Gabby’s Puerto Rican “Arañitas”
Here’s a salty, tropical snack to get you through the work week.
By Elizabeth Czajkowski | Columnist
Since “Bananas” stole the spotlight in last week’s article, I thought it would only be fair if, this week, we gave some recognition to the banana’s lesser known, salty, starchy twin — the plantain. Although these two fruits may look the same on the outside, they are prepared and eaten in very different ways. To provide you with some “insider knowledge” about plantains, I tracked down an expert: Wheaton College’s very own, Gabriela Szostak ’21, who is quite familiar with this flavorful fruit because of her Puerto Rican heritage.
Puerto Rico offers a vast menu of culinary dishes including empanadas, fish, roast pork and staple meals such as arroz con pollo (rice and chicken) and arroz con gandules (rice and pigeon peas). And, of course, we cannot forget the vibrant tropical fruits such as guava, pineapple and coconuts. Yet, among these many delicious foods, the plantain reserves a special place in Puerto Rican cuisine. “They’re a very typical Caribbean food,” Gabby said. “We eat them all the time in Puerto Rico. Most people will eat potatoes or something like that as a side dish, but we eat plantains.” She says it is common to find plantains served as mofongo, a much-loved Puerto Rican dish, or sold as fritters at little food stands on road sides.
Like bananas, plantains change color as they ripen. They go from green to yellow to black. “People either eat them yellow — and they have a sweeter flavor — or green, which has a more savory, salty flavor,” Gabby said. However, unlike bananas, plantains are almost always cooked before they are eaten because they are so starchy.
Gabby’s favorite recipe using plantains, “Arañitas” (literally: little spiders), is a fried dish passed down from her abuela. Her mom has been making these fritters since Gabby was little, and cooking has always been a way for her and her mom to spend time together. Gabby remembers that when the two of them first started making these “spiders,” the oil in the pan became too hot too quickly and started popping all over the place. “I just remember it popping all over the kitchen and we were screaming and running around and we’re like, ‘Ahhhh! What do we do?’” Gabby said, laughing. “So, that’s why you always increase your heat slowly. And then, we had to clean the kitchen afterwards.” She added wryly, “So that was fun.”
As Gabby shared her memories and spoke about her heritage, she radiated the joy and animation that she noted was so beautiful about the Puerto Rican side of her family. Whenever she visits her abuela, who lives “in the middle of nowhere in Puerto Rico,” she says the whole family ends up coming over. Gabby recounted that there are “like a hundred people. All these cousins and uncles and people I don’t even remember, and it’s just so fun because it’s such a party every time, and everyone is so friendly and so excited to see you.”
As she spoke, I was reminded of the unique power food possesses to transport us into memories and bring us together. Gabby said cooking not only functions as a love language for her mom, but it is also something near and dear to her own heart and a great way to spend time with family. When I asked why her family recipes are so important, Gabby remarked, “It’s just fun to cook these things with my mom and to know that I get to show my kids one day. And, these traditions — they don’t have to die off even if I don’t live in Puerto Rico in the future. I can still have these Puerto Rican traditions that I can show them.”
Luckily for us, Gabby was willing to share her abuela’s “Arañita” recipe and give us a little taste of Puerto Rico. This recipe is simple to make and incredibly delicious (The best part of writing this article was that I got to taste-test. Five stars from me!). If you are craving some yummy, crunchy fried food after a long, hard day of classes, this is the perfect snack to whip up.
Gabby’s Puerto Rican “Arañita” Recipe:
– 2 large green plantains
– ½ tsp. of adobo seasoning (or ¼ tsp. each of salt, pepper and garlic powder)
– Vegetable oil to fry (enough to fill the bottom of the pan)
Peel plantains. (Use a knife to cut about a ¼ inch shallow slit down the length of the plantain and peel open.)
Optional: soak peeled plantains for ½ -1 hr. in warm salt water.
Shred plantains using a hand shredder or food processor.
Place shredded plantains in a medium bowl and mix in seasoning.
Form into thin patties.
Fry on medium to high heat for a couple minutes on each side until golden brown.
Expert tip: place plantains on a plate with a paper towel to soak up extra oil.
If desired, season with more adobo or serve with ketchup.