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

Chicken and Pineapple Stuffed Swiss Chard Wraps

dsc_1784Did I read ‘A healthy recipe challenge’?  Wow,  now that’s the kind of thing that gets my attention!   And a challenge hosted by dear Angie of Fiesta Friday?  Now that is one that I cannot ignore, can I?  Especially considering the fact that for the last 18 months I have been scouring for knowledge combing through the vast ocean of information available (internet, books, case studies etc. etc.) to really understand what constitutes a healthy diet.

Is a plant based vegan diet the best for you? Or is it best to follow the Paleo route? What about GAPS? If you don’t know what this, look it up…you will be surprised!  What about just going gluten free? or just avoiding sugar? Some say eggs are good for you some say they are bad. Some say good fats like coconut oil and ghee are good while there are others who believe that oil-free is the way to go!  As you can imagine, instead of becoming well-enlightened,  I am now in a state that is somewhere in the middle of being overloaded with information and slightly confused 🙁

Unfortunately, there seems to be no clear, concise answer. But there is one thing that is common among all these diets and that is …eating fresh vegetables and fruits!  And lots of them – eat them raw in salads, in smoothies, freshly squeezed juices or cooked as in sautéed, roasted or steamed!.  Also, stay away from processed foods which includes white sugar and processed meat. Processed foods are bad for you since they have artificial chemicals, sweeteners, GMOs  etc which are the cause of many autoimmune and other diseases.  Cook fresh, eat healthy that should be your mantra.  Do not pick anything from the store (even if it says organic on the label) that lists more than 5 ingredients!  And then one final piece of advice I have for you based on all my experiments with the different diets thus far is this:  Choose one that you think you can live with. One that does not make you feel as if you are being deprived. Because at the end of  the day a healthy mind is necessary for a healthy body ! Eat fresh, be happy 🙂

As for me, I have finally settled on a Paleo diet since I think that’s one that I am able to sustain and since the Paleo  Autoimmune version is where I have seen good evidence of it working for reversing autoimmune diseases.

Hence for Angie’s challenge, I decided to make these wraps using Swiss Chard leaves. Angie’s challenge requires use of any greens and pineapple.  Pineapple offers a ton of benefits – including their ability to improve respiratory health, cure coughs and colds, improve digestion, and reduce inflammation, fight off infections and parasites.

For the green, Why did I chose Swiss Chard? Nutrition experts believe that Swiss chard and other chenopod vegetables, like beets, can be a highly renewable and cheap source of nutrients for many populations. Swiss chard nutrition is so prized because not only can the plant can be grown in a range of soils and require little light and water, but it also provides such a high amount of nutrients (1).

Swiss Chard has an extremely high nutrient-density. It has a high range of antioxidants  which are powerful at fighting free radical damageinflammation, and disease development. Swiss chard is also one of the best sources of betalains, water-soluble plant pigments that have a wide range of desirable biological activities, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties. (2) On top on this,  Swiss chard packs an impressive amount of potassium, magnesium, calcium, copper, and even more vitamins and minerals. And with high levels of vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, and many trace minerals, there’s almost no health condition that Swiss chard can’t help.(3) In fact, Swiss chard is now even being grown in space! Swiss chard is among the first crops being grown in planetary space stations for astronauts and was chosen due to its extremely valuable nutrient profile, as well as its ease of being harvested. (4)

I was initially going to use shrimp for the stuffing but then decided that chicken would be a healthier option. The idea came from lettuce wraps and I decided to use the swiss chard instead of lettuce and to make the chard more edible I thought of making wraps and cooking them slightly.  dsc_1765I also added some more greens additionally – spinach when I cooked the ground chicken adding the traditional Indian spices used for making chicken kheema and then for toppings – pineapple and coconut pieces!

The wraps were delicious – the pineapple providing a refreshing tang and sweetness to balance the spicy chicken and the coconut pieces providing a nice crunch! And for me that was a complete meal. However I can easy see myself serving these as an appetizer or a side dish for a gathering.

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Chicken and Pineapple Stuffed Swiss Chard Wraps

  • Servings: Serves 4-6 served with rice/salad
  • Time: about 50 mins
  • Difficulty: Easy
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Ingredients:

For making chicken Kheema:

  • 1 lb ground chicken, thawed completely
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 cup chopped spinach
  • 1 tbsp chopped ginger
  • 1 tbsp chopped garlic
  • about 1 tsp sea salt (or as needed)
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/2 tsp kashmiri chilli powder (or us black pepper powder)
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 6-8 Long Swiss Chard leaves

For toppings:

  • finely chopped red onions
  • fresh pineapple chopped into tiny pieces
  • thinly sliced coconut pieces (I used fresh frozen pieces after thawing)

Method:

In a wok style pan or kadai, heat the coconut oil. When hot add the cumin seeds and when they begin to toast (about 30 seconds), add the ginger, garlic and the spinach. Stir for a minute or so. Then dump all the ground chicken into the pan. Add all the spices too and keep stirring well as the chicken starts cooking.  Make sure you mix to coat all the spices well into the chicken mixture.  Continue stir frying for about 10 minutes on medium heat until the chicken is well cooked.  Add the lemon juice and Turn heat off and keep aside.

