How to Cook Banana Blossom (Vaazha Kodappan Thoran)

 When you are kids, you live in a blissful state…you take everything for granted.  Mom slogs in the kitchen and presents tasty dishes to you which you devour without even pausing to thank her for her hard work and talent. It’s not that you are a spoilt brat or anything …it just never occurs to you to thank her.  Or to peek in the kitchen while she is cooking to see how she does it. Unless of course she calls you out specifically to do a chore. In which case you do oblige as any well raised child would.  As you might have guessed, I wasn’t talking about my kids here. I was talking about myself. And why this sudden self-deprecation? Well, it all started with my buying a banana blossom when I spotted one at our local Indian grocer only to come home to realize my absolute lack of knowledge on how to go about cutting it!  And when I thought of all the times amma had cooked this for us!

So I very enthusiastically bought it one Saturday afternoon and then announced to the Mr with great aplomb that I was going to make ‘Banana Blossom stir fry’ for dinner.  Hubby dear, being the gentleman that he is, politely nodded. I am sure he was wondering in his mind about how I was planning to attack this particular piece of vegetable. Fortunately for him he had to work that weekend and so off he went to his office room leaving me alone in the kitchen to tackle this unknown beast!

I started by staring hard at it a couple times, then gently touching and feeling it. Still no clues. Do we have to remove the petals and cut it one by one or what? I vaguely remembered mom (and sometimes dad) applying coconut oil to their hands while cutting it. Which meant that this was sticky! Hmm…So I quickly googled ‘How to cut banana blossom’ About a handful of posts showed up – some were recipes and then there were a couple good albeit long videos – one from a Bengali food channel and another from a tamilian one.  I sat and watched both those videos.  Finally, I took the banana blossom and stashed it back into the refrigerator.  Husband dear was concerned. What happened hon? I responded ‘Will do it tomorrow – too much work. Plus I will call dad also in the morning first thing’. Okey Dokey, so banana blossom got postponed for the next afternoon.

Next morning had me on the phone with my dad for a good thirty minutes with him explaining me how to clean it and how to cook it too. I was glad I waited – since what dad told me was a bit different than the two videos I watched. Could be due to the regional differences. The thrifty Keralan way was to use up pretty much everything sparing the first one or two petal layers.  So finally I began to feel confident. And embarked on my mission.

As instructed by my dad, I discarded only the first red petal layer. Since the rest of the petals were very tightly attached together which meant that they were tender enough to be used. But I did use the small florets attached to the first two petals. I chopped them up too finely. I removed the tall center husky piece from each floret since I had watched that in one of the videos although my dad didn’t seem to be particularly concerned about taking that off. It is important to place the chopped / shredded pieces into a bowl of water, lightly salted and use coconut oil to oil your hands to prevent that stickiness.  The chopping method suggested by dad was pretty cool (after all he is my dad :)) – Just make horizontal and vertical cuts from the base of the blossom (after first discarding the outer petals) and then shredding the tiny pieces into the bowl of water. I was unable to do it directly from my hand into the bowl of water. So I had to use a cutting board to make the shreds.  Hopefully the step wise pictures below will help you.  Next time, I will try to do a video so you can have a better understanding.

Btw, the stir fry came out fabulous. Maybe the shrimp I decided to add to it last minute added to the flavor too! This was a perfect Paleo meal for me with the shrimp added in! Of course, you can make a vegan version without adding any shrimp and that will still taste fabulous! My dad was pleased to hear of my efforts and I am sure my mom is smiling at me from the heavens – I must have made her proud!

