In the past I’ve been known to wax eloquently about many aspects of the banana tree. From the banana leaf ,the green banana to the ripened fruit they are all terrific contributors to wellness in their own unique way. A few days ago,a post on instagram caught my attention. It was uploaded by a western food website. They were talking excitedly about discovering the banana flower as a new and exotic ingredient for wellness.The comments that followed in exclamatory disbelief had to be seen to be believed. The banana flower is one ingredient that is available everywhere in our city. And it hardly adds to our grocery bill !
Not for one moment was I surprised that many in that part of the world didn’t know about this special ingredient. How would they ,it’s not really a part of their cuisine ! I was more surprised and not for the first time that in fact many of us needed to be reminded to re-examine our native foods. By that I mean , not only to start adding it to our regular menus at home but also to experiment with it and come up with interesting ways to add it to our growing repertoire of world cuisine.
Don’t get me wrong , I love vazhaipoo vadais and poriyal and relish it just as I do most of my traditional South Indian fare but the idea of using this simple ingredient and extracting more from it is rather exciting as well !
For me the adoration of the banana flower doesn’t start with the dish but rather from the way the whole flower itself forms.The large purplish blue oval when it appears on the tree is itself a cause for celebration. Not only does it mean that the tree is thriving but that soon we are in for a bounteous treat ! I never fail to watch in wonder as each large petal lifts up offering a glimpse of the bananas just beginning to form. As the fruit grow larger,the petal detaches and gently falls to the base of the tree. As it continues to diminish in size, we wait until the last fruiting nodes are done before relieving the blossom from it’s position at the base of the long bough of fruit.
It took me awhile to realise which part of the flower actually got cooked. Call me silly but I was under the impression for a long time that the vazhaipoo dishes were made with the purple petals and not the nodes hidden beneath. So, you can imagine the wide eyed interest when I discovered the ‘actual ingredient ‘ .Thanks to that process of self discovery I have since made sure to educate the younger lot not only about the banana flower but also the time consuming cleaning process that it goes through before it reaches the table.
That in itself makes it a worthy dish to be offered when company comes calling. While we traditionally use buttermilk to prevent the chopped banana flower from discolouring , other parts of Asia use many natural bleaching agents like lemon and vinegar to keep it white.
I was rather intrigued with the idea of using it in a Vietnamese inspired salad. The heart of the flower is apparently treated much like an artichoke centre both in texture and flavor and is cut in thin slices. It would be interesting when paired with a dressing of chopped garlic , fresh red chillies , sugar , lemon juice and some soy or fish sauce . Imagine that nice burst of flavours coating the crunchy vazhaipoo rings along with fresh coriander leaves , thin slivers of coloured bell pepper or purple cabbage and maybe some toasted sesame. It sounds just delicious not to mention the heady dose of antioxidants in that salad concoction. To serve it in that pretty purple outer petal of the banana flower would make for perfect presentation. In order to do that it’s best we start saving some of those petals straight away.
Righto then ! I’m off to give it a shot. My banana flower is nearing retirement from it’s tree and I can hardly wait to get started on putting together that salivating burst of healthy flavours .
Recipe to follow soon. Let me know if you’re interested …post your comments.