We say someone is going bananas when they act strange. Bananas also bring to mind monkeys. What a lot of negative association for a wonderfully versatile and nutrient-packed fruit that is accessible even to the poorest. A banana easily makes a complete meal. Grab one and eat it on the go but be careful not to throw the peel on the sidewalk lest someone slips on it! Perhaps you can save it and make a tasty stir-fry.
Every part of the banana plant (it remains a plant, no matter how big it grows!), including the flowers and soft inner stem is edible, either raw or cooked. From chips to pakodas to stir-fries to masala roasts, you can make a variety of dishes out of the various products of the banana plant. Food is traditionally served on banana leaves in the south. They are also used to steam and pack foods. It is the best eco-friendly, bio-degradable material there is.
We use young banana plants to decorate the shrine at home during auspicious occasions and festivals. Larger plants with the flower and fruit still intact adorn the entrance of wedding halls as they are considered a symbol of prosperity.
The banana plant itself is a beauty with a smooth jade-green stem and large leaves fanning out gracefully, and it has no wood. Harry Belafonte sings of banana bunches that are six, seven and eight foot in his famous Banana Boat song, but the average bunch I have seen has not been bigger than maybe two or three feet. The dark maroon flower hangs down and the rows of bananas point upwards. It is such a glorious sight, believe me. The plant yields only one bunch of fruits in its lifetime and once the fruit is harvested, the mother plant is cut down to allow the sapling growing out of its roots to grow.
Raw and ripe bananas are produced and eaten in many tropical regions of the world. In India, the southern states are the major consumers where not just the bananas but the flowers and stem are also eaten. The flower has dozens of layers each with rows of tiny florets. There is one hard stamen in each floret, which defies the sharpest knife and has to be weeded out before cooking. In Tamil we call it kallan, meaning thief. Perhaps it was named thus because a thief is eventually caught?
The flower has a slightly bitter and astringent taste and needs to be tempered with fresh coconut to balance it. My mother used to add a spoonful of sugar to soften the taste. The soft pith after peeling off the layers of the stem is eaten. Full of fibre, it has great medicinal value and its juice is known to dissolve even kidney stones! Chopped fine after removing the fibre, it can be made into a raw raita, or with moong dal and a ground paste of coconut, jeera and green chillies as kootu or into a simple stir fry.
Hundreds of banana varieties are grown in India, and is the largest producer of bananas with a share of 23% of the world production. One can see many varieties in fruit shops in the south, ranging from the finger-sized poovan to the half foot or even longer red bananas of Kerala.
Before closing, here’s an interesting banana trivia for you: Did you know that a bunch of bananas is known as a hand and a single banana is a finger?
The author is your regular neighborhood granny. Loves cooking, feeding her friends and family, telling tales and reading children’s books among others — on her Kindle. She is comfortable with people her age, older than her and of course all youngsters right down to infants. And oh, she is in tune with the times too. She has seen the telegram transform into Twitter and telephone into WhatsApp. You could call her Gadget Granny Seeta, if you like. She loves saying that the tip of her tongue is in the fingers on her keyboard!