This is part of a series where we discuss a special ingredient and how it can be used in the kitchen.
This past month, as I tried to brainstorm a new recipe using seasonal produce, I found myself less than thrilled by my options. There’s only so much you can do with potatoes or leeks, and winter vegetables don’t inspire very much culinary creativity. Instead, I decided to cook with a somewhat “exotic” vegetable that’s in season almost year-round – the banana blossom!
Banana blossoms, also known as banana flowers or banana hearts, are bright magenta buds around the size of an eggplant that are found at the end of a banana cluster on a tree. Each banana blossom has layers of petals, or bracts, and within each layer of bracts are small florets that eventually grow into bananas. That is, if they’re not harvested and made into a salad first, of course. Banana blossoms are technically edible flowers, but they’re treated more as vegetables in the culinary world because of their mild cabbage-like flavor and crunchy texture. They’re commonly used in Asian dishes like the Vietnamese banana blossom salad,Gỏi Bắp Chuối, the Bengali curry Mochar Ghonto, Indian fritters Vazhaipoo Vadai, and the Filipino stew, Kare-Kare.
Preparing banana blossoms isn’t difficult, but cleaning them can be a pain, which is probably why the Western world hasn’t caught on to them yet. Before being eaten, the florets and the yellow core of the banana blossom must be cleaned and soaked in lemon water to avoid oxidization. Like bananas, banana blossoms turn brown when exposed to oxygen, and the lemon water keeps them looking fresh and neutralizes the bitter aftertaste. Each individual floret has a pistil and calynx in the center that also must be removed. One banana blossom can contain over fifty pistils, so you can imagine that a lazier chef might just discard the florets rather than undergo the painstaking cleaning process. If you decide to go the easier route and nix the florets when making the following recipe for Vietnamese banana blossom salad (Gỏi Bắp Chuối), don’t worry – I won’t tell.
Banana Blossom Salad (Yield: 4 servings)
2 banana blossoms
1 green mango or jicama
¾ cup sprouts
1 red chile (optional)
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons peanuts, crushed
1 tablespoon Thai basil
2 tablespoons cilantro
- Slice 2 lemons in half and rub juice on your knife and cutting board. Squeeze the lemon juice in a large bowl of cold water and add the lemon halves to the water.
- Clean the banana blossoms by removing the magenta bracts. Set 4 of them aside to use for serving. In between the bracts, you’ll find small yellow florets that resemble sprouts. Remove and soak in the lemon water. When you’ve removed all the magenta bracts and reach the yellow “heart,” cut off the stem and slice the banana heart into thin slices. Put the slices immediately into the lemon water and allow to soak for at least 30 minutes.
- If you don’t want to be wasteful, you can begin cleaning the florets.Inside each individual floret is a thin, wand-like pistil that’s connected to a hard outer petal called the calynx. Remove both from each individual floret, then chop the florets into small pieces.
- While the banana blossoms are soaking, cut the green mango, jicama, carrots, red chile, and onions into thin slices. Roughly chop the Thai basil and cilantro. Mix together the fish sauce, sugar, and lime juice.
- Remove the chopped banana blossoms from the water and squeeze out any excess water.
- Mix together the banana blossoms, mango, jicama, carrots, red chile, and onions. Drizzle on dressing and serve on top of the banana blossom bracts. Garnish with cilantro, basil, peanuts, and dried shallots.