The sight of our cook prepping banana flower/banana blossom was one to behold. She would spread a few sheets of newspaper on the floor, take two large bowls, one filled with water, and sit down to begin the routine. Rubbing mustard oil generously on both her hands, a step that prevents staining of the hands, she would begin by removing the dark purple outer layer first, detaching the florets attached to the base carefully, and soaking them in water. She did that with every single layer, checking to make sure she does not waste any floret. Going all the way in, she’d remove the heart of the flower. All the florets, including the heart, are soaked in cold water, with a little lemon juice squeezed in so as to prevent them from turning dark.
But that was nothing. Cleaning each of these florets is a task in itself.
One has to gently remove the outer skin of each of these florets, and then take out the thin stem from inside the floret. The skin and the stem are discarded. The heart of the flower too needs to be chopped carefully and quickly because they tend to turn brown fast.
The chopped florets should ideally be soaked in the water for about half an hour. After that it is typically pressure-cooked with some salt and turmeric for about 15-20 minutes, and the water is drained out.
By the time all this was done, and the actual meal was ready to be cooked, I am pretty certain that we would have been dozing with a book in our hands. However that preparation of banana flower (or mocha as the Bengalis call it), with potatoes, and shrimps, and always served as the first course with steaming hot rice, would rarely fail to evoke superlatives.
Cooking with Banana Flower
Called by many other names – kele ka phool in Hindi, bale moothi in Kannada, vazhaipoo in Tamil – the banana flower is cooked in plenty of ways across the country. In Bengal, the Mochar Ghonto, a vegetarian preparation, is yet another treat. Cooked with bits of coconut, whose crunch would offset the soft texture of the mocha beautifully, I always liked to eat it with rice and dal. And most often not care about what’s coming next.
The Vazhaipoo Poriyal – a stir-fried version of the dish – also uses coconut, with the addition of curry leaves, urad dal, and dry red chilli.
In Kerala, the Vazhaipoo Thoran is yet another popular dish, which is prepared quite similarly to the poriyal mentioned above. What’s interesting to note, and something I discovered much later, that in both the recipes, the banana florets are soaked in thin buttermilk, instead of water with lemon, to avoid discolouration.
It also makes for a great snack. Making the Mochar Chop, a star appetiser in plenty of Bengali restaurants, is a tedious affair. The filling, apart from chopped and boiled banana florets, requires boiled potatoes, coconut, peanuts (it really doesn’t taste the same without it) and raisins. Always make sure the banana florets have been drained off all the water after its boiling; water in the mix will not give the filling the right consistency. These are then shaped into mounds by hand, bread crumbed, and fried.
Over time, the process of prepping the banana flower got the better of us. People rarely have the time to go through the entire cleaning process. In fact, my friend was recently commenting that she always goes and picks up a ready dish from a restaurant, should the urge to eat ‘mocha’ arise.
As for me, I haven’t eaten a good Mocha Chingri (banana flower with shrimp) in a long time. For the recipe, click here.
Banana Flower – Health Benefits
The health benefits of the banana flower are simply brilliant. For instance, did you know that it contains protein, a lot of fiber, calcium, phosphorus, iron, copper, potassium (which is why bananas are good for you), magnesium, and even vitamin E (heard of banana hair and face masks?)?
It’s also low on fat, and about 100 grams of banana flower has about 51 kcal.
It’s also a great detoxifying agent, and incidentally given to control excessive menstrual bleeding. Plus it’s known to reduce anxiety, and uplift mood. But I doubt you can get there by eating it just once.
About the author:
Priyadarshini Nandy would love to call herself the writer who "divides her time between London and Prague", but being able to call both Bengaluru and Kolkata her home is equally gratifying. As an independent journalist, she writes about food, theatre, travel, and more food, for various publications - new age and old school.
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