HomeCOOKING WITH BANANA LEAF | HEALTHY - NUTRI-RICH; NOURISHING...

COOKING WITH BANANA LEAF | HEALTHY – NUTRI-RICH; NOURISHING…

By Dr. Kaviraj Khialani | celebrity master chef

The banana tree is native to Asia. It migrated to Africa and later to the Americas. Basically, it is grown throughout all the tropical and subtropical ranges. Its leaves are large, flexible, waterproof, and non- stick. Besides that, they are beautiful and always give a nice tropical touch.

It is no surprise that native people recognized the banana leaves as an opportunity to solve their needs and used it in a wide variety of uses for it. Whether for culinary, decorative, therapeutic, religious, or even construction and writing purposes.

Although they are not edible, banana leaves have a very important role in the kitchen. It helps in almost every culinary process: preparation, service, consumption, and even packaging.

It can be used as:

Wrapping for steaming or baking – The banana leaf can hold the liquids of the food, being the perfect package to cook whatever you want, such as vegetables, fish, and chicken.

Although the leaf is not consumed, it has a high antioxidant content, these antioxidants are absorbed by the food along with the aroma of the leaf. There are many traditional dishes that use this technique around the world, such as the Mok Pa in Laos, Amok in Cambodia, Tamales in Mexico, Abará in Brazil.

Non-stick layer for grilling – The banana leaf prevents the food to stick on the grill. In addition, the leaf has the wonderful advantage of being porous and to be an alive element, so it adds a nice sweet and smoky flavor, something that the aluminium foil can’t do.

Bowl and boat shapes for baking or grilling – A mixture of the uses mentioned above. In Thailand, we tried Khai- Pam, a grilled omelette on the banana leaf that is amazing. Another example would be the Hor Mok, a steamed fish custard on a banana leaf bowl.

Non-stick paper for baking cakes and bread – This is how Bibingka is made in the Philippines. Bibingka is a rice and coconut cake that is baked in a cake pan covered with banana leaves. How about baking a loaf of bread on the banana leaf?

Takeaway or to-go packaging – Have you ever dreamed to find a biodegradable and inexpensive takeaway package? Banana leaves can be the solution to that. In Malaysia, Nasi lemak, one of the most traditional dishes, is sold in a triangular package made with banana leaf. The same happens in Indonesia with Nasi jingo and nasi bantingan. Just open it and eat the food on the leaf itself.

Wrapper for food fermentation – For some foods, banana leaves are also a great element for aerobic fermentation. It allows air exchange while protecting the food and letting fermentation occur naturally.

This is the method of making Kenkey, a dish from the northwest region of Africa, which is a corn dough fermented in banana leaves. In Vietnamese foods, we tried Nem Chua, fermented pork meat in banana leaf. Another good example is the Tempeh from Indonesia. Additionally, banana leaves are also used to cover cocoa during its fermentation.

A layer for covering plates – In Indonesia, it is very common for dishes to be served with a banana leaf mat on the plate. In this case, the banana leaf has two functions, besides being beautiful, does not let the plates get too dirty.

It also contributes to consuming less water for the cleaning! By the way, some local and traditional restaurants called warung makan, use rattan baskets layered with a banana leaf to serve food instead of a regular plate.

Can also be the plate itself or even the tablecloth – In South India, there is a festive tradition called Sadhya where a whole feast is served on the banana leaf stretched on the floor. In this tradition, each portion such as rice, dhal, chutneys, and curries have their own specific spot on the leaf.

Anyways, you don’t need any specific date or ceremony to use the banana leaf in your food preparations. In Malaysia, there are many restaurants of Indian Malays known as Banana leaf that serve rice and various side dishes on top of an individual leaf.

To wrap the leftover food – If it is used to cook, serve, and pack, why not store it? The banana leaf lasts a long time in the refrigerator and freezes very well. To give a beautiful tropical touch to any plating and serving Can you imagine how beautiful it would be to serve your meal on a banana leaf bowl? Also, we can do a lot of decorative stuff as well out of banana leaves and add to the presentation plates, tables, platters and center pieces.