How to Cook Banana Blossom (Vaazha Kodappan Thoran)
Author: 
Recipe type: Side dish, Main course
Cuisine: Kerala
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4-5
 
Finely shredded Banana Blossom stir fried in coconut oil with shrimp and shredded coconut mixed with cumin and other spices
Ingredients
  • 1 medium size banana blossom, shredded (see step wise pictures below recipe)
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil
  • 2 tsp mustard seeds
  • ½ of a red onion, finely chopped (or 3 pearl onions, chopped)
  • 5-6 fresh curry leaves
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp red chilli powder (cayenne pepper)
  • 6-8 shrimp, chopped up into tiny pieces (optional)
For the coconut masala paste
  • ¾ cup fresh grated coconut (or frozen grated coconut, thawed)
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tbsp warm water
  • salt to taste
Instructions
  1. Remove the top one or two layers of petals from the banana blossom until you get tightly fitting layers at which point you don't need to discard them. (I removed only the top one layer)
  2. Fill a large bowl with water. Add 1 tsp of salt and a few drops of lemon juice to avoid discoloration. Mix well.
  3. Hold the banana blossom such that the broad bottom is facing you. Make horizontal and vertical cuts on it by whacking on it using your knife - like you see in the picture below.
  4. Then place it on a cutting board and begin to shred it so you get really tiny shreds. Start moving the shreds into the bowl of salted water.
  5. Finish cutting all the blossom this way and place all the shreds in the bowl of water.
  6. Now strain the water using a large strainer. Squeeze the shredded blossoms to squeeze out maximum water out. Leave in the strainer.
  7. In a food processor, grind the coconut, cumin and garlic with the 2 tbsp of water to get a coarse paste. Do not grind it fine. Keep aside.
  8. In a kadai or a wok style pan, heat the coconut oil.
  9. When hot, add the mustard seeds.When they splutter, add the onions and curry leaves. After a minute, add the shredded blossoms and add the turmeric and red chili powder. Stir fry for 2 -3 minutes. Check for seasoning and add salt as needed (be cautious since the blossoms were soaked in salted water already). Cover and cook for about 2-3 minutes.
  10. Next Add the shrimp and stir fry for another 3-4 minutes till the shrimp is opaque and cooked all the way through.
  11. Finally add the ground coconut masala (paste) and stir fry well for 1 minute or so until well blended. Check for seasoning before turning heat off.
Notes
For AIP version: Skip mustard seeds, cumin seeds and cayenne pepper and double the amount of turmeric

Coconut Calamari (Paleo)

OK so ever since I made those beef cutlets with a coconut crust, I have been thinking of using that technique to make other crispy coatings! I got my chance to try it again when hubby picked up squid last weekend while picking up seafood.

I usually cook squid(calamari) Kerala Style which is to sauté it with onion and red chillies and with coconut. I have posted that recipe before. Have also tried frying it using chickpea batter which is a great gluten free alternative. However now since I am on a paleo diet, chickpea batter wouldn’t do and so I thought why not give my tapioca flour batter and coconut crust technique a try?  The ‘paleo version’ of the beef cutlets was very well received in my house. It tasted even better than the breaded version!

So considering that I was pretty confident that the fried calamari with coconut crust would work. And I wasn’t disappointed!  The fried coconut calamari came out so nice and crispy plus the shredded coconut topping imparted such great flavor.  I also ended up shallow frying it using coconut oil vs deep frying. It still came out nice and crispy on the outside and soft and sweet on the inside. Perfecto 🙂

I added a bit of cayenne pepper (Kashmiri red chili powder) but you can skip that for an AIP compliant recipe.

Coconut Calamari (Paleo)
Author: 
Recipe type: Appetizer, main course, seafood
Cuisine: American, Fusion
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2-3
 
