It may resemble a banana, but you're probably not going to want to gnaw on one raw.

Though closely related to bananas, plantains (often called cooking bananas) more often are treated like a vegetable, in part because they are too starchy to be eaten raw.

Common in tropical cuisines, plantains are high in potassium (higher, in fact, than bananas). They are used at all stages of ripeness, but it's best to purchase them green and let them ripen as desired at home at room temperature.

Green plantains are hard and the flesh is starchy, which means they can be cooked and enjoyed much the way you would a potato -- boiled, baked, roasted or fried.

When plantains become softer and start to yellow, the flesh begins to turn orange, but keeps its starchy flavor and texture. At this stage, it is best used it in soups and stews.

Once the skin has turned completely black, the flesh becomes sweet. The completely ripened fruit can be baked as a dessert or broiled, sauteed or fried as a sweet side.

This recipe for mashed plantains with scallions and fresh lime juice is inspired by a Dominican dish and is an easy way to learn how to use this fruit.

The savory, spiced puree is great comfort food, similar to mashed potatoes. Serve it alongside grilled chicken, pork or fish.

Mashed Plantains with Scallions and Lime Juice

3 green plantains

2 T. olive oil

2 scallions, greens and whites, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

14-oz. can chicken or vegetable broth

1 t. ground cumin

3/4 c. water

1 T. lime juice

1/4 t. salt

Ground black pepper, to taste

2 T. chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

With the tip of a sharp knife, make a long lengthwise slice in the skin of each plantain. Cut the plantains crosswise into 2-inch segments. Starting at the slice, pry away and discard the skin. Slice the pieces crosswise into smaller rounds and set aside.

In a large saucepan with a lid, heat the oil over medium. Add the scallions and cook, stirring often, until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for another 30 seconds.

Add the broth, cumin, plantains and water. Bring to a simmer, cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook the plantains until very tender, about 30 to 40 minutes.

Add the lime juice and mash the plantains to a coarse puree. If the puree is too thick, add water to thin it. Season with salt and pepper. Serve sprinkled with cilantro (if using). Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 247 calories; 74 calories from fat; 8 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 45 g carbohydrate; 3 g protein; 3 g fiber; 559 mg sodium.

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