The Dish: Learning to cook plantains with Amaryllis 'Amy' Rivera Nassar from Amy's Pastelillos

Plantains can be bought, cooked, and enjoyed in every stage of ripeness and have a ton of versatility.

Thursday, May 9, 2024
The Dish: Cooking with plantains from Amy's Pastelillos
Plantains can be bought, cooked, and enjoyed in every stage of ripeness. They have lasting power and a ton of versatility.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- If you've ever walked past the plantains in the supermarket and said: "I love to eat these, but I don't know how to cook them," you're in the right place.

The owner of Amy's Pastelillos in Fishtown has made a successful, and delicious, career out of using her food to teach us about her Puerto Rican culture.

Amaryllis "Amy" Rivera Nassar just opened her first ever storefront for Amy's Pastelillos. It's a bright pink beacon of Puerto Rican cuisine in Fishtown.

"A pastelillo is a Puerto Rican pocket," she explains. "It's a flavorful island snack. I intentionally call them pastelillos, because that's the way I know them."

In Puerto Rico, plantains are a staple.

"It's a cousin to the banana," she explains. "It looks like a banana. It grows like a banana in bunches. But it's definitely not a banana."

The Dish: Learning to cook plantains with Amaryllis 'Amy' Rivera Nassar from Amy's Pastelillos

That's because you cannot eat these raw. They must be cooked.

Plantains can be bought, cooked, and enjoyed in every stage of ripeness. They have lasting power and, Amy says, a ton of versatility.

We start with the bright green ones.

"This is the the time span where you want to make tostones," she says.

Tostones are crunchy, savory and salty.

Peeling the green banana is tricky. Amy recommends wearing plastic gloves because, you will stain your hands. You cut off the ends and make a slit down the side, using a knife to gently pry the plantain from the skin in one piece.

Once it's peeled, slice it up and sprinkle garlic powder, salt, pepper and a little adobo seasoning.

"It's like a nice spice blend, which we use often on the island," she says.

Amy wets her cut up plantains, so the seasoning sticks. Be careful if you do this, because they're about to hit hot oil. You can use vegetable or canola.

"One important thing is that you want them to be coated in oil, so that they can fully fry all around," says Amy.

When they're golden brown, it's time to smash.

"One tool that we use a lot in Puerto Rican cooking is a tostonera," she says.

It flattens the plantains to get the famous tostones shape. You can use a plate or a cup, anything flat.

Now, we pop them back in for one more flash fry. Once they're golden, toss with salt and grab a garlic sauce for dipping.

With the green plantains, we also made plantain chips and mofongo.

"Mofongo is like a plantain smash and usually it's served with some sort of protein," says Amy.

Next, we're making maduros with the super ripe plantains. The darker the plantain, and the more brown spots, the better.

"Sweet plantains are way, way easier to peel and fry," she says.

We cut these slices on a diagonal and do NOT season.

"The sweetness of their natural like sugar gives it the flavor that it needs," she says. "I generally don't add anything to it."

Sweet plantains fry up quickly. They're sweet, and soft.

"All of these variations of a plantain can be your mains, they can be sides," she says. "They're very versatile."

Bringing the culture and flavors of Puerto Rico to Fishtown

Amy serves the sweet plantains as sides to her pastelillos, which are the stars of the show.

She started playing with flavors and fillings in her home kitchen, back in 2018. From pop-ups to markets to special orders, the "Pastelillo Lady" got VERY popular over the past six years.

In March, Amy finally opened up own storefront. She needed a bigger kitchen and her own space.

Here, she's stuffing her pastelillos with seven different fillings, from guava BBQ pork to beef picadillo, shredded chicken, vegan options and the popular "pizza" flavor.

"Its like a margarita pizza inside, which I know sounds crazy. It's one of the most popular on the island," she says.

Crowds are lining up for lunch.

"This was a great introduction of our culture, our food, to a lot of people," she says.

Her dishes represent the scented memories of her childhood.

"My mother was a cook," Amy says. "She cooked all the time. Every day at three o'clock there was food ready to eat."

But that's NOT how Amy learned.

"My mom would always kick us out of the kitchen and tell us to come back when it's ready," she laughs.

Now, Amy creates each dish and each flavor, in her mother's memory - from rice bowls to stews to classic Puerto Rican sides, to her famous pastelillos.

"The amount of love and support that I'm getting is amazing," she says. "I thought I would just open my doors quietly, but that's certainly not the case. It's been lovely!"

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