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The banana tree originated in India and eventually found its way through the tropical regions of the world, namely, Africa, Latin America, Australia and Southeast Asia.
If you want to get technical however, the banana is not a tree, nor is the yummy yellow edible a fruit. The “tree” is actually a large herb and the banana is seedless and thus, botanically speaking, not a fruit.
Each banana tree produces one and only one bunch of 100-400 bananas in its life. The groups of bananas are called hands and the individuals are referred to as fingers. Indeed, the name banana derives from the Arabic word “banan” meaning finger.
There are hundreds of species of banana but by far the most common is the Yellow Cavendish, which you can find in any American supermarket.
Generally, it is best to leave them out of the refrigerator. They can be refrigerated but their skin turns dark brown to black. To hasten their ripening, place them in a paper bag. In fact, if you’d like to speed up the ripening of your avocados, add them to the bag of bananas. Bananas (and apples) give off ethylene gas, a ripening agent. Once cut open, like many other fruits, bananas turn brown with prolonged contact to air. Depending on your recipe, you may need to mix your exposed bananas with lemon juice.
Bananas are high in potassium and vitamin C but also contain vitamins A and B6. Choose bananas that are free of blemishes and soft spots.
COOKING WITH BANANAS
Bananas can be cooked in many different ways, such as poaching, grilling, sauting and flambing, such as in the New Orleans classic Bananas Foster. Bananas are most often employed as a dessert or in baked goods. They can be utilized to make ice cream, pies, fruit salads, souffls, muffins, flans, fritters, bread and pancakes.
Banana leaves are common in Latin American cooking and used to wrap different kinds of food. There is even banana flour, made from dried and ground bananas.
(From Brennan’s, New Orleans)
This should only be made outdoors, on a grill, as the flames created by the flambing could be dangerous in a kitchen.
1/4 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup banana liqueur
4 bananas, halved lengthwise, then cut in half
1/4 cup dark rum
4 scoops vanilla ice cream
Combine the butter, sugar and cinnamon in a skillet and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the banana liqueur, and then add bananas to the pan. As the bananas begin to soften and turn slightly brown, carefully add the rum and cook it with the sauce, stirring, until the rum is hot. Now carefully tilt the pan to ignite the rum, and flamb the dish. After the flames have subsided, remove the banana pieces and place four pieces on each of the scoops of vanilla ice cream. Top with the sauce and serve immediately.
BREAKFAST BANANA RELISH
2 lb barely ripe bananas
4 Tbsps. unsalted butter
1/4 cup of brown sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
Juice and zest of one orange
3 oz raisins, pre soaked in 2 Tbsps. of rum
1 cup chopped toasted pecans
Freshly grated nutmeg and cinnamon to taste
In a large skillet, melt the butter and then add the brown sugar. Cook over low heat until the sugar melts and begins to bubble. Peel bananas and cut in half lengthwise. Make slices across each slice so each piece of banana is about 1/2-inch square. Turn the heat up and add the sliced bananas to the sugar and butter mixture. Add the remaining ingredients, including the rum soaked raisins, and bring to vigorous simmer. Serve immediately.
2-1/2 lb. peeled bananas
2-1/2 lb. sugar
8 oz. pineapple juice
Juice of 2 lemons
Place half of the peeled bananas in a large saucepan and mash with a potato masher. Slice up the other half of bananas, and add them to the pan. Stir in the juice of the lemons and the pineapple juice. Add the sugar and heat on a low setting until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil for about 3 minutes; and then allow to cool. Pour into a jam jar or other suitable container. Cover and seal.
BANANA OATMEAL COOKIES
3 medium bananas
2 cups quick-cook oatmeal
1-1/2 cups chopped dates
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
In a medium size bowl, mash the bananas. Add all the other ingredients; mix well. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto a cookie sheet (yields about 30). Bake at 375-degrees for about 25 minutes.
1 ripe banana
1/2 cup low fat yogurt
1 Tbsp, sugar
1 Tbsp. banana liqueur
1 cup crushed ice
1 tsp. fresh limejuice
Lime wedge or banana slice, for garnish.
In a blender, combine banana with yogurt, sugar, liqueur, ice and limejuice; process until smooth. Garnish with the lime wedge or banana slice and serve.
Norm Harding is a cooking columnist for the Beacon. To send him recipes, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.