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

Vegetable Korma – Navratan Style (Vegan, Paleo)


Navratan Korma is a rich, creamy and highly delectable dish of vegetables, fruit, nuts and paneer.  It is very rich since butter/ghee, heavy cream and cashew nut paste is used to make the gravy. A blend of different spices is used in this curry along with several garnishes like nuts, seeds and herbs like mint and cilantro.  ‘Navratan’  or ‘Navratna’ means nine jewels and this dish having originated during the Mughal regime really is befitting for a king.! The nine jewels stand for a combination of nine different vegetables, fruits and nuts.

I had been wanting to make vegetable korma since the past few weeks. Now that I am on a paleo diet, I need to eat lots of vegetables to keep me satiated!  My favorite dish lately has been the Keralan Avial which is mixed vegetables in a coconut gravy.  Since this has plantains and other root vegetables like taro root, yam etc this really fills me up.!

Vegetable Korma in Kerala is made using coconut paste or coconut milk and that is what I wanted to make. However, I had some leftover pineapple and so I decided to add some pineapple too and make it spicy and sweet …kinda like ‘navratna korma’. As I began to make it, I thought of adding some swiss chard leaves too! Greens are not common in either vegetable or navratan korma but hey I thought it can’t go  wrong.  And hence this dish was born!  I used only five jewels – cauliflower, carrot, winter melon, swiss chard and pineapple. maybe I should call it panchratna (five jewels) korma 🙂 I decided to make my own spice blend for this curry adding fennel and cardamom along with other whole spices. I loved it very much and this is going to be another of my staple mixed vegetable paleo dishes for now. For a Paleo AIP version, you can still make this curry omitting all spices and using only cinnamon, star anise and cloves.

Vegetable Korma - Navratan Style (Paleo, Vegan)
Author: 
Recipe type: Main course
Cuisine: Indian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4-6
 
Delectable curry of mixed vegetables cooked with an aromatic blend of spices and coated in creamy coconut milk sauce to be served over white rice.
Ingredients
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 4-6 fresh curry leaves
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
  • 2 cups cauliflower florets
  • ½ cup diced carrots
  • 1 cup cubed winter melon (or you can use any other vegetables like squash or zucchini etc)
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 cup swiss chard leaves, chopped roughly
  • ¼ tsp red chilli powder (optional)
  • 2 tsp spice blend (see recipe below)
  • 1 1 /2 cups thick coconut milk (fresh* or canned full fat)
  • ½ cup pineapple chopped
For Spice blend:
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 -3 green cardamoms, outer shell removed
  • 1 black cardamom
  • 4-5 black peppercorns
  • 2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 one inch long cinnamon stick
Instructions
To make spice blend:
  1. First lightly roast the fennel seeds on a small heating pan for about 2 minutes on low heat. Then add the rest of the whole spices and heat stirring frequently for another minute. Transfer to a spice (coffee) grinder and blend till you get a fine powder. Place in an air tight container.
  2. In a large cooking pot, add the coconut oil and heat. When hot, add the onion,ginger and the curry leaves and sauce for 2-3 minutes. Then add the cauliflower and carrot pieces and stir fry for about 2 minutes. Then cover and cook for about 3-4 minutes or so until the vegetables are cooked. Then add the winter melon, salt and water and again cover and cook for about 4 minutes.
  3. Open the lid and add the spice blend, red chili powder and the swiss chard leaves. Stir to mix well.
  4. Next add the coconut milk and let cook for about 2 minutes till it comes to a boil. Turn heat off and add the pineapple pieces and mix well.
  5. Serve warm!
Notes
For making fresh coconut milk:
1cup of freshly grated coconut or fresh frozen grated coconut that has been thawed
1½ cups of warm water
Blend the coconut with 1 cup of the water and strain using a fine mesh sieve. Add the strained coconut meat back into the blender and blend with the rest of the water. Again strain milk thru the sieve. You should have about 1½ cups of milk.
For AIP version:
Omit all spices not permitted under AIP - use only star anise, cinnamon and cloves for spices

Green Papaya with coconut (Papaya thoran)

DSC_0952Green Papayas are a common vegetable in Kerala and consequently ‘Papaya thoran’ is one of many vegetable dishes in the typical Keralan household.  The Papaya fruit is a highly nutritious fruit and an excellent source of vitamin C, folate, vitamin A, magnesium, copper, pantothenic acid and fiber.  It also has B vitamins, alpha and beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthan, vitamin E, calcium, potassium, vitamin K and lycopene, the powerful antioxidant. The possible health benefits of consuming papaya include a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, aiding in digestion, improving blood glucose control in diabetics, lowering blood pressure, and improving wound healing1.  Green or raw papaya is even more powerful than ripe papaya – it is full of essential nutrients and enzymes to promote digestive health. Since enzyme levels decline as the fruit ripens, green papaya retains all of its natural enzymatic qualities. Because of its amazing health benefits, green papaya is also called as a ‘super food’ 2. One word of caution – green papayas contain pepsins in their latex that may induce contractions and lead to miscarriage in pregnant women, according to a British Journal of Nutrition report3. I have heard this anecdotally too growing up in India hence I recommend that all pregnant women should avoid papayas especially green papayas.

