(This meal was actually prepared on September 27. I have a class Tuesday evenings so I’ve written a few posts in advance for those days!)
Tonight’s ingredient is: Banana Flower!
I couldn’t resist picking up this banana flower at the giant Asian market, even though I had absolutely no idea what one does with a banana flower. Are they sweet? Savory? Internet to the rescue (it would be so much more difficult to attempt cooking with obscure ingredients without the internet to tell me what to do with them!). I found several different recipes, but the one that caught my eye was this Burmese recipe for Banana Blossom and Prawn Curry. It sounded tasty, plus provided a good place to use one of my other new ingredients: Veg Prawns from May Wah.
I neglected to actually read the Gin Thoke recipe far enough in advance to notice that it called for marinating fresh ginger in lime juice for at least two hours. Luckily I had a jar of some very nice pickled sushi ginger just sitting around, so I decided to use that in place of the fresh ginger. The recipe also included sesame seeds, peanut oil, garlic, tomato, cabbage, peanuts, soy sauce, chickpea flour, and hot chilies. I also decided to add some crispy onion pieces as a garnish.
The Thanhat recipe was unlike any other cucumber recipe I’ve made, since it called for actually cooking the cucumbers in vinegar and water. I make quick cucumber pickles frequently and enjoy a nice crisp texture so I was a little apprehensive about cooking them at all, even to the “slightly tender” called for by the recipe. Other than that it was your basic cucumber salad recipe with vinegar, sesame oil, onions, garlic, sesame seeds, turmeric powder, sugar, and salt. I also added a dash of chili oil.
Finally it was time to tackle the banana flower. I found a video about how to clean them on YouTube, which was really helpful. I never gave much thought before to how bananas grow, so it was really interesting to see all the tiny baby bananas inside the flower.
The taste of the flower raw was slightly bitter and starchy. It starts oxidizing and turning grey almost immediately, so it’s good to keep a bowl of water and lemon juice handy to put the flower pieces in. The central core is edible as are the baby bananas (although you have to go through all of them and pull out the tough center fiber which is not edible.)
The ingredients of the curry were pretty straightforward- lemongrass, red chilis (I used dundicuts), peanut oil, rice flour, onion, garlic, prawns. The only thing I had to substitute was shrimp paste. Internet to the rescue again- you can use miso and dulse flakes for a vegan substitute. The vegan prawns seemed a little stiff and flavorless when I first took them out of the package, but they became softer upon cooking and absorbed the flavor of the curry sauce. I followed the recipe closely to begin with, but found the sauce quite bland so I ended up adding some vegetarian “oyster” sauce and siracha. I had some basmati rice on hand which I sauteed with some yellow chives (another new ingredient from the Asian market).
The red flower petals are not edible, but they make perfect little serving dishes. I put the curry and the ginger salad in two petals and just served the cucumbers on the side. The curry was quite tasty and the banana flower pieces cooked to a nice soft texture. It was a lot of work preparing the banana flower, but it was interesting and I’d probably try it again.