TIPS ON HOW TO USE BANANA LEAF FOR COOKING PURPOSES:

Before using the banana leaf, it is important to understand some of its characteristics.  Did you know that banana trees are not a tree themselves but one giant herb? A banana leaf can reach more than 2 meters long. It has a central stalk (petiole) that divides the leaf into 2
blades. The top side of the sheet is brighter and the bottom side is more matte.

For most of the uses we have listed above, the two blades need to be separated from the central stalk. If you buy banana leaf in the market, this step will most probably be already done. Then, just follow the tips below:

  • Clean the leaves in the direction of the fibres to reduce the risk of tearing it.
  • Before use, boil it in water for some minutes or heat the leaves on the flame, so it will become flexible.
  • When the leaves are detached from the central stalk, there is a fibrous part of the side that was attached. This “line” of fibre can be used to tie your packages.
  • Cut into the size you need, tear the leaves with your hand in the direction of the fibre. If you want a specific format, use scissors.
  • For steaming or baking, use a toothpick to close the wrapping.
  • By doing this you avoid reopening itself.
  • You can freeze the banana leaves. To do so, it is more practical to cut the leaf in smaller sizes. When you use it, just defrost at room temperature.
  • If your recipe is too watery or has some sauce, it is better to consider a double layer of banana leaf. It can handle this type of preparation, but you don’t need to push it too much.

Here are a few recipes using banana leaves in cooking some international delicacies:

Recipe-1] CHICKEN MASALA MYSTERY WRAP

Ingredients:

For the chicken marination:

  • Sliced boneless chicken breasts- 400 – 500 gms
  • Olive oil- 2-3 tsp
  • Sea salt – 1-2 tsp
  • Lime juice-2-3 tsp
  • Mustard paste- 1 tsp
  • White wine-2-3 tbsp.
  • White vinegar-1 tsp
  • Crushed black pepper -1/2 tsp
  • Roasted crushed cumin-1/2 tsp
  • Roasted crushed fennel-1/2 tsp
  • Fresh parsley-1-2 tsp chopped

For the toppings in the banana leaf wrap:

  • Green/ red/ yellow capsicums- ½ cup cut into strips
  • Tomato juliennes- ½ cup
  • Banana leaf wrappers- 2-3 sheets trimmed and cut out

Method:

  1. Prepare the banana leaf wrapper and keep it ready.
  2. Clean, wash and prepare the boneless chicken breasts, pat dry them and in a bowl or plate combine together the ingredients for the marination and apply it well on the chicken pieces inside out.
  3. Allow the marinated chicken to chill in the fridge for 30 mins. now continue by placing the peppers and tomatoes as a base in the leaf set up and place the chicken piece as well and top with some more veggies.
  4. Ensure to pack the Leaf wrap well and cover the chicken from all sides. Place the wrapped leaves with chicken on a tray with a little water in it and place in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees for around 25- 30 mins, check using a knife/ fork and remove once cooked.
  5. Place the cooked chicken in the leaf wrap onto the serving plates and serve it hot.

Recipe-2] ASIAN STYLE MARINATED FISH IN BANANA LEAF

Ingredients:

  • Boneless fish fillets- 500 gms, cut into even sized pieces

For the marination:

  • Oil-2-3 tsp
  • Lime juice- 2-3 tsp
  • Ginger juice- 2 tsp
  • Lemon grass- 3-4 pieces
  • Mustard paste-1 tsp
  • White vinegar-1 tsp
  • Salt to taste
  • White pepper to taste
  • Soy sauce-1-2 tsp
  • Red chili sauce- 1-2 tsp
  • Brown sugar/ white sugar-1/2 tsp
  • Thai red curry paste- 1-2 tsp
  • Lemon slices- 4-5 no
  • Lime leaves- 3-4 no
  • Banana leaves- 2-3 sheets, trimmed and cut out to wrap
  • For the sauce to go along with the steamed fish:
  • Oil-1 tsp
  • Garlic-1 tsp chopped
  • Lemon grass- 2-3 pieces
  • Fresh basil leaves- 3-4 no
  • Thai red curry paste-1-2 tsp
  • Water-1/4 cup
  • Coconut milk- 1 cup thick
  • Steamed rice to go along.

