Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Ensalåda fafalu (banana blossom salad)

We're lucky enough to have at least 20 banana plants (apparently they're not trees, but pseudostems--thanks Wikipedia banana article!) in the backyard, which are nice to look at while I'm working from my office. Unfortunately for me, I hate bananas because they induced a vomit-y trauma in childhood. The smell alone makes me want to ralph.

So we've let a fair number of banana hands fall to the ground and rot, in part because we don't have a ladder to reach them, and in part because I just can't bring myself to look at these bunches and figure out how to use them for anything other than banana bread.
However, I was at the vegetable stand and happened to see these big purple cabbage-looking things, and got totally intrigued. Because what were being sold in the veg stand were essentially these things, which hang from the bottom of the banana hands in our backyard:

Some cursory internet research revealed some recipes for banana blossom salad, which apparently is eaten in Vietnam and Thailand. The recipes I found tended to assume that the cooker knew exactly to prep blossoms, so I had to wing it the first time.

So here's the banana blossom. You can get a sense of how big they are; generally, I've found that it's best to work with one that's at least a foot long.

Get a blossom with leaves well-attached to the stem at the bottom. Leaves should have no or very little black around the edges and should be tightly packed. When blossoms are older, they also tend to give off a slightly alcoholic smell, which I don't particularly enjoy.

Peel the leaves off one at a time, removing the stamens along the way. I'm not sure if you can eat those, so if you know, please write so in the comments.

Most recipes suggest that if you eat the blossom leaves raw, you soak them in lemon juice as you trim the rest to prevent browning.

Generally, some of the recipes I've gleaned from local Filipino residents include using the blossom leaves in soups and stir-frying them with onions. Surprisingly enough, I haven't met any Chamoru yet who has actually prepped fafalu. An old Pacific Daily News article I found from the early 80s suggests cooking it with ground beef and coconut milk--which seems to be the default method of cooking in Guåhan if one doesn't know what to do with a vegetable-like substance--so maybe I'll try that later.

In the meantime, I threw together a mixture of diced red peppers, cilantro, green onions, garlic, red pepper flakes, kalamansi (the local version of small limes or lemons) juice, fish sauce, sugar, rice vinegar, and oil. The dressing resembles that of Thai green papaya salad. You can check out some recipes on banana blossoms here and here.

Otherwise, I was able to patch together a not-bad combination of shrimp with chili garlic sauce and ensalåda fafalu. Overall, the chopped leaves resemble raw cabbage most closely in texture, and have a pretty neutral flavor which will lend themselves to heavy spicing and improvisation.

My photos are obviously not as good as other food blogs, but I guess it's one more thing I can work on while here.


Aaisha said...

Wow. If you want to get rid of your bananas, let me know. We live in Mangilao and we love fruit! I tried to do a banana flower salad once but it was way too bitter. I heard there were ways to treat it to get the bitterness out, but it did not seem to work.

ñalang said...

Oh, that's too bad! I've noticed that older blossoms, with that alcoholic whiff, taste more bitter as well. Also, the inner leaves (the whiter ones) aren't bitter; the outer purple ones are more so. If you want to give it another try, discard the outer four leaves, and add more sugar to your dressing. Chili also seems to help everything. Good luck!