These are an adaptation of a coastal Ecuadorian recipe that my friend, Kenny, gave me. Traditionally, the plantains are fried, mashed, formed into balls, and then fried again. However, Kenny showed me that boiling the plantains and baking the balls yields results that are just as delicious. The balls can be formed ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake them. —Carlos C. Olaechea
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Meanwhile, combine the onion, lime juice, and salt in a bowl. Stir vigorously until the onions have softened somewhat. Set aside for at least 10 minutes.
Fry the bacon in a frying pan or skillet over medium heat until it is crisp and browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Reserve the bacon fat in the pan.
Season a large pot of water with salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, cut off the ends of each plantain. Make an incision down the length of each plantain with a paring knife. Now make an incision around the circumference of each plantain at the middle part of each fruit. Using your fingers, pry apart the peel from each plantain at the incisions. (It’s okay if the plantain breaks in half. Make sure to remove any strips of pith or peel that cling onto the plantains. These are tough and can be bitter.)
When the water comes to a boil, place all the peeled plantains in the pot. Wait for the water to come back to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium. Simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes or until tender. You should be easily able to pierce through a plantain with a knife. Turn off the heat and cover the pot. Leave the bananas in the water until you are ready to mash them. If you remove them too soon, they will lose their tenderness and become difficult to mash.
Rinse and drain the onions and fry them in the reserved bacon fat. When they start to soften, add the cumin and cayenne pepper. Continue frying the onions until golden brown, then remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
Drain the water from the pot containing the plantains. Mash the plantains using a potato masher or a fork until all the plantains are broken up. Add the fried onions, bacon, peanuts, queso fresco, and cilantro and mix well. Season with salt to taste.
Form the plantain mix into balls. You can choose to make large balls for a main course or small balls for a cocktail-party appetizer. Place each ball on the baking sheet and brush with vegetable oil. Bake for 15 minutes until lightly golden and crisp.
I was born in Peru to a Limeño father and a Texan mother. We moved to Miami when I was five, and I grew up in the "Kendall-suyo" neighborhood—often called the 5th province of the Inca Empire because of its large Peruvian population. I've been writing about food since I was 11 years old, and in 2016 I received a master's degree in Gastronomy from Boston University. A travel columnist at Food52, I'm currently based in Hollywood, Florida—another vibrant Peruvian community—where I am a writer, culinary tour guide, and consultant.