One way to thicken soups and stews, and avoid using wheat flour or roux (butter & flour), is simply to add a sliced, unripe Plantain to the pot.
Did you know that Plantains are edible at every stage of maturity? And they are healthy.
Plantains can be powdered (my neighbor turns hers into a fine powder that I can mix in with smoothies or milk for my son and his friends). They can be sautéed, deep fried, and baked.
To get a truly sweet, ripened plantain, you have to wait until the skin is soft and is very black, almost as if rotting! Look at the black plantain in the photo. This is thoroughly ripened and, hard to believe, you won’t find bruising when you peel it.
Because I like to avoid wheat flour if I can, and because I like my comfort food creamy, I can use green plantains to thicken my soups and stews, and avoid flour. (Gluten from the my olden days was not as chock full of the added “vital gluten” that permeates the prepared food market today. I am not an obsessive about this, or about anything. (Of course, if you have Celiac Disease you have to be strict!).
For me, a substitutes has to be easy, which means accessible and affordable, otherwise, I give up the quest. I sometimes use a few teaspoons of “Quinoa” flour to lightly thicken stews and soups. Quinoa isn’t cheap where I live, but since I need to sprinkle only a few teaspoons over my dish to thicken, it doesn’t break my purse. And since Quinoa is really a seed, it doesn’t have the same properties as a grain.
But my favorite easy-thickener is green plantains! I live in Central America where plantains are common and super cheap! They either grow for free in your back yard, or can be purchased for literally pennies at the market. Plus, I need only one for an entire pot of soup.
I simply cut it up and add to my stock, along with my garlic and onion and spices, and whatever else I am using to flavor the broth. Then I blend it all up before continuing with my soup.
Chopped Green Plantains, ready for stock.
Many people use corn flour and corn starch as a substitute for wheat flour. But this is still a grain and there are benefits to eating grain-free.
Years ago I read “Going Against the Grain by Melissa Diane Smith” and followed a strict gluten- and grain-free diet for about 6 weeks. The first two or three days were challenging, but then it became an easy ride! After four years of trying to shed the first extra 17 pounds I had ever carried as extra weight, those pounds literally fell away with stunning rapidity. And they never came back. Today, I do not follow a strict grain-free diet (hey…my favorite adult beverages are distilled from grains!), but I know I can if I need to. So when I can find an inexpensive alternative to using flour or anything made from grains, I go for it.
Green plantains can be sliced into rounds, deep- fried once, smashed by hand, or in a small press, and fried again to make “Patacones,” or “Tostones,” an alternative to French Fries.
Sweeter Plantains can be sliced lengthwise,then pan-fried until caramelized, to make Tajadas, and served as a side dish. They can also be baked in butter and brown sugar, and stuffed with farmer cheese, or Ricotta. Delicious!