I grew up in the land of mangoes. There were orchards all around my house, so I knew everything that one wanted to know about the mango but was afraid to ask. There was, on the other hand, not one banana tree. So I have to admit I was fairly shaky about the banana when I was growing up. It was only much later when I was older and wiser that I discovered the many wonderful properties of the banana plant.
I fear that in the looks department, the plant with its Sad Sack-like drooping leaves is likely to get a D minus. But when it comes to its use in the kitchen, you just cant beat it. We all know that every part of the tree is used for culinary purposes from its stem and leaves to its fruit and flower. Raw bananas are especially beneficial when the stomach is queasy.
Not surprisingly, Mayank Kulshreshtha, executive chef of ITC Sonar, has been looking at the banana plant with considerable interest. I had a long chat with him when I was in Calcutta recently, and he told me that he was planning out a full menu with banana dishes.
| Kanchkolar kofta
Indeed, bananas can be used rather innovatively in a meal, starting with a mochar cutlet or a mochar paturi banana flower steamed in a banana leaf and ending with banana fritters (kolar bora) over-ripe bananas coated in batter and deep fried. My friend Swati tells me that kolar bora is considered auspicious, and it was presented with the customary payesh every year for her birthday when she was growing up in Calcutta.
And in between, as the chef has planned out, there can be a host of wonderful dishes, such as chholar dal mocha diye (channey ki dal cooked with banana flower; or thhoder kofta.
The thhod which, literature tells us, was served to Chaitanya by his admirer Sarvabhauma in the late 15th or early 16th century is the core of the banana stem. The thick outer layer is discarded, and the inner stem is used in all kinds of exotic dishes.
The chef, for instance, minces the banana stem and then marinates it with turmeric powder and salt. After an hour, he squeezes out the excess water, and then cooks it in hot mustard oil with onions, ginger and green chillies, along with mashed boiled potatoes. This is finally mixed with sattu, cardamom powder, sugar, salt and ghee. Balls are made out of this and then fried. These koftas finally go into a thick sauce.
Green and raw bananas are similarly turned into kanchkolar kofta. He boils them, mashes them, cooks them with condiments, makes little balls out of the mixture and deep fries them, before immersing them in a thick and delicious gravy.
The fruit, which has been growing in India for centuries (there are references to it in Pali/Sanskrit literature of 400 BC) is now a fruit of the world, for its eaten almost everywhere. Food historian K.T. Achaya tells us that the word banana is of African origin. Banana means a single finger or toe, and the plural is banan. The word, he says, was carried by African slaves to the Americas and then spread to the rest of the world.
I am now convinced that the banana is not just a plant its a veritable kitchen.
Mochar cutlet (serves 8-10)
Ingredients: • 1kg banana flowers • 250g chopped onion • 50g chopped mint leaves • 50g chopped coriander leaves • 20 chopped green chillies • 50g ginger garlic paste • 500g boiled and grated potatoes • 20g turmeric powder • 20g red chilli powder • 20g roasted cumin powder • 1kg bread crumbs • 250ml corn flour • 50ml ghee • 500ml refined oil • salt and sugar to taste
Method: Peel and clean banana flowers and boil them in salt and turmeric water. Chop them into sticks. Add cumin seeds, bay leaves and onion in hot oil. Brown the onions lightly. Add ginger garlic paste and cook well. Add salt, sugar, turmeric and red chilli powder. Cook well. Add the banana and cook till soft. Add mint and coriander leaves, green chillies and potatoes. Mix well and add ghee to it. Shape into cutlets. Prepare a batter with corn flour mixed in water. Dip the cutlets in it. Crumb them and deep fry.
Chholar dal mocha diye (serves 8-10)
Ingredients: • 1kg channa dal • 500g banana flowers • 250g chopped onions • 200g chopped tomatoes • 30g chopped green chillies • 30g ginger paste • 2 bay leaves • 5g whole cumin seeds • 20g roasted cumin powder • 10g garam masala powder • 20g red chilli powder • 20g turmeric powder • 250ml mustard oil • 5 whole red chillies • 50ml ghee • alt and sugar to taste
Method: Boil the dal along with one bay leaf and green chillies. Keep it aside. Clean and peel the banana flower and blanch it well in salt and turmeric water. Chop it into fine sticks. Heat mustard oil in a deep vessel. Put cumin seeds, a bay leaf and whole red chillies. When they crackle, add onions and cook till they turn light brown. Add ginger paste and cook for a
few more minutes. Add tomatoes and cook well. Add the red chilli powder and turmeric powder. Cook for a minute. Add garam masala, sugar and salt. Now add the chopped banana flower and cook till its soft. Add the boiled dal along with water its been cooked in. Let it simmer till the dal is thick. Now finish with roasted cumin powder and ghee.