Almost each time I'm in Kolkata I make multiple discoveries, many of them culinary. On one of my many visits I sampled a Thor Diye Moong Dal that combines the goodness of banana stem with the nutritious benefits of moong dal. Until then most of the banana stem-based delicacies I've tried have been quintessential South Indian dishes. Almost across South India, there's a special place for the banana tree. You will be greeted by decorations with banana leaves, stems and flowers during auspicious functions and weddings. Our special meals are always served on banana leaves; almost every component of the banana tree from the banana to the banana flower is consumed.
Health Benefits Of Banana Stem:
Among these various elements is the banana stem - Vazha Thandu in Tamil, Baledindina (Kannada), Vazhapindi or Unni Thandu in Malayalam or Arati Doota (Telugu). It's favoured not only for its unique texture and flavour but also for its numerous health benefits. Technically, a banana tree is actually a large herbaceous plant (plants with no persistent woody stem above the ground) and the stem is actually a flower stalk. Banana stem combines the goodness of potassium and vitamin B6. This helps it combat cholesterol and high blood pressure. It's favoured in ayurvedic diets for its detoxification properties and is also one of the best known diuretics. It's been known to prevent and treat kidney stones. It's also a regular feature in South Indian kitchens during the summer for its cooling properties.
Cooking With Banana Stem:
Banana stems are typically harvested for cooking when they are about 3 - 4 months old. Preparation is a time consuming process. You need to peel off the harder exteriors to get to the edible portion that is typically a creamy white with crisp textures and a mild flavour. One of the easiest ways to consume banana stem is in a juice form. A simple method to make this is to soak the banana stem for an hour after chopping into smaller pieces. You can blend this in a mixer and strain out the fibres before adding lime or any other mild flavouring agent and serving it. In many South Indian homes it's not uncommon to combine buttermilk with the same blend after you strain out the fibres. You could 'temper' the buttermilk to add flavour to this blend of the banana stem juice and buttermilk.
In Southern Thailand it's common to add finely chopped banana stems into a sweet and sour vegetable soup or a curry. My preferred banana stem recipe is a pachadi (or a raita) that is a popular recipe across South India. It's simple (other than the prep for the banana stems) and makes a great accompaniment to rice with sambar or rasam especially on a hot summer's day.
Recipe - Banana Stem Pachadi
Banana stem (sliced): 1 cup
Thick yogurt: 1 and half cups
Salt: to taste
Coriander: a few sprigs
Asafoetida: a pinch
For the 'tempering'
Urad dal: 1 and half teaspoon
Mustard: half teaspoon
Dried red chilly: 1
Coconut oil: 1 teaspoon
Curry leaves: a few sprigs
Peel the outer layers and cut the inner layer of the banana stem into small slices.
You could use these raw (if you like it crunchy) or just blanche it (like how you blanche spinach for palak paneer).
Whip the yoghurt with the salt and asafoetida and add the banana stem.
Temper the ingredients and add it to the yogurt and banana stem mix.
Garnish it with finely chopped coriander.
Recipe - Banana Stem Thoran
Recipe Courtesy - Chef Jayaprasad, Brand Chef - Ente Keralam, Chennai
This healthy recipe combines a generous amount of grated coconut with banana stem and is served as part of an elaborate Kerala sadhya or home meal along with rice and accompaniments.
Banana stem (Chopped) - 200 gms
Shallots (chopped) - 25 gms
Green chilly (chopped) - 2 nos
Coconut (grated) - 50 gms
Cumin seeds - 5 gms
Mustard seeds - 5 gms
Curry leaves -few
Turmeric powder -5gms
Dry red chillies - 3-4 nos
Salt - To taste
Coconut oil - for tempering
Heat the coconut oil in a pan.
Add mustard seeds, dry red chillies and curry leaves.
Then add the shallots & green chillies and add half the quantity of turmeric powder.
Add the banana stem, mix it well. Sprinkle some water and allow the banana stem to cook in slow fire. Add salt to taste.
Grind the coconut, cumin seeds and remaining turmeric powder into a rough mixture.
Add the coconut mixture to the banana stem when it is almost done.
Remove from the fire once the coconut mixture is completely mixed to the banana stem.
Sprinkle few curry leaves at the end.
So make the most of this wonder ingredient and impress your family and friends with your culinary skills.