While I’m on the subject of banana leaves, I thought I would share a traditional way to serve Indian food that is also a fun family craft.

 

Bowls made from banana leaves in the Indian style.

Bowls made from banana leaves in the Indian style.

 

  • Wipe a fresh banana leaf with a damp towel to remove any debris.
  • Cut out the center stem from the leaf leaving two long halves.
  • Blanch the leaf pieces in boiling water for 30 seconds. Dry and let cool.
  • Cut squares from each leaf half.
  • Place the square with the shiny side down so it ends up on the outside.
  • Fold each corner to the center to make a half-sized square.
  • Fold the top corner and bottom corner to the center of the square so the points of the new folds overlap the corners from the first folds.
  • Carefully lift the folded pieces and secure the new fold to the first fold flaps using either two toothpicks or a stapler. Traditionally they would be tied with strips of fibers from the stem of the leaf.
  • Lift the sides to open the bowl.
  • Fill with your favorite dish.

 

Banana leaf bowls are used to serve Indian food.

Banana leaf bowls are used to serve Indian food.

 

 

These cute bowls can also be used for presenting gifts or holding small treasures like jewelry or shells. They last for a long time and are recyclable!

 

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As I look outside my window I see a dozen beautiful banana trees with large green leaves waving in the breeze. Soon it will freeze in north Texas; my leaves will shrivel and turn brown, and the trunks will collapse when their internal cell structures can no longer hold them upright. This is the time of year when I go outside and “harvest” some leaves to tide me over until next spring when I have access to a fresh crop of leaves.

  

Freezing banana leaves

Preparing banana leaves to be frozen is a very simple process. I usually select about a dozen leaves that are bright green, not torn and have a minimal amount of yellow or brown edges. I want my leaves to be as perfect as possible. Here are the steps to freezing them:

  • Clean the leaves with a wet paper towel to remove any obvious dirt.
  • Dry the leaves with a clean paper towel.
  • Carefully cut the central vein out of each leaf so you will have two long thin leaf strips. I cut them on a cutting board so I can run the knife across the leave without damaging my counter.
     
Fresh banana leaves getting ready to be blanched and frozen.

Fresh banana leaves getting ready to be blanched and frozen.

 

  • Cut off any thin strips that tore when the vein was removed. At this point you may want to cut some of the leaves in half or thirds, depending on how you plan to use them in the future.
  • Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a boil.
  • Carefully immerse each leaf piece, one at a time, in the pot and blanch it for 30 seconds. Remove from the pot with tongs and carefully lay them flat on the counter until they are dry.
     
    Blanched banana leaves ready to be frozen for future use.

    Blanched banana leaves ready to be frozen for future use.

     

  • Fold and lay the leaves in a pile. Place them in a freezer zip top bag and set in the freezer. Often I use several bags so the leaves are not damaged by freezer burn as I remove individual leaves.

Thawing banana leaves

When you are ready to use the leaves, simply place one or two on the counter. Take care not to let the leaves tear until they come to room temperature. The leaves will be soft, pliable and ready to use in a short time. Dry the leaves before using them.

  

Alternative to freezing the leaves yourself

Now that you have read through my entire post, frozen packages of banana leaves are available at many Asian grocery stores. This can save you some time or give you an option if the leaves are not available where you live.

 

Visit KachisKitchen.com for Indian recipes and cooking tips.

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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.

Fresh banana leaves getting ready to be blanched and frozen.

Steaming fish

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.)

Steaming sweets

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.

Grilling meat

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.

Protecting food

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. 

 

Visit KachisKitchen.com for Indian recipes and cooking tips.

 

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The morning after I arrived in Maui, I was stunned to see a huge banana flower on the tree right outside my door! Was it placed there just for me? I was amazed at the dramatic picture it made right on the tree. It was at least 18 inches long and 12 inches wide with a perfect dark red color. At first I couldn’t believe it was real because the ones I have seen in the Indian grocery stores were puny. Those were about 12 by 6 inches in size and didn’t have many layers of leaves. I think this one must weight several pounds based on how the flower and bananas were bending the stem downward.


