Banana muffins. Banana breads. Banana cakes.
No doubt, they’re delicious. But bananas are such a versatile ingredient, it would be a culinary crime to think of them as only a mashed flavor enhancer for baked goods.
Bananas are delectable in savory as well as sweet dishes. Broiled, baked or blended. Grilled or sauteed. Hot or cold. Ripe or overripe, speckled with random brown spots. Breakfast, lunch or dinner.
And lots of ingredients pair beautifully with bananas. One chapter of Andrew Dorenburg and Karen Page’s book “Culinary Artistry” (Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1996), is devoted to lists of specific foods that complement one another, compiled from interviews with top chefs.
In the bananas column, more than 40 ingredients are listed as potential flavor partners. Chocolate, rum, coconut and cream are noted as classic combinations. And bananas with tropical fruits, brown sugar, nuts, caramel and yogurt come as no suprise.
But chicken, coriander, cinnamon and cardamom are also on the list. Bacon and maple syrup, too. A splash of gin or cognac. A drizzle of honey.
Think of the possibilities: Chicken breasts stuffed under the skin with nuts, cracker crumbs and syrup, then baked until nicely browned in a puddle of tropical fruit sauce. Over the top, a garnish of warm, rum-scented bananas.
Maybe some colorful rice pilaf accented with small chunks of sauteed bananas and a light sprinkle of ground cinnamon or coriander, or a little minced cilantro.
Here are a few ways to use bananas in everyday dishes. Some are sweet, some are savory. Some may look familiar; others, hopefully, will be a new gastronomic adventure.
So, go bananas!
Banana Blender Breakfast: Banana-based shakes make a delicious breakfast-in-a-glass. Combine 3/4 cup nonfat yogurt, 1/2 banana (sliced), 2 ice cubes and 2 hulled strawberries in a blender (if you prefer a sweeter drink, add a little honey or artificial sweetener). Process on high speed until smooth. Drink right away; fruit shakes separate if they sit around. If you want a thicker drink, you can use frozen banana slices and omit the ice cubes.
West Indies Banana Pilaf: Rice flavored with bananas, carrots and cinnamon makes a great accompaniment to grilled fish or chicken, and is also delicious with curries. The pilaf can be made ahead and reheated in the microwave, but wait to add the sauteed bananas just before serving.
In a large saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter or margarine. Add 1 small onion (chopped), 1 clove garlic (minced) and 2 medium carrots (finely chopped). Cook on medium-high heat until onion is softened, about 3 minutes. Add 1 cup long-grain rice. Cook, stirring frequently, until rice is lightly browned. Remove from heat, and add 2 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth. Bring to boil on high heat. Reduce heat to low; cover and cook 18 minutes. Remove lid, and fluff rice with a fork.
Melt 2 tablespoons butter or margarine in a skillet. Add 2 bananas (cut in quarters lengthwise and sliced), and cook on medium-high heat, tossing occasionally to lightly brown them. Sprinkle bananas with 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon and add to rice; gently toss. Sprinkle with a smidgeon of minced cilantro. Yield: 6 servings.
Banana Pancakes: When you flip these flapjacks, the sliced bananas will be beautifully caramelized. Prepare your favorite buttermilk pancake batter. Slice bananas into 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch-thick slices, and toss with a little sugar (for 3 bananas, use 2 tablespoons sugar). Heat and generously grease a griddle or nonstick skillet. For each pancake, place 4 or 5 banana slices on the grill (in a circle smaller than the pancake will be). Immediately pour about 1/4 cup batter over bananas to cover them. Turn the pancakes only once, and continue cooking until the second side is done.
Bananas Foster: Bananas and ice cream are great partners. Here’s a hurry-up, microwave version of the classic dessert from New Orleans, Bananas Foster.
In a 4-cup microwave-proof glass bowl (or measuring container), place 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine and 1 cup packed brown sugar; cover with waxed paper, and microwave on high power for 2 minutes. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1/4 cup dark rum and 4 large bananas (coarsely chopped). Cover and microwave on high power for 1 minute.
