COOKING WITH BANANA LEAF
HEALTHY- NUTRI-RICH & NOURISHING
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. Cooking with banana leaf is very healthy.
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 applications. 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, and Abará in Brazil.
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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 alive element, so it adds a nice sweet and smoky flavor, something that the aluminum foil can’t do.
Bowl and boat shapes for baking or grilling
Apart from the mixture of the uses mentioned above, in Thailand, the Khai-Pam, a grilled omelette on the banana leaf was tried and found amazing. Another example would be the Hor Mok, a steamed fish custard on a banana leaf bowl.
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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 leaves. The same happens in Indonesia with Nasi jingo and nasi bantingan. Just open it and eat the food on the leaf itself.
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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 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.
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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.
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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.
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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 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
Recipe-2] ASIAN STYLE MARINATED FISH IN BANANA LEAF
Recipe-3] CHICKEN AND OLIVE MA – MA – MIA
Recipe- 4] HERB AND PEPPER CRUSTED FISH WRAP
Recipe-5] LEAF WRAPPED TOFU PARCEL
Recipe-6] TEMPERED CURRIED LEAF PANEER PLATE
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About the author
Dr. Kaviraj Khialani – celebrity master chef - is a Mumbai-based author, writer, academician, food –health-lifestyle coach, mentor & consultant.
He is specialized in over 33 International Cuisines & has worked with brands like the Taj Group of Hotels, Kuwait Airways to name a few. Chef Kaviraj has been awarded several Global and National Awards for his outstanding performance and achievements in his chosen field. He has been featured on Star Plus and Colors Television on several food shows as well.