicious!
I’ll make sure to track down more plantain recipes in the future, from both green and ripe plantains. In the meantime, I hope you’re able to find the fruit in order to make Bolas de Verde.
Bolas de Verde or Green Plantain Dumplings
4 unripe plantains (called verde in Ecuador; do not use green bananas but look for actual plantains; check your local Latin American Market if you can’t find them at the regular store)
2 small onions
2 cloves of garlic
fresh cheese or Queso Fresco – often used in traditional Mexican cooking so like the green plaintains, check that local store
salt and pepper to taste
neutral oil for sauteing and frying
Enjoy your finished Bolas de Verde! Some people add these too soups. But you can also buy them as a take away snack on the coast. Our favorite was to eat them is with a fried egg and a little aji on the side. But experiment and let me know how you like them best. Buen provecho!