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One Good Meal Mon May 17 2010
From the time I was 17 years old until a few weeks ago, I was mildly allergic to bananas. I didn't have the full throat-closing, rash-developing reaction that comes with a full-blown allergy. But I would have more than a timid bite of banana and I would spend some quality "alone time" in the bathroom. It was unpleasant enough to make me avoid banana anything, although I gave in occasionally to a piece of banana bread, which seemed to offer no ill effects--but it made me nervous enough of the possible reaction that I was still more careful than I probably needed to be.
However, a few weeks ago a lone banana sat on the counter. I was home alone, and I had read an article about how people who thought they were allergic to fruits and vegetables found that they could eat organic versions of those items, which meant they were more likely affected by the pesticides used. I (pardon the geekery) tweeted that I was going to try a banana for the first time in 21 years and a friend replied that she had also been allergic to bananas, but the pesticide used on them was changed a few years ago and now she suffers no problems.
Buoyed with hope, and desirous of my own forbidden fruit, I ate an entire banana, savoring each bite. It was glorious, I was thrilled, and then I sat around nervously for hours wondering what was going to happen. Nothing happened. So I ate another banana.
A day hasn't gone by for the last several weeks where I haven't consumed at least one banana. They're cheap, they're high in potassium, fiber and vitamin C, and they're about 200 calories each, which makes it a great breakfast food. They're portable, they're mess-free for snacking while at the computer, and they're my new favorite food.
Which means I had to find new ways to use them. But before I get to the recipes, there are a few other general things to say about bananas. Chances are that there are just a few varieties of banana you can get at the store. Cavendish is the most common banana--it's pretty much the only one that is commercially farmed and sold in the U.S. Plantains are related to bananas, but are starchier, more fibrous, less sweet and are almost always cooked before consuming. Then there are the "baby" bananas. I've seen them and just assumed they were small versions of the regular Cavendish, but found out in a recent article in Saveur that they are a separate variety (aka a Finger, Ladyfinger or Nino). People tend to eat bananas before they turn completely brown, but that is when the smaller variety are best. So hold off on consuming the smaller variety until they've fully turned.
The darker a banana turns, no matter the type, the sweeter it becomes. Most people have a preferred banana texture. They're firmer when they're greener, and softer (possibly mushy) as they turn browner. However, if you're going to be cooking with them, let them ripen to the point of starting to mold before doing so. Once they turn dark brown, simply toss them in your freezer and you've got the sweetest banana and the mushy texture won't matter once it is cooked. Bananas can last about three months (with an intact peel) before you start to notice freezer-burn.
All of these recipes are fairly simple, and require just a small amount of prep time and few ingredients to create. Baked Sweet Potato and Banana Mash is just that. This makes a great side dish, freezes well in small containers for several months, and tastes great cold or hot so it is good for taking to picnics and potlucks. Banana "Ice Cream" doesn't contain any cream at all which makes it a great healthy snack for people watching their fat and calorie content as well as for vegans. The Banana Tart is easy to create, but impressive to serve, but isn't a health-conscious food. And a Banana Refrigerator Pie isn't healthy, but is a fairly easy and delicious cool dessert for those times when you don't want to have to heat your kitchen to bake.
Baked Sweet Potato and Banana Mash
2 pounds of sweet potato (about 2 large potatoes)
2 very-ripe bananas
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Wash the potato skins under cool water. Cut in half lengthwise. Place them on a baking sheet, cut side up. Place in the center of your oven and bake for 45 minutes. Pierce the middle of the largest potato, check for when it pierces, but isn't quite soft. Crack open the stems of the bananas, but don't peel them. Place them on the baking tray and bake for 30 minutes. Use either a food processor or hand-mixer to combine. Scoop the flesh out of the skins and place in the bowl. Peel the bananas, carefully since they'll be quite hot, and place them in the bowl with the potatoes. Combine the remaining ingredients and pulse or whip to combine. Serve while hot or refrigerate and serve while cold. If you prefer a sweeter taste, you can add honey or sugar.
Serves 6-8 as a side.
Banana "Ice Cream"
This dish is admittedly ripped off from Faith Durand of the kitchn.
2 ripe bananas
2 tablespoons peanut butter, nutella, or other flavoring
Peel two ripe bananas. Cut into thick coins and place on a flat pan or dish so they're not overlapping. Place them in the freezer for 1-2 hours. Remove them from the freezer and place in a blender or food processor with the peanut butter. Pulse several times until they go from having a thick texture to having a creamy texture. It should resemble the texture of soft-serve ice cream. You can return it to the freezer to get a hard freeze texture if you prefer. This will keep in the freezer if covered well for up to 4 weeks.
1 sheet of puff pastry
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Let the puff pastry thaw in the refrigerator overnight before using. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (or as otherwise directed on the package). Place an oven-proof skillet over medium heat. Add the butter, brown sugar, and vanilla extract to the skillet and let it melt. Stir constantly as it bubbles. It should get darker as it cooks for about 3-4 minutes. Turn off the heat. Peel the bananas and cut them in half length-wise. Cut these halves into three even pieces. Start at the outside edge and lay the bananas in the caramel, being very careful not to touch the carmel with your bare skin. One the bananas are added to the skillet, open the dough. Round the corners of the dough. Center the dough over the skillet and ease it over the ingredients. Place the skillet in the middle of the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes, or as directed by the package. Remove the pan from the oven and while it is still hot, place a plate upside down onto the dough in the skillet. Use hot pads to invert the pan. It should fall directly onto the plate. Reposition any bananas as needed, and cut to serve while warm. (A scoop of the banana ice cream described above would truly push this dish out of the decadent ballpark, eh?)
Banana Refrigerator Pie
This dish was inspired by Rachel Rappaport of Coconut & lime.
3 ripe bananas, mashed
8 ounces of cream cheese
1 14 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
juice from 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup Nutella
1 9-inch graham cracker crust
Combine all of the ingredients except for the pie crust in a blender or food processor and pulse to combine. Scrape down the sides frequently until you get a very smooth texture. Pour it into the crust, shake it to even out top, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or until it is set.
I don't expect you to make and eat all of these items in one week like I did, but hope that you like bananas enough to give some of these a try. If you've got your own favorite method of eating or preparing bananas, feel free to share it in the comments. I've got years of banana eating to catch up on.