Arañitas, or ‘little spiders’, a traditional Puerto Rican dish, are simply grated plantains that are dropped into hot oil and fried until they are golden brown and crunchy. Easy to prepare, these spider-like pinches of grated plátano look like miniature potato latkes, and really, they taste similar, too. So similar, in fact, I researched to see if there was a connection. If there is, no one has written about it. Instead, it is believed that the dish may have been brought to Puerto Rico from Africa. However, the similarity is too great to ignore. With the allure of the french fry and a taste reminiscent of latkes, arañitas are irresistible to me. Make a batch and you’ll see.
I made a pile of arañitas for a potluck breakfast at UCLA. They were the first item gone without a trace. That’s because they are slightly sweet, a little salty, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside – a perfect combination of flavors and textures. Everyone was clamoring for the recipe once all that was left was a crumb that someone dived for when they thought no one was looking. I told them, “Grate some green plátanos, grab a pinch, sautee it in hot oil until they turn golden brown, flip them over, salt them and voila!”
“But we want the recipe!”
So, here it is:
3 green plantains
2 tbsp. coconut oil or grape seed oil
salt to taste
1. Peel the plantains.
2. Grate them into medium-sized shreds over a large bowl or container.
3. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Pinch a little ball of plantain shreds and drop them into the hot oil. They will stay together on their own as long as your plantains are fairly green.
4. Once the side facing down turns golden brown, flip the arañitas over and cook until the other side is crunchy and golden.
5. Remove and drain on a paper towel. Salt to taste.
6. Serve as a side dish with just about anything. I like to dip them in a spicy cilantro-garlic salsa and sour cream with chives, and eat them with black beans for a completely vegetarian meal.
7. Wow your friends in the morning when you tell them you ate little spiders for dinner last night. Hey, why not?
Makes 18 – 20 arañitas.
Note: Plantains are a rich source of vitamins A, B, C and potassium, containing more of each of these than bananas. They are also a source of fiber.
The Puerto Rican tradition is to soak the grated plantain balls in water for ten minutes before frying them. I skip this step as I don’t see what soaking them really does except make preparation take longer. Some people say it brings out the taste more, but I don’t notice a difference.
Green plantains are starchy rather than sugary. While many people who eat a low carbohydrate diet may shy away from consuming plátanos, especially when fried, we must realize that the fried plantain is eaten as a staple throughout the Americas, India and Southeast Asia where obesity is not a problem. If you are very worried about the fat content, try adding 1 tbsp. oil directly into the grated plantain, mix it thoroughly, and then place the little bundles into a heated skillet. They will still brown nicely, and have a lower fat content. However, when consuming a mostly plant based diet, plenty of fat is necessary to ensure that you are taking in enough calories.