Banana blossoms are one of the many unusual ingredients found in Thai cooking. On the surface, this appears to be an unlikely ingredient – when eaten by itself, it has an unpleasant astringent bite. This taste, however, disappears when accompanied by a creamy coconut sauce and this is how the blossom is often served.
The Thai word for banana blossom is หัวปลี (hua plee).
The outer layers of the blossom are a rich purplish red color and are quite tough. The best parts for eating are the light ivory leaves in the center.
To prepare the blossom for use in cooking, the outer red layers are peeled off. Then the inner ivory colored layers are typically cut into wedges and then soaked immediately in water with a bit of salt or lime juice: this is to prevent the sap from turning the heart and leaves black.
Directly above we see a banana blossom being prepared for use in a Thai dish. Once the dark red outer leaves have been stripped down to the inner ivory-colored ones, we can cut it into wedges.
If we didn’t soak the leaves in salt-or lime-water, they would turn black (and unappetizing!) from the sap.
One typical way to serve banana blossoms is as an accompaniment to a dipping sauce, such as Salted Crab Coconut Cream Sauce – Loen Poo Kem. In addition to salted crabs and coconut creme, this sauce may include ground pork, chopped fresh shrimp, tamarind juice, palm sugar, and salt. This tasty, creamy sauce mellows out the flavor of banana blossoms. The way the sauce and the banana blossom combine to create a unique taste needs to be experienced: it can’t really be described. Besides the banana blossom, a variety of other vegetables choices are on the platter accompanying the sauce.
You can learn about salted crab as an ingredient and also try Kasma’s recipe for Loen Poo Kem in her blog: Salted Crab – Boo Kem (or Bpoo Kem)
Banana blossoms may also accompany the noodle dish Mee Kati – Rice Vermicelli Cooked in Spiced Coconut Cream Sauce. Again, the creamy coconut sauce coating the noodles tempers the astringency of the banana blossom to make a delicious taste in the mouth.
Banana blossoms are also made into salads in Thailand; Kasma taught a Banana Blossom and Chicken Salad with Toasted Coconut in her Advanced Set C-3. Peanuts and Roasted Chilli Sauce – Yum Hua Plee. Once again, coconut cream provides the medium to mellow out the astringency. This salad is delicious and a favorite among many of her students.
Banana blossoms can also be cooked as a vegetable in a spicy, rich curry sauce.
If you’ve tried cooking with banana blossom but haven’t had luck making it taste good, do try the suggestions we’ve made above.
In the S.F. Bay Area, we are able to find fresh banana blossoms in many of the Southeast Asian markets and also at the Berkeley Bowl, particularly during the warmer months. If the fresh blossoms are unavailable, banana blossoms are also found already cut into wedges in cans or bottles where they are packed in brine; no need to soak these in salt- or lime-water after shredding. They won’t have a crisp texture and fresh taste, however, like the fresh blossoms to when they are shredded and eaten raw in a salad.
Read more about:
- Thai Ingredients on Kasma’s Thai Ingredient Page
Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, July 2013