Green PapayaI have posted other vegetable ‘thoran’ recipes before and papaya thoran also follows the same basic recipe. Steam the vegetable, add grated coconut and finally a tadka (oil seasoning) of mustard seeds, dry chillies and curry leaves in coconut oil!  Now that’s what I call simple comfort food when served with rice and dal!  I like to finely chop the green papaya pieces but I have seen some recipes where the papaya is used in grated form. You can also add 2-3 pieces of shrimp to the papaya while cooking it to get an additional flavor –  my amma used to do that all the time 🙂

In the US green papaya is not very commonly available however we get them from the Asian grocers.

Green Papaya with coconut (Papaya thoran)

  • Servings: Makes about 4 side dish portions
  • Time: About 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print
 

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups, green papaya skin peeled and chopped into 1/2 ” cubes (or even smaller)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp red chilli powder (or 3 small green chillies chopped fine)
  • 1/2 cup fresh grated coconut (or fresh frozen coconut that has been thawed)
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp cumin (jeera)
  • 2 dry red chillies cut into half
  • 5-6 fresh curry leaves

Method:

Take a medium size cooking pot and add the chopped papaya pieces to it along with the water , salt, turmeric and the chili pow (or chillies).  Place on medium heat and cover with a lid and cook for about 5 minutes or so until the papaya is cooked and all the water is almost gone. Then add the grated coconut and mix. Turn the heat off.

Take a small pan or a tadka pan and heat the coconut oil in it. Then add the mustard seeds and turn heat to medium and wait till the seeds splutter and then add the cumin seeds and the dry red chillies and the curry leaves and stir for about 30 seconds.  Turn the heat off and pour this oil mixture onto the pot with the cooked papaya and stir well.

Notes:

While cooking the papaya, if all water is gone and papaya is still not cooked (sometimes the papaya can be hard), then add more water and continue cooking for an additional 2-3 minutes.




DSC_0952 DSC_0950
 Step wise pictures:IMG_0002

IMG_0005 IMG_0006IMG_0007

 

 

Kale with coconut (Cheera thoran)


DSC_0491 (1)
While growing up I did not mind helping my amma in the kitchen when she was cooking although I did not like to do any other household chores per se (especially washing dishes or clothes! ). One thing that I also did not like doing was to clean the greens and chop them for making the thoran.  Now let me breakdown the tasks involved here so you can appreciate why I was not thrilled to do this.  OK so cleaning the greens was quite a task since they used to come with the dirt included which meant rinsing them in 3 to 4 pots of water, letting the sand settle on the bottom and again rinsing it and so on and so forth until the rinse water ran clear. And then came the chopping part – actually the word ‘chopping’ does not accurately define what was needed. Amma and all the elders in the family always said that the finer the greens were chopped, the tastier the thoran!  Hence a lot of patience was needed to finely shred the greens into really thin thread like shreds! At that time of course I did not agree with the elders! But ever since I began cooking them myself I have certainly noticed the difference in taste and now I am a believer. However having said that I still do not have the patience to finely shred and most of the times it’s a shred between a rough chop and a fine shred. Hey at least I am trying! 🙂
Thoran as I have mentioned before in some of my earlier posts is any vegetable side dish in Kerala cuisine that is a simple sauté of the vegetable with very basic ingredients like mustard seeds, cumin seeds, garlic and coconut. And of course the key ingredient in this simple sauté is coconut oil. Sometimes lentils like chana dal (split chick peas) or urad daal (split black gram lentils) are added too to provide an element of crunch.  In some parts of Kerala like kochi it is common to also add a couple of shrimp (prawns) to the greens to give it added flavor. Either fresh or dried shrimp can be added.

This time I made this sauté with Kale. You can also use spinach or any other greens. I usually do spinach but I have to admit I loved the Kale thoran more than the spinach one – it was just incredibly flavorful. I could just eat this mixed with a bowl of rice and fresh yoghurt.  Yum! Here’s the recipe. I have made some minor changes to my mom’s original recipe for convenience. For instance the actual recipe requires you to coarsely grind the coconut and cumin seeds while I just crush the cumin seeds and just use grated coconut.

Kale with coconut (Cheera thoran)

  • Servings: Makes about 4 servings as a side dish when served with rice
  • Time: About 25 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print
 

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp coconut oil (melted)
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, crushed slightly to bring out the flavor
  • 1 small clove of garlic, chopped fine (optional)
  • 1 dry red chili cut into half (optional)
  • About 4 cups finely shredded Kale (or any other greens like spinach or beet greens)
  • 1/4 tsp red chilli powder
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp salt or per taste
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated coconut (or fresh frozen coconut that has been thawed)

Method:

Wash, pat dry and shred the greens finely.

Take a medium size wok or a large skillet and heat the coconut oil in it. When hot lower heat to medium and add the mustard seeds. When they start spluttering, add the crushed cumin seeds and the garlic and red chili (if adding). Suate for about 30 seconds and add the greens. Stir fry for a minute and add the red chili, the turmeric and the salt. Cover and steam for about 1 minute. Open the lid and add the grated coconut and stir well for another minute or until completely dry. Turn the heat off.

Notes:

  1. Make sure the greens are dried with a paper towel before chopping or shredding them.
  2. After cooking them if you notice any water in the pan, then continue to cook uncovered on low to medium heat until there is no moisture left.


IMG_2594 (1)
Kale with coconut