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Banana flower & stem


worm@work
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Hi,

When I was a schoolgirl (am still in school but far from being a schoolgirl unfortunately), we'd spend most of our vacations going to kerala to my grandparents house. Everyday my grandmom would wake up and go to the backyard to decide on the vegetable for the day. This was somehow a very exciting experience for all of us city kids and we'd all follow her around hoping and praying that she'd let us pluck some unsuspecting fruit/vegetable off her precious orchard. One thing I remember from those times is the ridiculously large number of preparations that were related one way or the other to the banana plant. For instance, we did make the usual raw plantain sabzi (vazhakka) - one preparation that just involved stir frying the vegetable with salt and haldi in a little bit of oil. Anothe preparation was a trifle more involved with some tamarind and some ground spices. The green plantain also featured pretty prominently in sambhar and avial.

But that wasn't all. One of the tastiest preparations I've ever eaten was a sabzi made from the flower of the banana plant. It involved a lot of preparatory effort that was often delegated to us kids -- basically peeling off the dark pink/ purple skin off the flower, then removing individual segments until the lovely white pale sections are visible. This was then made into a dry poruthuval which tasted divine. Another sabzi was made by chopping the stem of the banana plant into tiny cubes. Even the leaf of the raw plantain was made into a green sabzi (similar to beans preparation as far as I remember). Lastly, we'd end up eating all these on a banana leaf :)!!! I miss my banana plants and somehow the yellow, uniform-looking, sterilized bananas at the grocery store just dont cut it.

-worm@work

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Are you in the U.S.? If so, I can empathize with you. But what I really miss are not so much the banana flowers (jantung pisang=banana heart in Malay), let alone the leaves, which I didn't know you could eat, but the ripe Malaysian bananas themselves. Such a wonderful fruit, and so unlike the stuff passed off as "bananas" in the U.S. :sad:

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Pan,

I dont think the leaves are edible either :). What I meant was we used the large banana leaves to eat on instead of plates.

Sujatha, I've seen them at the indian grocery stores here as well but somehow they always appear limp and dead and not at all fresh and sumptuous like the used to look back home. So Ive been a little reluctant to try them out. I think I'm just being a spoilt brat and should try them sometime soon. I promise to post a couple of recipes over this weekend!

-worm@work

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I feel your loss. My Bengali family would trawl through Delhi's South Indian markets in search of the elusive mocha (the name for banana flower in Bengali, and not to be pronounced like the coffee drink) and thor (banana stem). My mother would cook both with generous amounts of freshly grated coconut. Those were rare treats in our urban existence, of course my rural relatives would be quite amused that I was enthralled by such rustic food.

My uncle told me that he's seen banana flower and stem in Chinese groceries in the US (where I live), I've been too lazy to find out. Actually the prospect of breaking a coconut and grating it is daunting, and the frozen or dessicated stuff is vile.

But preparing banan flower for cooking is quite tedious, because the bitter pistil has to be removed from each flower and there are so many of them. The fact that I would do it willingly should tell you how much I loved my banana flower.

Swati

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That's it! I'm going home! I get more and more homesick... Banana stem and banana flower are my absolute favourites. Apparently you shouldn't eat banana stem in pregnancy because it's so heat-producing, but I used to crave the stuff and devour it by the platefuls. Happy to report that the pregnancy went very well inspite of it. Haven't seen it here at all, so I can only eat it when I go home. :sad:

Suman

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worm@work, not sure where you live, but banana flowers (called "Mocha" in Bengali) or blossoms as they are called are available in most Chinese/Asian grocery stores as well as a few Indian grocery stores here in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Frozen Banana leaves are also available. They are good to eat on as well as good to cook with (wrappers).

However, the banana plant stem/stalk/trunk (called "Thor") is not available. Bengalis cook with it as well.

SwatiC, if you have any more info on the availibility of stems in the USA, I would be all ears...

Banana flowers are available canned as well, but the canned ones don't taste as good.

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if you have any more info on the availibility of stems in the USA, I would be all ears...

Banana flowers are available canned as well, but the canned ones don't taste as good.

Alas no! I haven't seen the stems at any South-east Asian or Indian groceries that I've been to, which is where you would be more likely to find it. Considering the fact that many Indian groceries stock "shajne daata" (murungkai in Tamil and I don't know what it is called in English), which I would assume is harder to source, I wonder why banana stems are missing.

Oh the canned banana flowers are so terrible! I once bought one and tried to make it with frozen grated coconut. It was inedible, at least to my pampered taste, used to fresh mocha and fresh grated coconut.

But canned raw jackfruit is great, and I make echor (or gaachh paatha, as you prefer, both names for raw jackfruit in Bengali) ever so often. Again, this is thanks to shared tastes with the rest of South-east Asia, since they seem to be so much better at canning and exporting produce than Indians are.

Swati

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Hi SwatiC,

Somehow grating coconut never seems too daunting to me. I brought back one of those huge graters (the old fashioned ones that have a knife for cutting vegetables as well, not one of them modern ones with suction and stuff which I never got the hang of!!). These graters do the job real quick once you're used to them -- caveat being of course that if one has kids or careless people around, having one of these around could be really really dangerous.