Now wash and dry the swiss chard leaves and cut the stems off all of them.  Also run your knife through the thick vein on the middle of the back of each leaf.  Then cut each large leaf vertically (through the middle vein) to get two pieces.

For making the wraps,  stuff a little bit – about  a tablespoonful of the chicken mixture into the bottom of one piece.  Then top with the onions, pineapple and the coconut pieces. Then slowly roll each leaf piece carefully like how you would roll a bedding.  Make similar rolls with the rest of the leaves.

To cook the rolls/ the wraps,  heat a non stick pan lightly brushing with some coconut oil.  Then slowly and carefully place the wraps in the pan by placing the side where the ends meet face downwards. Cook for about 1 minute on medium heat (this should seal the edges together) then carefully turn to the other side and cook another minute. Transfer the wraps to a serving dish.

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fiestafriday-healthy-recipe-challenge

Dates, Almond and Coconut rolls (Easy 3 ingredient Date rolls)

These 3 ingredient easy rolls are so yummy!

A few weeks ago while shopping at our local supermarket, I noticed these date nut rolls displayed in cute little packages in the middle of the produce aisle.  ‘Neat’ I said to myself and also made a mental note that I had to try making them. Of course I did not buy them 🙂

So last weekend I got the chance to try making them.  I have been anemic (result of my medications) and so I was trying to eat more natural foods with high iron content. Dates are one such food – high in iron content(a 3.5 oz serving provides 8% of the daily values) and are also high in several important minerals including potassium, manganese, magnesium and copper. They also provide significant amounts of calcium,  vitamin K and B vitamins, including vitamin B-6 and folate.

So these rolls that I made have just 3 ingredients and can be made in about 15 minutes.  The only problem is that they will be gone as fast too! I made these and showed them to my son who was doing his homework at the kitchen table- he at first looked at them skeptically …mom’s healthy rolls …not sure. But I left the plate next to him and when I came back a few minutes later there were only 4 rolls left on the plate. He looked at me sheepishly – “mom, these are so good. I had like 5! ”

Dates, Almond and Coconut rolls (Easy 3 ingredient Date rolls)
Author: 
Recipe type: Healthy Snack
Cuisine: Raw, Vegan, paleo
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 3-4
 
Amazingly moist and delicious date and almonds mixed with shredded coconut
Ingredients
  • Dates ¾ cup about 14-15
  • ½ cup whole almonds
  • ¼ cup warm water
  • ¼ cup desiccated / shredded coconut
  • extra shredded coconut for rolling
Instructions
  1. Soak the dates in the warm water for about 5 minutes. In a food processor, powder the almonds and transfer them to a mixing bowl. Next add the dates along with the water to the food processor and grind until you get a smooth paste. Transfer this paste also to the mixing bowl. Add the coconut also to the bowl. Mix everything well using a spatula.
  2. Divide into 10 equal portions and shaped them into oblong shapes and roll in extra coconut.

 

A quick gluten free snack: Flattened rice with coconut (Avil nanachathu)

DSC_0605One snack my mom made often when we were kids was this one made of flattened rice with coconut. It is so easy to put together especially now that we have frozen grated coconut available easily. Amma had to grate fresh coconut using her coconut scraper which was a laborious task. And one that she used to do every single day since coconut is a mandatory ingredient in most Kerala recipes. Anyways, once you have the grated coconut handy, then you just need to bring all the ingredients together.

DSC_0606Now I make this on weekend mornings for breakfast when I am not in the mood for anything elaborate but when I am not in the mood for my regular cereal either. I add raisins and nuts too to the poha and it is just perfect! Oh the simple pleasures! The sweetness of the coconut and raisins with crunchy almonds! Another traditional version of this ‘avil nanachathu’ uses jaggery and is cooked to make the poha more crunchy too and that version can be stored for a longer time. This version here however is a ‘quick make and eat’ version!

I am bringing this easy gluten free snack to Fiesta Friday where I am happy to party with the girls again this week. Judi @ cookingwithauntjuju and Petra @ Food Eat Love are the co-hosts this week.

If you are not familiar with ‘poha’ or flattened rice, here’s a picture and you can get it at any Indian grocers or online.

IMG_0491For grated coconut, I always use frozen fresh grated coconut – Daily Delight brand

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Flattened rice with coconut (Avil nanachathu)

  • Time: 15 minutes
  • Difficulty: Very Easy
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Ingredients:

  • 2 cups thick poha (flattened rice)
  • 1/2 cup fresh grated coconut (or frozen fresh grated coconut that has been thawed)
  • 1 tbsp sugar/ cane sugar
  • 4-5 green cardamom pods, shelled and crushed (or 1/4 tsp cardamom pow)
  • 2 tbsp almond slivers
  • 2 tbsp raisins

Method:

Place the poha in a large strainer and wash it under running water for about 1 minute. Set aside the strainer to drain any excess water. (If you don’t have a large strainer, wash the poha in any pot and strain using paper towels or kitchen cloth)

Meanwhile in a medium bowl, mix the coconut , cardamom and sugar. Add the poha and mix well. Sprinkle with raisins and almonds.

Notes:

I used ‘thick’ poha but you can also use thin poha for this recipe and only difference will be that the poha will be softer than the thicker one. Either one works well for this recipe but the thinner one should not be washed or soaked for too long as it can get sticky.

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