Encountering Banana Blossoms
Strolling down the aisle at my favorite market in Chinatown I discover a new item, just when I thought I had already tried everything. I pick up a can that has a picture of what looks like unbloomed flower petals. The writing is in an Asian language, so I flip the can around and it says Banana Blossoms, in brine. I have used bananas in cooking as well as banana leaves, but this is a new one for me. I’m an international mutt and have some Asian cultures in me a little Indian as well as Indonesian, but this is one product I have never encountered. I decide to bring it home and give it a try. After all, every new ingredient is a new challenge. Also, at $1.65 a can, what’s to think about?
I go home armed with my new can of Banana Blossoms. Now the question of the day What do I do with it? I open the can and I taste a little piece. It is pretty tasteless. It doesn’t taste bad it just doesn’t taste like anything; neutral. I realize I need help. Some recipes would be great, but also maybe if I understand where they come from, I can better know how to utilize them.
Research proves fruitful. Banana Blossoms are the hearts of unopened banana flowers and are used as a vegetable in Southeast Asian cooking, particularly Thai, Vietnamese and Philippine cuisines. They can be eaten raw or cooked and are used primarily in soups and salads. In these countries, you can purchase them fresh, but here in the United States, finding fresh banana blossoms can be quite a challenge. Make your life easier and stick to the canned version.
I found a number of recipes, now which one to try? I wanted to choose a recipe where my banana blossoms were the star. I wanted to see what flavors it could absorb. I did not want it in a salad or soup that had so many different ingredients, picking out the blossoms would be difficult, so I decided on a recipe from the Philippines called Banana Blossom Gintaan, which turned out to be so delicious. I am hooked now.
The first thing I learned in working with this product is that as soon as you drain them, add some lemon juice. They oxidize very quickly. Banana Blossoms may be tasteless by themselves but they are like sponges, absorbing all the flavors they are put in. This is a great dish with onions, tomatoes, garlic, chili and coconut cream. These ingredients are a great marriage of flavors and the julienned banana blossoms absorb all the flavors. This is a unique side dish to bring to a potluck party and impress your friends or you can also serve it as a vegetarian entre.
For those of you not lucky enough to live near a Chinatown, you can order canned banana blossoms from www.ethnicgrocer.com. Please try some of these recipes and I hope your infatuation with banana blossoms is as everlasting as mine in.
Banana Blossom Gintaan
2 banana blossoms Juice of lemon
1 cup coconut cream 2 T vinegar
cup sliced tomatoes cup sliced onions
2 cloves garlic, crushed 1 T vegetable oil
2 dried red chilies S&P;, to taste
1 Remove the tough coverings of the blossoms and julienne. Add lemon juice and salt.
2 Heat oil in skillet. Add chilies when the oil is hot and let the skins darken. Add garlic and saut until light brown.
3 Add onion and fry until translucent, then add tomatoes. Cook for around 3 minutes. Add banana blossoms and vinegar and then bring to a boil. Simmer for around 3 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir. Continue to cook until banana blossoms are tender.
4 Add coconut cream and remove from heat. Let stand for a few minutes to help develop the flavors.
Bun Thang Hanoi Chicken Soup
1 medium chicken cup dried shrimp
12 cups lightly salted water 12 ounces pork spareribs, cut into large pieces
Pepper, Sugar, Fish Sauce, to taste 2 T shrimp paste
cup diced shallots 4 scallions, finely cut
1 medium onion, sliced 4 cups fine rice noodles, blanched
2 scallions, chopped 10 ounces sausage, cut into thin strips
3 T finely chopped cilantro 1 egg, beaten, fried and cut into strips
cup fried shallots Fresh ground pepper
1 lime, cut into wedges 2 small red chilies, sliced
1 cup bean sprouts 1 medium butter lettuce
1 cup shaved banana blossom
1 – Boil chicken, dried shrimp and pork ribs in lightly salted water for about 20 minutes. Skim fat and season with pepper, sugar and fish sauce. Simmer for another 45 minutes, until the chicken is cooked. Remove both the chicken and shrimp. Let cool, then shred the chicken. Set aside. Add shallots, scallions and onion to the stock. Simmer for 20 minutes. Season to taste.
2 Place a handful of the blanched rice noodles in a soup bowl and cover with a portion of the egg, chicken, spareribs, sausage, scallions, cilantro and some of the fried shallots. Add boiling stock to cover.
3 Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper, the remaining fried shallots and lime juice. Serve with chilies, bean sprouts, lettuce, banana blossom and shrimp paste.
Banana Blossom Salad
2 T white vinegar 4 cups finely julienned banana blossoms
t salt 2 cups shredded, poached chicken breast
1/8 t pepper 2 t fresh lime juice
4 T white vinaigrette (1 c sugar, 1 t salt, 1 c white vinegar, 1 c water)
1 red grapefruit, sectioned and each segment cut into thirds
2 t chopped mint 6 T chili fish sauce
4 T crispy shallot flakes 4 T chopped, roasted peanuts
1 Peel off and discard the tough, old outer layers of the banana blossoms and cut into fine julienne strips. Immediately plunge in cold water and the white vinegar. When read to prepare the salad, drain and squeeze dry. Add white vinaigrette and toss.
2 In a separate bowl, toss the shredded chicken with salt, pepper and lime juice. Add grapefruit, mint and chili fish sauce and mix thoroughly.
3 To serve, mound the salad equally into 4 separate plates. Top each salad with 1 T shallot flakes and 1 T chopped peanuts. Serve immediately.