Plantains appear similar to bananas, but whereas bananas are sweet, soft, edible fruit, plantains are hard and require cooking. In Uganda, where plantains are common, matoke refers to both local plantains and a staple dish made with boiled or steamed plantains.
Types of Plantains
Plantains are grown throughout Africa, South America, Central America and the Caribbean. There are several types -- some are commonly known as French, French Horn, Saba and Pelipita. In Uganda, the East African Highland plantains are most common. Each variety differs slightly in size and color, but all can be cooked and prepared in similar ways.
Plantains are a hard, starchy tree fruit similar in density and texture to potatoes and winter squash. Although plantains can be sliced thinly and fried, and then dusted with salt and spices, matoke is a dish similar to mashed potatoes.
Be sure you are buying plantains, and not unripe bananas, which are not starchy enough to be cooked for matoke.
How to Prepare and Cook
To prepare plantains for cooking, slice off each end, slice the peel lengthwise, and pull the peel off the fruit. Some plantain peels exude a dark liquid that may stain your hands, so wear plastic gloves as a precaution.
Slice the plantains into 1-inch chunks, place in a pot of salted water, using 1/2 teaspoon per quart of water, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the pieces are fork tender but not soggy, about 10 minutes. Drain in a colander and allow to cool for a few minutes so some of the water evaporates.
In a large bowl, gently mash the plantains until they are soft. They may be left chunky, or quickly whipped with a handheld mixer to a fluffy, creamy consistency. Add small amounts of milk, butter and cheese, if desired. Do not over handle, or the starches will break down and the matoke will become runny.
If you prefer, another traditional preparation is to steam the plantains above the water. Fill the pot with 2 inches or less of salted water and place the plantains in a metal steamer basket. Tightly seal the pot by placing paper towels between the lid and pot, and steam the plantain until tender. You could also use a stackable bamboo steamer to achieve the same effect.
Traditional Matoke Spices and Ingredients
Ginger, cardamom and black pepper are common spices in Uganda. Some matoke recipes also suggest adding crushed peanuts or peanut butter, fresh or dried hot peppers, cumin, coriander and tomatoes.
Some cooks use coconut milk to add a creamy texture instead of dairy.
Ways to Serve Matoke
Matoke is served as a side dish or as a basis for a savory stew and gravy which would be added on top.
It can also be served as a one-dish meal similar to goulash or shepherd’s pie. Prepare the matoke and meat separately, then combine and gently reheat shortly before serving. Add a small amount of hot water, broth or dairy -- milk, butter or cheese -- if the mixture seems too dry.