Bananas are not fruits at all, but a giant broad-leaved herb! They are also reported to be one of the first plants to be cultivated and gathered by humans. Joseph Banks reported the banana growing wild in Queensland as a “kind of wild plantain whose fruit was so full of stones that it was scarcely eatable”. These days, bananas have had their seeds (stones) bred out so that the plants are now sterile and only reproducible through human help.
Bananas are, however, a zippered purse full of vitamins, full of dietary fibre, Vitamin C, potassium, complex carbohydrates and natural sugar – an instant energy pill. Try this for an indulgent treat. Peel ripe bananas, place several slits in each and insert chocolate frogs. Wrap in foil and bake over BBQ coals. Or wrap with butter, sugar and rum (optional) and cook the same way. Lift from the BBQ with tongs onto a serving plate, split them and let the contents slide onto the plates. Serve with your favourite icecream.
Bananas are also used to make essence, vinegar, flour, starch and beer!
Green bananas or plantains can be sliced thinly, deep-fried and salted, or boiled whole in the skin with 1 tspn vinegar added to the water, then mashed with butter and finely chopped chillies as a vegetable. Or boiled green bananas can be sliced lengthwise, soused in lime juice and water, and mixed with chopped onions, cucumbers, parsley and red capsicum. Plantains are used extensively in Indian Cuisines.
When bananas are too ripe to eat, make banana cake or banana muffins for Sunday breakfast. Yum!
Thai cuisine has around 30 varieties of banana, each with its own characteristics and taste. India has many types too, I suspect.
These are the rusty purple buds that contain the sterile flowers of the banana plant. The taste is astringently sappy, yet, when prepared properly, slightly creamily bitter. Banana blossoms are normally shredded and added to salads or curries. The unshredded but separated leaves are sometimes served raw. Indian cuisine uses banana blossoms extensively.
When purchasing, choose a large bud with a good even colour. Open one or two of the outer leaves, if the inner leaves are beginning to firm, then choose another. There is a lot of wastage, with 2/3 of the bud being discarded in cleaning. Only use a stainless steel knife, as the flesh discolours the moment it touches any other metal. If the blossoms are to be grilled, char them whole and then discard the outer blackened leaves before cleaning.
To prepare the blossoms, remove the outer coarse and coloured leaves to reveal the creamy white heart. Quarter the heart lengthwise, rub quickly with lemon juice or lime juice, remove the core and shake out the very bitter stamens by flapping the quarter against the palm of your hand, then immediately place in salted acidulated water. Repeat with the remaining quarters. Do not slice more than half an hour before use or the blossoms will discolour despite the acidulated water.
A fast and easy way to pickle cleaned banana blossoms is to wash them in salted and acidulated hydrolysed lime water, before squeezing to extract the bitter sap, and then marinating in a strong solution of lime juice, salt and sugar for 2 – 3 hours. Rinse before use. (from David Thompson,Thai Food)
Banana leaves are natural wrappers, long used in Mexico, the Caribbean, SE Asian and Indian cooking to enclose food for steaming and grilling, and as a base for eating. They keep liquid in and add a subtle flavour to food. They come fresh or frozen. Rinse and dry fresh leaves before using them, and cut away fibrous stems. The softer leaves are best, and grilling, steaming lightly or blanching in boiling water before use will make old leaves softer and able to be bent to your will.
They have medicinal properties. Banana leaves are said to have digestive as well as healing properties, and hence enhance food served on them or cooked within them.
Banana skins are also edible and can be made into spicy lovely dishes.
From the A Note on Series
- Spices: Turmeric the Wonder Spice
- Spices: Red and Green, Fresh or Dried – On Chillies in Indian Food
- On Ghee and Ayurveda
- A Shopping list for a month (1972)
- On Indian Bayleaves (Teja Patta)
- On Indian Flatbreads. Pancakes or not?
- On Cooking with Yoghurt
- On Indian Chutneys
- More on Cooking Sambar – Hot, Salty or Sour?
- On Cooking Vegetables for Sambar
- On the Making of Sambar Powder
- On Indian Curd, Yoghurt and Buttermilk.
- On Lemons and Limes (Nimbu) in Indian Recipes
- On Parsley Stalks
- Red and Green, Fresh or Dried – On Chillies in Indian Food
- What not to do with a Chef’s Knife and a Blender
- What’s in Your Flour??