The Banana Flower Experiment
I had seen these purple vegetables for sale for months. I wanted to buy one, but what to do with it? Then I saw Aparna’s Healthy Banana Flower Preparation and BDSN’s Banana Stem Flower Paruppu Usili, and knew I was safe to try.
Last weekend I finally bought the banana flower. I was lucky; there was a big fresh box from which to choose. I chose a medium-sized flower; it looked fresh and felt firm to the touch. It must have been very fresh. It was a few days before I had a chance to cook it. I left it loosely in the plastic bag (one of the papery-plastic types, not saran-wrap type) on bottom shelf of fridge, with bag open for air. It was hardly changed.
I prepared this mostly according to Aparna’s recipe, and also followed BDSN’s advice about removing the dark purple parts, or most of them. That lovely purple does yield to a paler yellowish tone a ways down. I cut the flower the same way Aparna described (this method works great for onion too), using cross cuts and then slicing through them. I cleaned the chopped pieces in yogurt/water/salt mixture as BDSN advised, then rinsed them well before cooking. I did not use onion, as I had none (!??) and added some cumin, because I put cumin in everything these days.
Banana Flower Fry a la Aparna
Prep tips courtesy of BDSN
1 medium fresh banana blossom/flower
1/4 – 1/2 c yogurt
1 tsp oil or ghee
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
10-12 curry leaves
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp turmeric
salt to taste
Have a medium-sized bowl with 1/4 – 1/2 cup yogurt mixed with a little salt.
Remove and discard the first few outer layers of flower ~ the dull-looking layers. I discarded about 6-8 layers, as I was afraid of too much bitterness. I also removed the first few clusters of stick-fruits, because they had begun to turn brown.
When the flower begins to look shiny and fresh inside, begin to reserve the stick-fruits. Add them to the yogurt bowl as you go. This must be done at your discretion ~ you will know when it is time by the look of them.
Shiny fresh banana flower, with stick-fruit cluster
Once the yellow layers appear, with just a couple of lighter purple left, begin to cut as Aparna described.
(see her photo for illustration)
1. cut the tip from the flower
2. make two cuts lengthwise from top to near the bottom of the flower
3. lay flower on board and slice through the long cuts, crosswise, so vegetable comes off the knife in quarters
Banana Flower, cut.
The vegetable will turn brown when cut edges are exposed ~ work quickly and drop the slices into the yogurt bowl as you go. Add sufficient cold water to cover the vegetable, stir it up well, and allow to soak 15-20 min.
When soaking time is nearly up, heat oil or ghee and slowly toast the mustard, cumin, and curry leaves.
When ready to cook, raise heat to med-high and rinse the vegetable. I actually ‘washed’ it in the yogurt-water using my hands, then rinsed well under running cold water. Squeeze to drain, then add to the hot tempering. Fry 5 min or so, till cut banana flower begins to wilt. Add chili powder and turmeric, sprinkle with salt, mix well and cover. Reduce heat to med and cook 10-15 min. Remove cover and stir again, reduce heat to med-low and allow to cook a further 10 minutes, until soft but not mush.
I love trying new foods. There are very few foods I can honestly say I don’t like, especially vegetables. I think every vegetable has some redeeming quality in it somewhere… anyway, I very much wanted to like the taste of banana flower. I had waited so long, and had so longed to cook it! When I took that first bite, hot out of the pan, I was a little taken aback ~ tangy wasn’t the word. Astringent was more like it! Eek.
Oh well, I thought, perhaps banana flower is an acquired taste.
I couldn’t help trying to acquire that taste. After banana flower sat awhile it seemed to take on a new characteristic. At room temperature, the astringency mellowed to a slight bitter bite; the sort of bite one gets from broccoli rabe, bitter greens, etc. I am glad I didn’t give up right away, because the following day, mixed with rice and a little yogurt, this was an excellent dish indeed.
Therefore, it’s my opinion that banana flower cooked in this manner is better for holding awhile before serving ~ hours, or maybe even overnight, so it can rest and soak up some of the spices. I also will use the onion and coconut in Aparna’s original recipe, another time.
One last note: banana flower has the very faint scent of nearly-ripe bananas, which lingers pleasantly on your hands…
Thanks to Aparna and BDSN for their great recipes and tips. See another great banana flower recipe from Krithika here.
Banana Flower Fry, with chili powder and turmeric