About fifteen years ago, I lived for a stint in the Philippines while revamping the menu for the Farm at San Benito, a health resort in the Batangas region. One of the chefs was from Thailand and usually made the staff meal. I fell hard for this dish. She made it with fresh coconut cream from the Farm, which tastes sooooo much better than canned. Use it if you can find it. The Filipino dish is called ginataang puso ng saging, which literally means “banana hearts cooked in coconut cream.” Lime, cilantro, and chiles give this version a more Vietnamese spin. Either way, the banana hearts/blossoms are the star. They have a savory taste and chewy texture reminiscent of pulled pork. Look for fresh banana blossoms in an Asian market. Canned does not work well here. — Chad Sarno.
Wicked Healthy Vegan Banana Blossom with Coconut and Chile
Serves 2 – 4
1 banana blossom (about 1 pound)
1½ tablespoons everyday olive oil
3 shallots, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon julienned fresh ginger
1 Thai chile, sliced into paper-thin rounds
1 can (15 ounces) coconut milk or coconut cream
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
1 lime, halved
3 to 4 cups cooked rice vermicelli noodles or rice
¼ English cucumber, cut into thin planks 2 inches long and ¼ inch wide
Shredded iceberg lettuce
Handful chopped fresh cilantro
2 green onions, minced
Thinly sliced Thai chiles, optional (if you like it spicy)
Lime wedges, for squeezing
1. TO PREP THE BANANA BLOSSOM: Rinse it well, and begin removing each layer of leaves, collecting the small banana blossoms within as you separate the leaves. Discard the tougher, outer layers of leaves. Continue removing leaves, retaining the tender inner leaves and small blossoms.
2. Stack about 5 tender banana leaves at a time and cut the stack crosswise into long thin strips. Fill a large bowl with water and a big squeeze of lemon. Drop the squeezed lemon half into the bowl. Place the strips in the lemon water. I usually discard the small blossoms, but if you don’t mind tedious work, remove the inedible stigma and small petal from each blossom as shown. For very tiny blossoms, simply pinch off and discard the tips. When all the small blossoms are cleaned, chop them and add to the lemon water. Add about 2 tablespoons salt and massage the leaves and blossoms under the water, pressing them between your fingers for a few minutes. This process removes bitterness, and the water should become discolored. Drain off the water, then fill the bowl with fresh water, lemon juice, and salt. Repeat massaging and pressing under the water for a few minutes more. Drain off the water and pat the leaves and blossoms dry. This unique ingredient is now ready to be cooked.
3. Heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the oil to evenly cover the bottom, then add the shallots and stir until they are translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, chile, and prepped banana blossom. Shake the pan to spread evenly and sauté until the blossom takes on a bit of color and softens, 4 to 5 minutes, stirring to avoid burning the garlic.
4. Lower the heat to medium and stir in the coconut milk, tamari, and ½ teaspoon salt. Continue stirring until the coconut milk reduces slightly in volume. (Stirring helps keep the coconut milk from separating.) Remove from the heat and squeeze in the juice from one lime half. Taste and add more tamari, salt, and/or lime juice as needed.
5. TO ASSEMBLE: Divide the noodles among 2 to 4 noodle bowls. Ladle in the coconut banana blossom mixture, and add cucumber, lettuce, cilantro, green onions, sliced chile (if using), and lime wedges for squeezing.
Excerpted from the book THE WICKED HEALTHY COOKBOOK by Chad Sarno, Derek Sarno, and David Joachim. Copyright © 2018 by Chad Sarno and Derek Sarno. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Life & Style. All rights reserved.