This week's look at what's new, bountiful or mysterious in the produce aisles:

Do not avert your eyes from this perfectly ripe plantain (PLAN-tin): It's the way many Spanish, Latin American and Caribbean cooks prefer to use it, and it's the way this bigger, tropical banana cousin is most often sold in Latin markets.

Plantains are more starchy than sweet, but the ones with the darkest skins will yield the sweetest reward.

HOW TO SELECT AND STORE: You may find green, yellow or black ones, but the latter probably won't be gracing your local grocery stores. The flesh of even the darkest-skinned plantain feels firm. Always keep plantains at room temperature. The best way to nudge along a green or yellow plantain is to place it in a paper bag and wait for up to a week.

HOW TO PREPARE: They're not usually eaten raw. Try them as an alternative to potatoes. Plantains are served as a side dish to arroz con pollo (chicken and rice), and in various soups and stews. Firmer, green plantains are the toughest to peel and are used to make tostones, the deep-fried fritters served in Salvadoran and Cuban restaurants. Yellow ones with a bit of black on the outside are somewhat easier to peel and are good for baking.

Although Northwest Washington resident Gloria Newcomb ate candied plantains at least once a week while she was a girl growing up in Ponce, Puerto Rico, she didn't learn how to make them until she was in her twenties -- at the elbow of her Aunt Olga. Fortysomething years later, she's still making them. If you leave out the sugar and spice, you've concocted platanos maduros.

Candied Ripe Plantains

6 servings

This is Newcomb's recipe, courtesy of her aunt. The prepared dish will keep for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator.

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 very ripe, dark plantains, peeled and sliced diagonally about 1/2-inch thick

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or 2 cinnamon sticks

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and add the plantain slices. Saute the plantains until they are golden, turning them several times. Add the water, sugar and cinnamon, bring to a bare simmer and cook long enough for the syrup to thicken, about 10 minutes. Transfer to plates and serve warm, or let cool, cover and refrigerate.

Per serving: 305 calories, 1 gm protein, 61 gm carbohydrates, 8 gm fat, 22 mg cholesterol, 5 gm saturated fat, 5 mg sodium, 2 gm dietary fiber

-- Bonnie S. Benwick