December 30, 2016

The Magic of Banana Leaves

My office desk looks out across a field of banana palms and, as we have one measly (but healthy) specimen in our garden, I was thinking back to Singapore days and how much I loved Fish Head Curry served on a banana leaf. Can’t wait till my plant is big enough to provide the disposable dinner-set for this dish! Or perhaps I will go on a raid next door braving the scorpions over there to cut a few.

Anyway, I also remembered that in the olden days as I was growing up, my resourceful and way before his time Grandad often used banana leaves as we would use foil these days to cook in. The flavour was pretty nice, just a faint fruity tang to the meat or fish.

As there are so many concerns about the use of aluminium these days, why not plant a palm in your yard specifically as a foil substitute? Who cares if it never fruits? They are very decorative, grow like crazy even in Melbourne and with global warming, you may even get a bunch of bananas.

Some Uses:

In Chinese cooking, the leaves are often wrapped around tougher cuts of meat and steamed for a long time at low heat tenderizing and giving it a subtle flavour.

Tamales or Chinese rice cakes can be wrapped in banana leaves.

Use as disposable plates. Cut into place-mat sized rectangles or squares. You will get 4-6 from one young leaf (picked before the leaves shred). Leave the cetral rib on as the juices will well there. Compost after use.

Parcels and cones can be folded to contain things such as sticky mango rice, sweets etc. and for this you need to cut out the rib and shape the leaf the way you want to.

You can do more intricate foldings say for a Kra thong (floral offering) which can be as simple as folding a paper boat or as intricate as taking a circular section of the banana trunk (beware of the juice as it stains like blood) and pinning (with wooden toothpicks that will rot down) folded sections of banana palm leaf around to form a crown shape and filling that with orchids. This is also really pretty as a centerpiece
for a dining table. Don’t use polystyrene!

Mulched banana leaves are a nematodal and water conserving topper for soil.

Banana leaves make good cattle fodder (I have observed this as the farmer over the back picks up all the leaves and feeds them to his beautiful Brahman cattle which are in amazing shape for a herd kept in such a tiny, dirt-floored paddock). The banana leaves prevent certain parasites (or at least I THINK that is what the farmer said to me).

Banana peel contains beta sitosterol, stigmasterol, campesterol, cycloeucalenol, cycloartanol, and 24-methylene cycloartanol. The major constituents are 24-methylene cycloartanol palmitate and an unidentified triterpene ketone.

Banana leaves are as good as freezer wrap.

If you have to use frozen banana leaves, run the leaves under lukewarm water to allow them to thaw before use. Dried banana leaves can be rehydrated in warm water before use.
The banana leaf should be handled gently to avoid cracking or breakage.

Use a section of banana leaf on the BBQ under delicate food such as fish. It will eventually crisp and burn but it will protect the fish or meat from drying out.

Like Epaminondas use the leaves as a sombrero or umbrella. Wrap butter in it to keep it cool.

Wrap the kids’ school lunches in banana leaves.

Make a drinking vessel by making a paper boat shape and it will be quite leakproof.

Of course, if you happen to be chosen to compete in ‘Survivor’ you can easily layer them to make waterproof walls and roofs and you can weave the corners to anchor them for the inevitable hurricane. People who know how to do stuff with banana leaves would be voted out on day one for their ingenuity and threat factor so keep your skills quiet till you can get away with it… !

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