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Fact: Nicaraguans like to deep-fry things. Cheese, chorizo, blood sausage, plantains—you name it, we fry it. I'm going to be very forthright and tell you that this dish is quite the guilty pleasure and it might stop you dead in your tracks, but it is well worth the risk of sudden heart failure because it is so impossibly delicious.
Maduros en gloria is a dish that appeared next to the pinky nail-sized red kidney beans (laced with lard, naturally) at my grandmother's expansive round table in Granada, and in my husband's grandma's smaller, air-conditioned dining room in the center of Managua. It usually arrives from these kitchens in a huge Pyrex, resting on a big silver tray, bubbling and sighing provocatively.
What is it exactly? Fried, ultra-ripe, sweet plantains layered with crema, queso duro (a very salty, crumbly cheese that in the accompanying recipe will be substituted by cotija), sugar, and cinnamon. And when I say ripe, I mean the sweet plantains are allowed to rest in the sweltering heat of our tropical climate until their skins turn black and the fruit flies go mad at the sight of them. This intensely starchy cousin of the banana is sturdy enough to withstand even a little mold on its skin; the inside will simply turn a deeper, orangish-yellow and sweeten. Once fried, the maduros caramelize and practically melt in your mouth. You'll see.
What does the name maduros en gloria translate into? Sweet plantains "in the glory," meaning that of heaven, full of fluffy white clouds and shot through with beams of soft golden sunshine. Among the many colorful names our language generously bestows on our foods, this is probably my favorite because, of course, we would add a dash of religion to a casserole. But also, it's true—even if you don't believe in the afterlife, this is nothing short of celestial.
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