 

Huge banana flower growing beneath a bunch of bananas.

Huge banana flower growing beneath a bunch of bananas.


My husband had described the stunning beauty of these flowers for years but I could not grasp the magnitude of what he was saying. Since banana trees grow all over India, this is a common site to the locals who have become accustomed to seeing them. The ones I had seen at the grocery were unimpressive so I was completely speechless upon finding this beauty.

 

Technically the banana flower is called an inflorescence. Inside each of the petals (really called bracts) are small flowers that will bloom as the bracts open. Unfortunately my beautiful flower wasn’t quite ready for that.

 

What an amazing sight to see right outside my door!

Visit KachisKitchen.com for Indian recipes and cooking tips.

 

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Banana trees not only give us fruit for snacks and cooking in various recipes but they are also used in nonedible ways. Traditional South Indian meals are served on banana leaves. Even today meals are served on them at weddings and important occasions. When I first visited my husband’s aunt in Kerala shortly after we were married, Akka served us a delicious south Indian thali on a fresh banana leaf. I could rave about her wonderful meal but that would take me off track. I had heard about this practice but it was my first time seeing it for my own eyes. For more information on a thali meal, see my post.

 

Banana leaves are often used to steam in flavor in South Indian cooking.

Banana leaves are often used to steam in flavor in South Indian cooking.

 

Banana leaves are also used as a wrap, similar to parchment paper or aluminum foil, to seal in moisture when food is cooked (fried or steamed). They also add a bit of banana essence into the food, which in my mind makes it more authentic and special. Since banana trees grow everywhere in India, they are readily available year-round so they are often used.  The practice of cooking in these leaves spread from India to many countries in south Asia like Thailand and the Philippines. They are also used in Mexico, Central and South America.

 

Since I live in Texas, we grow banana trees and use the leaves in the summer. Unfortunately, they die during the winter but come back each spring. If you don’t have access to banana leaves, they are easy to grow on your own banana tree or may be available at your local Indian grocery or even an Asian market.

 

Most often, banana leaves are used in cooking fish or rice. The leaves are simply placed on a flame over a burner until they soften. They are then cut off the central rib into pieces that have become pliable. The food is placed in the center of one piece, wrapped and sealed with skewers (or wooden tooth picks). Once cooked, the packets are opened just before serving. Some recipes that are cooked in banana leaves are Ada Pradhaman and Paalada Pradhaman (both cakes) and Karimeen Pollichathu (Kerala special recipe for steamed fish).

 

Fish or rice served on the piece of leaf in which it was cooked makes a very impressive presentation. You will receive many compliments for your efforts!

Visit KachisKitchen.com for Indian recipes and cooking tips.

 

 

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This month I thought I would feature a dish made from an ingredient that I had never used before. I have included its picture at the right. Can you guess what it is? Do you think it is a flower?
 

Banana Flower

Banana Flower

 

If you said “yes,” you would be correct. It is a flower. In fact it is a banana flower! Cooks in India are not wasteful; they use every part of the banana plant in some way.


This month’s recipe is Vaazha Koombu Thoran or Banana Flower Thoran. Thoran is a simple way of preparing a dish of chopped vegetables that is not high in calories. In fact, the vegetables are steamed and oil is only used during the preparation of the seasonings. Since Thoran is a Kerala preparation, it does include a bit of coconut.

Banana Flower Thoran

Banana Flower Thoran


Have a try with this simple and nutritious vegetarian Banana Flower Thoran recipe. It is my version of a traditional dish. If you can’t find a banana flower in your local Indian store, the recipe can be modified to be used with small unripe jackfruit, called iddichakka, or cabbage (my personal favorite).

Visit KachisKitchen.com for Indian recipes and cooking tips.

 

 

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