Growing up in New York City has its privileges, one of which is being exposed to many different cuisines starting at such a young age, often without realizing what a treat it was to eat the foods of various cultures. Celebrating Thanksgiving at school, for example, meant slicing into a juicy, tender chunks of pernil with sofrito instead of the classic American roasted turkey or scooping into the smooth, silky, custard flan made by your best friend’s titi (aunt), carefully getting the right amount of precious caramel into your spoon or else the bite would lose its delight.
See the recipe: Tostones with Parsley Garlic Sauce
Once in a while, my family and I would head down to our local Chinese-Cuban restaurant (seemed like there were so many of these restaurants back then and now I realize what an anomaly they are) where we would order a juicy bistec a la palomilla (cube steak with sautéed onions) or bistec empanizado, (breaded steak) always with the prerequisite side orders of moros con cristianos (black beans and white rice), platanos maduros (soft pan-fried yellow plantains) as well as an order of crispy tostones, twice-fried ripe green plantains (plátanos verdes) that have been flattened into little disks, served best when drizzled with garlic oil.
Tostones are found in various cusines from Latin America, especially those from the Caribbean, including Venezuelan, where great big slices of the twice-fried green plantain substitute bread, making the sandwich called a patacón (Puerto Ricans call it a jibarito). For me, tostones were and remain one of my favorite dishes from my childhood. When classic French fries won’t do justice to my burger with chimichurri, I whip up a batch of tostones. For hors d’oeuvres, I switch out the slices of bread toasts and serve up ceviche with tostones. And, when I really want to harken memories of the beach, I’ll serve a refreshing seafood salad with a fresh batch of warm, crispy tostones. However, sometimes there is no need to gild the lily when all a great tostón needs is a simple garlic sauce to top it off. There’s perfection in simplicity.
Note: Tostones are made with ripe green plantains that can be found at any Latino bodega or supermarket. However, if you’re overwhelmed by the sheer variety of bananas and plantains, ask the grocer or the ladies who are shopping for their own bunch of plátanos.
Photography: Amber Gress