A Paleo version of the 'Fried Calamari' - Crispy coconut crusted Calamari fried in coconut oil!
Ingredients
  • ½ lb squid, cleaned and cut into ¼ inch rounds
  • ¼ tsp kashmiri chilli powder (skip for AIP version)
  • ¼ tsp sea salt
For the crust
  • 2 tbsp tapioca flour
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 4 tbsp shredded unsweetened coconut (I used 'Let's do Organic' brand)
For frying
  • About 2 tbsp coconut oil
Instructions
  1. In a small bowl, add the cleaned calamari and dab dry with paper towels. Add the chills powder(if adding) and salt and mix well. Keep aside.
  2. In a separate bowl, mix the tapioca flour with water to from a slurry. (This settles down very fast so again stir before using)
  3. Place the shredded coconut in a separate plate.
  4. Heat a small frying pan and add 1 tbsp coconut oil. Keep on medium heat and when hot, dip the squid pieces one by one in the tapioca slurry and then dip them in the coconut to coat completely and drop these one by one into the frying pan. Fry these in batches and serve hot!
Notes
For AIP version, skip the red chili powder

Easy ‘No Bake’ Breakfast Bars (Sugar free, Vegan)

Healthy snacks are a big thing for me. I am constantly trying to make snacks that are nutritious and wholesome and that will satisfy two growing kids. One of whom is a teenager!  The hunger pangs start as soon as they get home from school although I make it a point to pack a healthy lunch and a snack for them. So the pantry is constantly being raided. I make them a healthy fruit smoothie and then try to stock up on lots of fruits so that they can eat those first before loading up on the crackers, bread etc.  I bake most weekends so that I can create goodies with less sugar or even make them sugar free (by using honey or maple syrup). That way there is always a stock of something homemade and healthy for that huge mid-day hunger attack!

Last week I decided to make something with oats since I had a huge bag of them leftover in my pantry.  Before I started on a Paleo diet 3 months ago, I used to eat oats regularly for my breakfast. And after I stopped eating them it was lying there unused since my husband is sensitive to oats and the kids just didn’t want to change from their regular cereal. So I was determined to use them up – I was thinking of making just some granola  like I posted before. But then suddenly I remembered seeing some recipes of oats bars on  pinterest. So I looked for those recipes and I ended up making a version of my own based on what I had on hand – I added pecans for nuts since that was the only nut I had in my pantry that day and used peanut butter for the base. I also used the food processor to puree the dates and to coarsely chop the nuts and the oats since I knew that would give them a better texture. I have been making a version of these bars – My healthy breakfast bars for quite sometime now and I always felt like chopping the nuts in a food processor gives the bars a better texture.

My experiment was very successful – thanks to all the other bloggers out there with their different recipes which makes it easier to innovate and come up with your own version. The kids as well as the hubby love these bars and considering these are much easier to make than my old version, I know these are going to be a ‘regular’ in my house going forward 🙂

Easy 'No Bake' Breakfast Bars (Oat and nut bars)
Author: 
Recipe type: Breakfast, Snacks
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8 bars
 
Healthy 'breakfast bars' or 'anytime snack' with oats and nuts; No Baking needed!
Ingredients
  • 1 cup pecans or walnuts (or any other nuts)
  • 1½ cups rolled oats (NOT quick cooking)
  • 1 cup dates, pitted
  • 2 tbsp hot water
  • ¼ cup maple syrup or honey
  • ¼ cup unsalted organic peanut butter (or almond butter)
  • pinch salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 deg F.
  2. In a large baking tray lined with parchment paper, spread the oats and toast them in the oven for about 10 minutes. Transfer the oats to a plate.
  3. To the same tray add the pecans or walnuts (or other nuts if raw) and toast for about 5 minutes.
  4. In a food processor or chopper, pulse the oats and the nuts together for about 20-30 seconds until the nuts get crushed (big chunks) and oats also get chopped a bit. Keep aside.
  5. In a food processor, add the dates along with the hot water and blend until you get a thick pasty consistency.
  6. In a cooking pot, add this date mixture, the maple syrup(or honey), salt and the peanut butter (or almond butter) and heat for about 2-3 minutes until everything blends together. Transfer this mixture to a large mixing bowl.
  7. Add the vanilla extract and the oats and the nuts mixture. Mix well using a large wooden spoon/spatula.
  8. Dump this mixture into a square brownie pan lined with parchment paper with an overhang. Pat the mixture using the back of a small bowl (or use another sheet of parchment to press on the top).
  9. Place pan in the freezer for an hour (or refrigerator for about 2 hours)
  10. Take out the pan from the freezer/refrigerator and slide the parchment with the bar onto a cutting board and cut the block into bars of desired size using a large knife.
Notes
You can toast the oats and nuts in a pan on the stove too instead of toasting them in the oven.
Once set, bars can be stored at room temperature (65-75 deg F) for about 5 days or in the refrigerator for unto 2 weeks.

