plantain cornmeal bites with fontina and jalapeño mango sauce

I had a funny experience recently. I came across a blogger’s post that talked about her favorite restaurant in Caracas, where she used to take cooking classes. She told a story of a little girl who would come into the restaurant's kitchen while the chef was teaching, and ask for little balls made of plantain for her afternoon snack. It turns out, that little girl was me, and my grandmother was the chef! I do not remember these plantain balls, but I guess this recipe is proof they are somewhat buried in my subconscious, and  plantains have always been one of my favorite comfort foods.

I developed this recipe because I wanted to enjoy plantains in a snack-friendly, finger-food kind of way.These plantain balls are pillowy and the cheese in the middle is a pleasant surprise. Dipped in the jalapeño mango sauce (that you will want to use and drizzle on many other things) make these bites otherworldly, but that’s just me. In fact, I might just have to make my grandmother some and get her approval. 

plantain cornmeal bites with fontina and jalapeño mango sauce

makes about 10


1 plantain, ripe
½ cup fine yellow cornmeal or instant polenta
1 ½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ oz fontina cheese, cubed ½-inch pieces
½ cup panko breadcrumb, gluten-free if desired  
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ cup milk*

Peel plantain as you would a banana. If you’re finding it hard to peel, lightly slide the blade of your knife lengthwise to cut the skin.  Slice crosswise into 1-inch slices. Place in a saucepan and cover with water, add a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then down to a simmer and cover. Cook until tender 25-30 minutes. In a large bowl, mash plantain with a fork and set aside. 

Meanwhile, bring 1½ cups of lightly salted water to a boil. Lower heat to medium and whisk in cornmeal. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until mixture thickens and take off heat. (Please note if you are using stone ground or medium grind it will take longer to cook and more liquid will be needed, see package directions.) Pour cornmeal into a bowl with mashed plantain and mix well. Chill plantain cornmeal mixture until cool enough to handle. 

Once cool enough to handle, start shaping the mixture into 1-inch balls and make an indentation in the center of each one, stuffing with a fontina cube and reshaping into a ball as you go. Repeat with the rest of the mixture and cheese. Place panko breadcrumbs in a bowl and coat plantain balls. Plantain balls should be sticky enough for the breadcrumbs to adhere; if lightly patting the breadcrumbs to the balls doesn’t seem to work, dip them in milk* and then roll in panko bread crumbs. 

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add plantain balls to pan and cook for 4-5 minutes or until golden brown on all sides. Serve with jalapeño mango sauce. 

jalapeño mango sauce

makes ¾ cup 

½ cup mango, roughly chopped, about 1 mango
½ cup yellow bell pepper, roughly chopped  
½ of a jalapeño, seeded, roughly chopped
¼ cup of cilantro, leaves and tender stems
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil 

Place all ingredients minus olive oil in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until smooth. Drizzle in olive oil and pulse until combined. Serve with plantain cornmeal bites.