India has been using natural, disposable plates and cooking wrap for generations, dating back to the Middle Ages. They are still used today for their practicality and tradition.
While visting the spice farm in Wayanad earlier this year, the plates on which we ate our lunch had been pressed out of lotus leaves. They were strong enough to hold a plateful of rice and curries from a buffet. Most South Indian weddings include meals for hundreds of guests all served on banana leaves.
Leaves are also used to enhance the presentation of food. A piece of leaf can be slipped under some of the food on one’s plate to complement the color or something (often rice or noodles) can be partially wrapped in it to make the presentation unique. They make quick and easy platters for presenting snacks at parties for no cost at all. Other than eating off of banana leaves, did you know they have several other uses in Indian cooking?
Fresh banana leaves getting ready to be blanched and frozen.
In Kerala whole spiced fish are often wrapped in a banana leaf and then steamed. The cooked fish takes on a delicate tea or grass flavor in addition to the original spices. These banana leaf wrapped packets make a stunning impression when presented on individual plates for a dinner party. When the package is opened, the steam and enticing aromas rush out into the air. Next week I will publish my recipe of the month, which is Banana Leaf Steamed Halibut. (It is very tasty.)
Just like steaming fish, several South Indian sweets are steamed in banana leaves. My cookbook, Kachi’s Kitchen, includes many recipes for banana leaf steamed sweets.
A piece of banana leaf can be placed directly on the grill under the meat, like flaky fish, or vegetables to keep them from sticking to the grate or falling through into the fire. Since the piece of leaf takes the heat, the heat is more even and the meat doesn’t burn as quickly. The leaf also enhances the flavor of the food.
Keeping food from sticking
A piece of banana leaf would be placed on the bottom of a pot to keep food from sticking. This technique is still used today to make food healthier.
In the days before wax paper and plastic wrap, Indians would wrap their food in banana leave to keep it from drying out.
With all of these uses, I have to admit that Indian cooks have been very creative in using recyclable materials.
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