I;ve never seen the canned ones but will look out for them in the chinese markets. Bong, I am in Los Angeles which has a large number of rather good chinese stores. I didnt have a car here till recently and hence havent been able to explore the asian markets as well as I'd like to. But the wheels have been acquired now and life and grocery shopping should get much better.

Am pleasantly surprised that Bengalis cook raw jackfruit too! Another dish that I crave for so often, I seriously consider going back to India just for that! Swati, can you share your recipe for the raw jackfruit sometime? I'll post mine when I'm posting the banana flower and stem recipes over the weekend.

-w@w

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Considering the fact that many Indian groceries stock "shajne daata" (murungkai in Tamil and I don't know what it is called in English)

I am not 100% sure, but I think the common english term for "shajne-danta"/"shojney-danta" is "drumstick".
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About missing banana stems in US markets, the Bengalis here might recall that only some cultivars of bananas supply stems suited for culinary purposes. The Gros Michel/ dwarf Cavendish types predominant in the western hemisphere are not very edible, in the Bengali lexicon [think Singapuri kolar mocha and thor]. The mocha probably stores well without refrigeration, but thor turns a ghastly brown, although still good inside. Also, there probably are other major factors about which I am ignorant.

In Bengal, the stem of the Bichi kola [seedy, wild banana] that had been harvested for its garbha mocha or unopened inflorescence was the first preference, both for mocha and thor. Kanthali [Pisang Awak group] stem and the remnant male inflorescence hanging below the bunch of precious banana fingers, was next, followed by kalibou Kanthali and Champa. Kanch kola or plantain supplied a mocha and thor that was quite bitter, if you remember, a deterrent to many, and lacked the sumptuous texture of the Bichi kola, being rather stringy.

I was pretty non-plussed to find that the Thai and Vietnamese actually eat the banana flowers raw, in salads and wrapped up with other goodies in lettuce leaves. Whoa! Talk about mouth puckering astringency.

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I was pretty non-plussed to find that the Thai and Vietnamese actually eat the banana flowers raw, in salads and wrapped up with other goodies in lettuce leaves. Whoa! Talk about mouth puckering astringency.
I could be wrong, but I think the Thai & Vietnames recipes call for first soaking the flowers in acidulated water for a while before you drain it, dry it and then use it in a salad.

Maybe the soak does something to remove the astringency?

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Pan,

I dont think the leaves are edible either :). What I meant was we used the large banana leaves to eat on instead of plates.

I've eaten on banana leaves before. But didn't you say plantain leaves were eaten? I think of the plantain as a type of banana, as do Malaysians (pisang tanduk=horned banana, and that's their name for the plantain).

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Ouch, just realized I had made a major mistake. I didnt mean to say "leaf", I meant to say "skin". Yep, we make a dry vegetable preparation by cutting the skin of the plantain into thin strips and then further into little cubes! Sorry for the confusion Pan!! No wonder that threw you off :). Do people from any other country eat the plantain skin?

-w@w

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First I've heard of anyone eating banana peel, though people have tried to smoke it. (Words from "Mellow Yellow": "Electric banana is the very next craze...")

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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  • 5 months later...
Ouch, just realized I had made a major mistake. I didnt mean to say "leaf", I meant to say "skin". Yep, we make a dry vegetable preparation by cutting the skin of the plantain into thin strips and then further into little cubes! Sorry for the confusion Pan!! No wonder that threw you off :). Do people from any other country eat the plantain skin?

-w@w

Oh yeah I remeber that, mom still makes that sometimes. BTW if you live in a city with a 99 ranch market store that stock asian groceries, you might be able to find fresh banana flower and stem. I saw some in the souther california store in Monterey Park this last weekend. You can search for locations here:

99 Ranch Market

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Any idea where to find fresh kathal/green jackfruit in the southern california area as well. Of course in Indian my mom used to have the vegetable vendor clean it for us, gotta figure out how to do it ourselves here.

it's seasonally available in indian grocery stores:

call and ask around.

re cleaning: before attemting to cut it,

oil hands, knife and cutting board well

(to prevent the sticky stuff from sticking)

and proceed with caution.

it's also available canned and frozen...

milagai

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Any idea where to find fresh kathal/green jackfruit in the southern california area as well. Of course in Indian my mom used to have the vegetable vendor clean it for us, gotta figure out how to do it ourselves here.

it's seasonally available in indian grocery stores:call and ask around.

Also available in Chinese/"Asian" grocery stores when in season. Green jackfruit is a standard ingredient in many of the vegetarian dishes available at That restaurants around here (northern California)

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Dried banana blossom...I found a pack of this in the local Philippine grocery (actually just discovered the grocery recently :raz: ). The Filipina shop assistant didn't speak much Japanese, and I forgot till later that she would probably have understood English, so we didn't get much further than that she uses it in adobo dishes.

So...how do you use dried banana blossom?

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