Puerto Rican inspired: The Gluten Free Jibaro


My favorite teaching job (so far) was at a Chicago Public School on the near West side. My class was made up of students from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Honduras. These kids, my colleagues – and that community! – were fantastic and vibrant. Very vibrant. No part of life went without color, music and laughter.

My students were members of a gifted program for Spanish-speakers. (Traditional “gifted” programs admit students based on verbal scores which are obviously an issue for second language learners.) When school would let out on the hot days, we would be welcomed out the door by the elote (corn on the cob) vendors and the paleta (Popsicle) carts.

Elotes (Ay-low-tays) were served on a stick and covered with butter, a drizzle of mayo (yes, mayo!), some salty and crumbly cheese and a shake (or more) of chili powder. Oh. My. Goodness.

And the paletas? (Pah-late-tahs). They came in flavors like strawberry, watermelon, raspberry, lemon… and my favorite: rice. I know that sounds bizarre, but if you know what an horchata is (rice-cinnamon milk), then you know what my rice paleta tasted like. HEAVEN, I tell you, HEAVEN!

And lastly? While these sandwiches didn’t greet me upon the school bell whistling, they were made close enough for me to pick them up for dinner. (And if I was *really* lucky, one of the non-teaching staff would pick them up for us for our lunch too!)

No… these babies are not low fat when picked up on the restaurant. Jibaro (He-bar-row) sandwiches were created by a restauranteur in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood (which is a virtual Little San Juan). The recipe creator, Juan Figueroa from El Boriquen Restaurant, certainly didn’t worry about your caloric intake nor your fats. His secret? He double deep-fries the plantains (which are used for the bread) and then fries everything else in butter. Oh yea. It’s good, but not exactly heart-friendly nor home-cook friendly. However, if you are ready for the plunge… you can read Juan’s story/description of the sandwich here or someone else’s recreation here.

After living far away from these tasty treats for far too long, we had to find a way to recreate the flavor – without all the fat.

One way we did this was by using maduro (or ripe and mature) plantains instead of the green, firm ones. Ripe plantains can have blackened skin, but we prefer to use the ones that are yellow with black spots. These plantains are softer than the green, but not nearly as mushy as the black ones. One plantain can make two sandwich halves. A regular jibaro sandwich is made with one full plantain but since we use the softer ones, it will fall apart more easily. So we make two smaller ones. (Want to know more about plantains and how to choose them/use them? There are several great recipes for plantains. Check out this site for more information. Or check our my cheese-filled, vegetarian empanadas made with plantains too.)

Here… let me lay it out so you can have your own alternative-bread sandwich. Get ready for the flavor, because it’s coming!

Gluten-Free, Homemade Jibaro Sandwiches
Makes 2, 4-5″ sandwiches
2 yellow plantains (see paragraph above for more info) – cut into halves and peeled.
1 sweet onion, sliced thinly for caramelizing
1/4 cup garlic mayonnaise (or just mayonnaise) (1/4 cup mayo + 2 garlic cloves, smashed and minced)
4 pieces of minute or skirt steak or thinly sliced chicken breast
salt/pepper (to taste)
chile powder (optional)
shredded lettuce
4 slices cheese (optional)
1 tomato, sliced thinly (optional)


  1. Mix together the smashed, minced garlic cloves and mayonnaise. Set aside (in the fridge) until needed.
  2. Make “bread” out of plantain. This just takes a little bit of practice (so be patient!) … a rolling pin (or can) and a large plastic (Ziploc) bag. First, cut the plantain in half. Then peel it. Gently flatten each half between two sheets of plastic (or in a gallon-size baggie) until it is about 1/2 inch thick. If it starts to come apart, gently shape it by pushing it together. Do these for all of your plantain pieces. Don’t try to move the plantain around after you have the shape/size you desire. Instead, move on to frying them.
  3. Instead of deep frying, we use a large griddle with about 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil to fry the plantain. Once the griddle and oil are piping hot, gently slide the plantain pieces on to the griddle. Allow the plantain to fry for 4-6 minutes or until browned/golden, then flip. Fry the other side for the same amount of time. Remove the plantain pieces and set aside while you prep you sandwich meats.
  4. On the griddle, caramelize the thinly sliced onions. Add the onions to the griddle. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Stir and toss the onions until nicely caramelized. Remove and set aside.
  5. Season your meat with salt/pepper. Add chili powder if you would like a little kick to your sandwich beyond that of the garlic mayo. Place your meat selections on the hot griddle and cook evenly. (We use thinly sliced steak and grill each side for 2 minutes until just done.)
  6. Assemble your sandwiches: Top each plantain piece with garlic mayonnaise. Add the meat on two of the plantain pieces. Then add onion, tomato, cheese and lettuce as desired. Top with the last piece of fried plantain and DIG IT!

The sandwich may fall apart a bit.
Consider it an alternative version of an old American tradition: the Sloppy Joe.
But better!

Happy eating all!


  1. Kristina says:

    I like your idea of cooking the plantains in the skillet rather than frying them- makes it healthier! What a great idea to use them as bread! This post made me laugh as you talked about the double-deep frying, because it reminded me of my host mom in Nicaragua. I lived with the family for the three months of Peace Corps training, and the food was great, but greasy and heavy. I loved her tostones, but told her that I couldn’t eat many because the grease was just too much for me. She told me that no, there was no grease in them, even though they were fried, because when you smash them, the grease just flies out of them! 🙂

  2. OMG! These look amazing. I can’t wait to try them.

  3. Just googling “gluten-free” and “wheat-free”, “puerto rican food” and seeing where it takes me. I am of Puerto Rican descent and live in Chicago….your entry made me laugh.

    • 🙂

      You know the glory of a good jibarro then, huh, Yvette? 😀

      Now, if only I could get my arroz con gandules to taste like it should. Then I could have a real meal. 😀 Right now, it’s either too greasy or flavorless. It amazes me that I can screw up rice that much too. LOL!

  4. This is a wonderful , really tasty recipe. Thanks for sharing !


  1. […] jibaro sandwiches (plantains, flank steak, etc) […]

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