Happy Dussehra to all of you
Banana Flower Curry
Growing up with a banana plant in the backyard makes me feel it as a common vegetable. Every year my dad used to plant at least 2-3 plants. We had all kinds of dishes made out of bananas, right from savories to deserts. Once the plant grows the first thing you notice is the flower pod, which may also be called banana blossom or banana heart ( Arati Puvvu in Telugu), grows on the end of the stem holding a cluster of bananas. Tender banana flowers are harvested and are relished in different ways either cooked or raw. Banana flower is considered as a delicacy by many South Indians.
The flower pod is in deep cherry red color. It has layers of tightly packed flaps or bracts that wrap around rows of thin stemmed flowers, which are pale cream colored and has a grayish black stigma popping out. These male flowers are used in the cooking.
One thing for sure, cooking with banana flower starts with a very laborious cleaning process. Any well formed stigma that is hard has to be removed from each flower. Also there is a wafer thin covering around the flower, which is hard to cook and hence needs to be removed.
This is my mom’s recipe which is one of my favorites.
2 tbsp oil
2 dry red chilies (broken)
1 tsp urad dal
1 tsp channa dal
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp mustard seeds
A pinch of asafetida
Curry leaves (fistful)
As you remove each flap from the pod, it exposes a row of florets that look like a comb. Separate the cluster. Each flower in the cluster will contain one hard and long stigma and a transparent covering. Discard the stigma and the transparent covering, leaving the other part of the flower. As you go down the pod, the stigma will no longer be hard and thick. You will also notice that the transparent covering is not more visible. When you reach this stage, you do not need to separate them anymore. Repeat the procedure until the layers of the pod can no longer be separated easily. You will see a pale creamy colored pod which looks like a conch. It has a slight bitter taste can be eaten raw or in salads. You can also add it to the dish, finely chopping then along with the florets. Now chop all the cleaned florets and immerse them in a big bowl of cold water. Clean them thoroughly at least 4 – 5 times. Using a drainer, drain the water, rest them for 10 mins. Now gently press and squeeze all the excess water from the chopped florets and keep aside.
Heat the skillet/pan on medium heat along with oil. Add red chillies, urad dal, channa dal and fry them until starts changing the color (light golden brown). Now add cumin, mustard seeds, hing and allow then to pop. Add curry leaves, green chillies, onions and sauté until the onion changes to transparent color. Now add turmeric, chopped tomatoes, tamarind pulp, and jaggery and cook until the tomatoes becomes soft and mushy. Now stir in chopped banana florets and mix well. Turn the heat to medium-low, put the lid and cook. Keep stirring in the middle gently. Add salt mix well and cook for another 10 minutes or until done. Do not over mix it as it will break the florets and dish will become mushy. The moisture from tomatoes and banana florets are sufficient for them to cook.
Serve it as a side dish along with hot rice and ghee (clarified butter).
Notes and Tips
It is advisable to apply little oil to your palms while separating the florets. The pod oozes sticky sap which is very tough to remove from your hands and clothes. Most often, this vegetable is available in Asian or tropical food markets and Indian stores.