It is much the same with the banana plant. We use every part of it except perhaps the roots! The raw fruit is cooked and eaten, as is the ripe fruit. Even the flowers of the banana plant are cooked in different ways. Traditionally, we use the leaves for steam-cooking certain food s in as well as for serving meals. The banana leaf as a plate means no plates to wash and the used leaves are completely biodegradable and often fed to cows. The stem of the plant yields strong fibre, and in some varieties is also cooked and eaten. While raw and ripe bananas, and even the stem, are often cooked, banana flowers are considered even more of a delicacy because they’re usually not cut and cooked. Every banana flower is a potential bunch of bananas so they’re usually not cut in the way we might cut other vegetables or fruit. More often than not, they’re removed from banana plants that have fallen. Banana plants have roots that don’t really go very deep into the ground and are easily uprooted during heavy rainfall or by strong wind during storms.
I haven’t posted too many raw banana and related recipes mostly because I haven’t been able to find the “core” ingredients here where I live. I see a lot of banana plants here but it seems people here eat only the ripe fruit. It’s a different matter that I don’t particularly like raw banana. My husband loves the dishes we traditionally cook with anything banana (fruit, stem or flower) and our daughter might eat it if she isn’t told that’s what it is! Last week, when I discovered banana flowers at my vegetable vendor at the market I couldn’t believe my eyes. Actually the deep reddish purple coloured, tear drop shaped “flower” is actually an inflorescence or a cluster of flowers arranged around a stem which you will discover when you peel off the layered red “petals”.
My vegetable vendor looked surprised that I wanted to buy them and asked, “Aap is ka kya karte ho? Iska subzi banathe ho? Accha lagta he kya?” (Translation: “What do you do with this? Make a curry? Does it taste good/ Do you like it?”) I picked up 2 small ones to make into a traditional stir-fry sort of preparation. Banana flowers are very easy to make and take very little time to cook. What takes time and a lot of effort is removing the flowers, cleaning and chopping them. Choose banana flowers that are firm with tightly packed leaves. Don’t be tempted to buy the ones where the outer leaves are slowly opening up no matter how nice they look. If you don’t plan on using them right away, just wrap it well in cling wrap and store in the crisper in your fridge. I would advise you use it up at the earliest for best results.
Banana flowers are best cooked fresh and tend to a bit bitter. The bitterness can be removed but some varieties of banana flowers do remain bitter no matter what. The bitterness comes largely from the sap in the flowers. Trimming off the base of the flowers and removing the stamen in each of the more mature flowers is a must. Then the flowers are chopped and immersed in diluted buttermilk or very sour yogurt. This also ensures the flowers do not discolour and turn dark brown/ black. It is also a good idea to wear gloves ( I hate them) when cleaning the flowers or else you will be left with stained and unsightly and blackened fingertips and nails which will not clean out easily! The traditional way to prevent this is to thoroughly rub in some coconut (or any other) oil on both hands, inside and out, before starting to clean out the flowers. Once you are done, some soap, warm water and a bit of scrubbing should ensure your hands look pretty again.
There are many different ways of cooking with banana flowers. This time I chose to cook it as a "thoran/ poduthuval" which is a sort of South Indian style stir-fry finished off with fresh grated coconut. There are many versions of this, and my version contains lentils.
Though I may not like eating banana flower preparations much, I went a bit trigger happy with my camera and hence the overdose of banana flower photography!
Vazhapoo Thoran/ Poduthuval (South Indian Style Banana Flower/ Blossom With Lentils and Coconut)
This recipe serves 4.