Method:

  1. To start with the fish recipe, clean, wash and pat dry the fish fillets and prepare the marination in a plate/ bowl and apply it well on the fish fillets, keep refrigerated for 20 mins.
  2. Place the water to boil, prepare the steamer in order to cook the banana wrapped fish. Once the banana leaves are ready, place the fish pieces one by one on them and close them carefully, secure with toothpicks and place the parcels in the steamer.
  3. Allow the fish to cook for 12- 15 mins steaming method and in the meantime prepare the steamed rice, and also heat oil in a pan add in the garlic, lemon grass, basil and thai curry paste, add in some water and then coconut milk and simmer the sauce for 10-12 mins, it will start thickening up. Add some seasonings as needed and balance it.
  4. If needed add some corn flour water solution and get a coating texture to the sauce and turn it off. Prepare the serving plate, portion out the steamed rice, open and place the fish parcels on the side, add some thai coconut sauce along and enjoy the recipe.

Recipe-3] CHICKEN AND OLIVE MA- MA- MIA

Ingredients:

  • Boneless chicken breasts- 400 gms

For the marination:

  • Oil- 2-3 tsp
  • Garlic-1 tsp chopped
  • Ginger- 1 tsp chopped
  • Turmeric powder-1/4 tsp
  • Lime juice-2-3 tsp
  • Soy sauce- 2-3 tsp
  • Red chili sauce- 2-3 tsp
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Tomato ketchup-1-2 tsp
  • Fresh coriander- 1 tbsp. chopped
  • Banana leaf- 2-3 sheets, trimmed and prepared.

For the sauce to go along with the steamed chicken:

  • Mayonnaise- ½ cup
  • Capsico sauce- ½ tsp
  • Chopped parsley-1 tsp
  • Lime juice-1 tsp
  • Sliced olives- 2-3 tsp sliced- black olive
  • Sliced olives-2-3 tsp sliced- green olive

Method:

  1. Prepare the chicken breasts, slit them open horizontally like a butterfly concept. Prepare the marination in a bowl separately and apply to the chicken pieces. We have two options here to keep it the way it is or the second option to use some chopped nuts with grated cheese and stuff the breasts, close them seal them with the back of a knife and allow to chill for 20 mins.
  2. Grease the banana leaf pieces with a little olive oil and place the chicken pieces one by one in every pocket and carefully close the parcels and place them in a pre-prepared steamer and allow to cook for 18-25 mins.
  3. Remove carefully and keep aside, in the meantime prepare the cold sauce based with mayonnaise to go along with the chicken pieces.
  4. Prepare the serving plate, place the banana chicken parcels and open them slightly to get the chicken visible, place the sauce alongside and also offer some tossed salad / bread etc to be enjoyed with the steamed chicken.

Recipe- 4] HERB AND PEPPER CRUSTED FISH WRAP

Ingredients:

  • Boneless fish fillets- 500 gms, cut into even pieces.

For the marination of the fish:

  • Oil- 2-3 tsp
  • Ginger-garlic paste- 1 tsp
  • Lime juice-2-3 tsp
  • White vinegar-1 tsp
  • Crushed black pepper-1 tsp
  • Dried oregano- ½ tsp
  • Dried mixed herbs-1/2 tsp
  • Chopped parsley-1 tsp
  • Mustard paste- 1 tsp
  • Sugar-1/2 tsp
  • Soy sauce- 1 tsp
  • Capsico sauce-1/2 tsp
  • Curry leaves- 5- 6 no
  • Banana leaves -2-3 sheets, prepared and trimmed

For the sauce to go along with the fish:

  • Mayonnaise-1/2 cup
  • Cream cheese-1 tsp
  • Lime juice-1 tsp
  • Chopped dill leaves- 1 tsp
  • Mustard paste-1/2 tsp
  • Sliced black/ green olives- 2-3 tsp