 

Chicken and Avocado Salad with Thai flavors

  When salads are your whole meal, you want to pack a lot of punch in it. At least I do.  Most days for lunch I will have some left over protein from dinner the previous night – usually some fish or chicken and then I just eat that along with some lettuce and celery. I don’t even bother chopping the lettuce or celery since – hey what does it matter, my teeth can do that 🙂

But somedays I get motivated. To create something fancier. Fancy meaning not as in ‘gourmet’ or ‘classy restaurant’.  Fancy as in ‘whatever makes me happy’ 🙂 I had been making broth with chicken legs the previous day and had added some kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass to the pot along with my usual spices of whole black pepper and bay leaves.  The broth came out very tasty and the chicken legs gave out a lot of meat which I saved up for my salad.  Now as I opened the container of the chicken pieces, the smell of kaffir lime and lemongrass was still lingering and reeled my senses. hmm…I got transported to ‘Thai’ world or Thai..land rather!

So I decided to just continue with that theme and make a flavorful and colorful salad out of it.!  I guess I was thinking of the ‘Thai Larb gai’ (which I totally love!) although what I ended up with was not similar to that although you could say that some things were common like the lemongrass and lime flavor.

For my dressing, I just decided to mix Lemon juice, ginger and honey  which further accentuated the already ‘flavorful’ chicken. And Avocados and pomegranate went in to do their ‘colorful’ bit! And voila, within 15 mins I had this beautiful looking and fantastic smelling chicken salad looking at me. Last minute I decided to quickly make some instant pickled onions and throw them as a garnish!  The salad was just perfect!  It seemed like a large plate but oh the flavors were so good I just couldn’t stop eating and cleaned up the entire plate!

Chicken Salad with Thai flavors
Author: 
Recipe type: Salad, paleo
Cuisine: Fusion, Thai
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 1-2
 
A delicious, flavorful salad consisting of Chicken pieces cooked with thai spices, fresh avocados and pomegranate with a honey ginger lemon dressing
Ingredients
  • 2 cups shredded chicken pieces( see below for cooking method)
  • ½ of a ripe avocado
  • ¼ cup pomegranate arils
  • ½ cup shredded lettuce
For dressing
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger grated or ginger juice
  • handful of pickled red onions (see recipe below)
For cooking chicken:
  • chicken thigh pieces or chicken leg pieces 4-6
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon grass, chopped
  • 2-3 fresh kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 inch by 1 inch fresh ginger, cut into thin rounds
  • 2 large garlic cloves, sliced
  • 4-6 whole black peppercorns
For pickling onions:
  • ½ of a red onion thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp coconut oil, melted
  • pinch salt
Instructions
  1. First cook the chicken by adding all the ingredients listed under 'For cooking chicken' in a large pot and slow cook covered for about 20-30 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat and after cooling, take the chicken pieces out and shred them. Reserve the chicken broth after straining to get rid of the spices.
  3. Mix all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl and keep aside.
  4. Mix all the ingredients listed under 'pickling onions' in a small bowl and using your fingers crush the onion pieces a bit. Keep aside.
  5. For assembling the salad, arrange the chicken pieces with the lettuce, avocado and pomegranate seeds. Drizzle the dressing on top and scatter the pickled onion slices on top!

