Other than the time it takes [to explore] and peel away the banana blossom layers, this dish is really quite simple; pretty much just chop and toss, although I did quickly heat the vinaigrette to make sure the sugar and other flavors blend well.
I was intrigued the other day when our local produce guy, Mike, (that would be Mike Theproduceguy FB on Facebook) introduced a small crowd at the store to Kiwano (or Horned Melon). Had I not had plans for the next few days meals already I might have bought it and had ‘a go’ at making a dish. Soon it’d been a couple weeks and I just couldn’t get that cucumber/banana tasting fruit out of my mind! I needed something exotic to cook, and NOW!
Off I went to a rather large international and seafood market we have here in Anchorage looking for Kiwano… drive, drive, drive… out of carseats… busy parking lot… into a cart, “Mommy, why are these shopping carts so small?” “I guess they just buy less things here… Or maybe it’s because they have smaller isles. That’s probably it.” Make a stop to watch the mound of crabs and a few lonely lobsters in the big saltwater tanks… drop precious baby doll in the fish water on the floor, “She’ll be needing a bath!”… finally on to the produce. “What?! No Kiwano?!” I know, I drug you through all of that to tell you I finally settled on a banana blossom as my exotic ingredient of choice. It is a reminder though, that the grocery store, and especially seafood, meat, and international markets are fantastic places to bring your children for touching, looking, and learning.
So, the banana blossom, also known as a banana heart; it’s a maroon, alien egg looking, bud, about the size of your palms cupped together. It’s my understanding that all parts of the blossom are edible, but some parts are bitter. As you peal back the first purple-ish bract you will see underneath, at the base, two rows of little flower “fingers.” These would have become a banana bunch should it have been left to bloom and ripen. It is amazing to realize just how many bananas this little heart contains! As the banana ‘tree’ (for it is actually an herb and not a true tree) blooms one layer of this blossom at a time is unfurled, the stem then grows longer and the bloom releases another circle of banana ‘hands,’ then grows longer toward the ground to let out yet another bundle…so on and so forth. What an amazing and nutritious plant! One green banana for cooking is about the equivalent of a potato when it comes to caloric intake. Why does the world need rice knowing that?!
Getting on to the eating part of all this. The white bracts (the leave like layers) are the ones you will want to use, but save the outer dark ones because they make great serving dishes! Your presentation will impress your friends! Each of the little finger-y flowers have a stamen inside. If you wish to use these in your cooking you will want to peal each one back and remove the bitter stamen. I decided not to mess with that tedious process for this dish and simple used the large bracts instead. There were plenty of them and those little flowers still seemed a little bitter even after all the work. However, after pealing away about 10 layers, these little flowers became more and more white (and less and less bitter) and at that point I stopped pealing away layers and simply sliced the whole bud into thin rings, like an onion, from the tip to the stem, discarding the black stem.
You will want to soak your banana blossom slices in lemon, lime, or other acidic liquid to prevent discoloration. Especially if you are planning to use it raw.
So there you have it. A quick rundown on prepping a banana blossom. There are MANY, MANY, MANY uses for banana blossoms. They are often used raw in salads or with dip, or cooked in soups, stews, or curry. They can also be steamed. Keep an eye out, as I plan to create a warm dish using banana blossom some time soon. In the mean time, here is the recipe for my fresh banana blossom salad.
I would like to make a note: Don’t be afraid of the fish sauce in this recipe. It will neither smell-up your house nor make your dish super fishy. It does however bring a great depth of flavor and balance to the otherwise acidic dressing. However, if you or those your are serving truly do not like anything ‘fish’ than I would omit it, but you may need to make some other changes to the dressing. I only mention this because *I* don’t taste anything very fishy about it, however Andrew, who cannot stand anything from the ocean or river, definitely honed in on the subtle flavor. So why include it? I really wanted to make a dish that would be true to the flavors of south east Asia, where banana blossom would be a common ingredient…as well as fish sauce.
As far as the daikon radish: I chose to add this for crispness. It can also bring a little pepper to a dish. It’s a very common ingredient in south east Asian and Japanese cuisines, and one of my favorite snacks. It should easily be found anywhere banana blossoms are sold, but I also find it in our local supermarket regularly.
Other than the time it takes to [explore and] peel away the banana blossom layers, this dish is really quite simple; pretty much just chop and toss, although I did quickly heat the vinaigrette to make sure the sugar and other flavors blend well.
Banana Blossom Salad
- 1/2 cup banana blossom – inner heart, sliced thin, soaked in lime water
- 1/4 lime juice – for the lime water
- 1/2 cup red cabbage – sliced thin, 2 inch pieces
- 1/2 cup daikon radish – julienne, 2 inch pieces
- 1/2 cup green onions – bias cut and sliced length-wise, 2 inch pieces
- 1/2 cup carrots – 2-3 inch shreds
- 1/4 cup cilantro – course chopped
- 1 lime
- 1 1/2 T sugar
- 1 1/4 T fish sauce
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1/2 T rice vinegar
- 1/2 t chili paste
- dash of salt
- Prep your banana blossom as I talked about above and let it rest in a medium bowl of water with the lime juice.
- Prep the cabbage, radish, onions, and carrots and throw in a large bowl.
- Half the lime and juice it into a small sauce pan. Add the fish sauce, rice vinegar, minced garlic, sugar, chili paste, and salt to taste.
- Heat on medium low until the sugar has melted and you can just start to smell the vinegar. 3-5 minutes.
- Squeeze the lime water out of the banana blossoms, and separate any large clumps, adding them to the bowl with other vegetables.
- Let the vinaigrette cool, pour over the vegetables and toss.
- Serve your salad in the reserved bracts from prepping the banana blossom.
- Garnish with chili paste as desired.