Cooking with Banana Leaves: an Exotic Tropical Treat
Those leaves don't just grow on trees!
Now that Spring is here, we'll soon have an abundance of banana leaves. The fast growing banana plants will usually put out a new leaf every week during the growing season. Before you know it, you'll have plenty of leaves. They will look great swaying in the breezes around your home on those sultry summer nights.
Besides being a tropical addition to your yard, banana leaves are great in cooking. Let's look at three simple uses for this common garden inhabitant.
The First Recyclable Plates
In the equatorial band that encircles the globe, native people have been using banana leaves as free, renewable, sustainable, recyclable, disposable plates for centuries. A scoop of a rice and curry dish from an New Delhi street vendor is often served on an small square of a banana leaf. When the food is consumed, the leaf can be cast off to naturally decompose. What could be more convenient. Try fresh banana leaf squares instead of paper plates at your next outing. Your guests will be impressed.
The Ultimate Garnish
Tropical Pig in Charleston
While you may not routinely cook a whole pig, any food looks good displayed on a fresh bed of deep green banana leaves. Imagine your favorite pastry or fish eloquently laying on a fresh banana leaf. Your guests will be stunned!
If you can't get fresh banana leaves for your event, eBay is loaded with low cost options.
Wrap It Up!
Tamales. The savory corn meal with pork or chicken wrapped in corn husks are often with banana leaves instead.
Banana leaves often impart a delicious herbal flavor when roasted or steamed in any fashion. Consider it a poor man's parchment paper or foil.
Man, that looks great, so how do we do it. Its very easy. First of all, lets examine a fresh banana leaf. Its is made of one central middle rib. Branching off of the mid-rib are 'riblets' as wou can see in this picture:
Cut your banana leaf off the plant and bring it into the house. Some can be four to five feet long or longer. Banana leaves need to be rinsed most of the time. Once this is done they need to be 'annealed' or roasted by heating them. Some people use hot water while others place them over a flame. I have a gas stove and as I run the leaf through the flame the leaf relaxes and becomes less brittle and more pliable for wrapping your food.
Once annealed on both sides, let the leaf cool for a few minutes. Take a pair of scissors or a knife and slice it lengthwise on each side of the mid-rib. And there you have it two large sheets of leaves to use as you like.
As growers of banana plants, we often will gently fold and freeze our freshly annealed banana leaves for use when they are not available. They can usually be found at your nearby Asian grocery store in the frozen section as well.
Enjoy the tropical feel of your banana leaves when they are on the plants. Take a few off every now and then to enjoy in some new and different ways.