 

Apple Beet Cucumber Multigrain Paratha (ABC Paratha) with homemade apple chutney

 

He He … ABC Paratha, isn’t that a fun name? Its an interesting story how this particular paratha was conceived in my kitchen. So you see, of late I have been juicing regularly using a variety of vegetables and fruits.  I would always feel upset about throwing away all the pulp since there is so much fiber (and also nutrients) left in the pulp after you juice.  At least my Breville juicer does not really compact my veggies and fruits and so I know there is still a lot of good stuff left in that pulp. What I would do is freeze the pulp and then put it in smoothies and soups.

Then one fine day while I was making methi parathas for my kiddos, a light bulb went on and I said to myself – Hey, next time I an use some of that juice pulp!  And so as it happened , the next time I used Apples, beets, cucumber and celery for making my juice. I faithfully gathered the pulp and saved it for making parathas the following day.  The next day as the kids came home from school, there were these warm, pink parathas ready for them.  They both devoured the parathas.  They loved it! I did not tell them what was in them nor did they bother to ask!  So after that day I kept making such parathas frequently and this combination with the apple, beets and the cucumber was the one they loved the best. One day I had added grapefruit too and that gave a bitter taste which they complained about. So Ok no grapefruit business. let’s stick to the ABC and let’s call it the ABC paratha.

So now this paratha has become a regular in our house along with the methi thepla. Over the past few weeks I experimented further with these parathas adding ragi flour (finger millet flour) and flaxseed meal to replace part of the whole wheat flour. The kids continued to love it. Isn’t that the best thing? When you make them such healthy, wholesome food and they enjoy it?

Btw, I make this paratha now by using freshly grated apples, beets and cucumber even on the days I am not juicing:) And I serve these parathas with my homemade apple and date chutney, which is also a cinch to make and my daughter and my favorite chutney since it is sweet, tangy and spicy. My daughter loves the combination – of this paratha with the apple chutney.  I think they perfectly complement each other.

Apple Beet Cucumber Multigrain Parantha
Author: 
Recipe type: Breakfast, snack,lunch
Cuisine: Indian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 3-4
 
Sweet and Savory paratha (Indian flatbread) made of whole wheat and millet flour and stuffed with grated apples, beets and cucumber
Ingredients
  • ½ cup grated apple (about ½ of a medium peeled apple)
  • ¼ cup grated red beets(after peeling the skin)
  • ¼ cup grated cucumber (skin peeled)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp red chilli powder(cayenne pepper)
  • ¼ tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • ½ tsp ajwain seeds (carom seeds)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1½ cups whole wheat flour
  • ¼ cup Ragi flour (finger millet flour)
  • 1 tbsp flax seed meal
  • about ¾ cup water to knead the dough
  • extra ghee or olive oil for cooking paranthas
Instructions
  1. In a large mixing bowl, add the grated beets, apple and cucumber. then add the salt and all the spices and the oil.
  2. Next add the whole wheat flour, the rage flour and the flexed meal and the oil and start mixing together. Add water slowly until you get a smooth dough. (Add additional bit of flour or water as needed)
  3. Divide the dough into small golf ball size balls - about 20 balls.
  4. Heat a frying pan on medium heat.
  5. Take each dough ball and roll using chapati rolling pin into a round chapati shape (about 5-6 inches diameter) - use flour as needed to prevent dough from sticking to the rolling surface.
  6. Place the chapati onto the heated pan and cook for 1 minute. Flip and apply oil or ghee to the chapati and let cook for about 30 seconds and then again flip to the other side. Apply oil/ghee to this side too and again flip to let cook for another 30-40 seconds or until both sides are cooked and have brown spots on top. Transfer to a container to keep warm. Continue making the rest of the parathas the same way.

 

For the recipe of Apple and Date Chutney, Click here

Btw Happy Holi to all those who celebrate! I started writing this post and realized it was Holi. In maharashtra we make stuffed lentil parathas called Puran Poli for Holi. These Pink parathas I made I thought could also be very apt for Holi  don’t you think so? 🙂

Linking today’s recipe to Plant Based Potluck Party  and to Saucy Saturday this week.