Method:

  1. Prepare the fish pieces to start with by cleaning, washing and pat dry the fish pieces.
  2. Prepare the marination in a plate separately and make sure to coat the fish well with the marination. Place the pieces in the fridge for around 20 mins.
  3. Place the water to boil and prepare the steamer, place the prepared fish parcels in the steamer and allow to cook for 12-15 mins.
  4. In the meantime, prepare the cold sauce to go alongside with the fish recipe and mix all the ingredients for the same, chill for 20 mins.
  5. Once the fish is ready and all set to go on the plate, arrange the serving plate and place some plate garnishes to make the plate look presentable and also place a little of the cold sauce as well.

Recipe-5] LEAF WRAPPED TOFU PARCEL

Ingredients:

  • Tofu- 250 gms, cut into squares/ triangles.

For the marination of the tofu:

  • Oil- 2- 3 tsp
  • Lime juice-2-3 tsp
  • Garlic paste- 1 tsp
  • Roasted crushed cumin- ½ tsp
  • Crushed black pepper-1/2 tsp
  • White pepper powder-1/4 tsp
  • Salt to taste
  • Curd- ¼ cup thick and beaten
  • Garam masala powder-1/4 tsp
  • Banana leaf-2-3 sheets to be prepared and kept for steaming.

For the topping to go on the steamed tofu:

  • Oil-2 tsp
  • Ginger- 1 tsp chopped
  • Spring onion greens-2-3 tbsp. chopped
  • Green chilies- 1 tsp chopped
  • Mixed herbs-1/2 tsp
  • Lime juice-2-3 tsp

Method:

  1. Prepare the tofu of a firm variety by cutting it into even pieces, shape and size.
  2. Marinate the tofu pieces, keep them aside in the fridge for around 20 mins.
  3. Place water to boil, prepare the steamer and also prepare the banana leaf sheets by making pockets for the same.
  4. Place every marinated tofu piece on the prepared banana sheets and carefully fold them up and secure them.
  5. Place the tofu parcels in the steamer and allow to cook for 8-10 mins. to serve the tofu parcels, heat oil add in the ingredients for the tempering and allow to crackle and splutter for few seconds.
  6. Prepare the serving plate, place the tofu wrap and open it on the top and surface being visible, pour the tempering over and serve it immediately.

Recipe-6] TEMPERED CURRIED LEAF PANEER PLATE

Ingredients:

  • Paneer- 250 gms, cut into even pieces
  • Oil-2-3 tsp
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Lime juice- 2-3 tsp
  • Cumin powder-1/2 tsp
  • Coriander powder-1/2 tsp
  • Turmeric powder-1/4 tsp
  • Red chili powder-1/4 tsp
  • Garam masala powder-1/4 tsp
  • Curry leaves- 1 tsp, dried and powdered
  • Sugar-1/2 tsp
  • White vinegar-1 tsp
  • Banana leaf- 2-3 sheets, trimmed and prepared

To serve the sauce to go along:

  • Mayonnaise- ½ cup
  • Lime juice- 1 tsp
  • Capsico sauce- ¼ tsp
  • Mustard paste-1/4 tsp
  • Curry leaf powder- ¼ tsp
  • Crushed black pepper- ¼ tsp

Method:

  1. Prepare the banana leaf, trim and keep ready to prepare the parcels for the paneer.
  2. Assemble the paneer pieces and apply the marinate and keep to chill for 20 mins.
  3. Prepare the parcels one by one and secure them carefully. In the meantime, the water should be simmering, steamer should be ready and place the parcels in the steamer, cover and allow to cook for 10- 12 mins.
  4. On the side prepare the cold sauce to go along with the paneer plate recipe. allow the sauce to chill for 20 mins. once the steamer is off, prepare the plate to serve the recipe.
  5. The paneer parcels can be placed on the serving plate and accompanied with the cold sauce to go along, also offer some rice like a coconut rice/ turmeric rice/ cumin and coriander pilaf rice and some salad to go on the side is a good combination.
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