Ladle hot banana mixture over scoops of vanilla or banana ice cream. Yield: 6 servings.
Ben and Jerry’s Banana and Carob-Chip Ice Cream: Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield say that overripe bananas (the ones with all the brown spots) make the best ice cream.
Place 2 cups heavy whipping cream in a bowl. Gradually whisk in 3/4 cup sugar. Continue whisking for 1 minute. Add 2/3 cup half-and-half, and whisk to blend. Process in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s directions.
After ice cream stiffens (about 2 minutes before it is finished), add a mixture of 2 mashed overripe bananas, juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons) and 1/2 cup carob (or chocolate) chips. Continue freezing until ready. Serve immediately. Yield: a generous 1 quart.
Bananarama Tropical Fruit Salad: In a large bowl, combine 2 bananas (peeled and sliced), 1 papaya (peeled, seeded and cubed), 1 mango (peeled, seeded and cubed), 1 pint strawberries (hulled and cut into halves or quarters) and 1/2 pineapple (peeled, cored and cubed). Add 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 tablespoon lime juice and 2 tablespoons sugar. Gently toss and chill. Just before serving, toss in 1 tablespoon minced fresh mint. Garnish with fresh raspberries and sprigs of fresh mint, if desired.
Indonesian Chicken Salad: In a large bowl, combine 2/3 cup mayonnaise (you can use reduced-fat mayo) and 1/2 teaspoon curry powder. Add 3 cups cubed cooked chicken breasts, 1 cup sliced celery, 1/2 cup golden raisins and 1/4 cup sliced green onions. Toss and chill.
Place 3 to 4 cups fresh baby spinach leaves on platter. Add 2 sliced bananas to chicken mixture, and gently toss. Place chicken mixture atop spinach, and serve. Garnish with diagonally sliced bananas and wedges of mango or papaya. Yield: 4 servings.
Frozen Chocolate-Dipped Bananas: Peel bananas; leave whole or cut in half, crosswise. Insert a wooden skewer or ice cream stick. Melt “coating” chocolate (sold next to the fresh berries in the produce section), according to package directions; stir until smooth.
Pour chocolate into pie plate or shallow bowl; cool slightly, and stir again. Dip banana into the chocolate, rolling back and forth. If desired, roll in chopped, toasted nuts. Place on wax paper-lined baking sheet, and freeze overnight. Wrap each frozen banana in foil, or enclose in plastic bags, and return to freezer. Enjoy within 1 month for best flavor.
If you’re not a chocolate fan, roll skewered banana halves in sour cream; then roll in a combination of toasted flaked coconut and chopped toasted nuts. Freeze as directed for chocolate-dipped frozen bananas.
Calypso Chicken Breasts (recipe follows): Bananas taste great with warm chicken, too, especially if you include additional tropical fruit flavors in a tangy sauce. In this recipe, boned chicken breasts are stuffed under the skin with a walnut-cracker crumb filling. They bake until golden brown in a crushed pineapple-orange juice sauce scented with dark rum. Stir thinly sliced bananas into the sauce and serve.
White Chocolate Banana Cream Pies (recipe follows): My mother always proclaimed banana cream pie as the best dessert on the planet. Here’s a version that includes melted white chocolate in the pastry cream and is topped with a fancy crown of whipped cream and white chocolate curls.
This recipe makes two pies. I figure, as long as you’ve got flour on the countertop (not to mention your shoes), why not make two?
Calypso Chicken Breasts
1 cup cracker meal
1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped (see note)
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, melted
3-1/2 tablespoons dark corn syrup
8 boneless chicken breast halves with skin
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained
1/2 cup frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
3 tablespoons dark rum or bourbon
2 bananas, peeled and thinly sliced
Sprigs of fresh mint or Italian parsley, for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a small bowl, combine cracker meal, walnuts, salt, butter and corn syrup; stir to combine. Loosen skin along 1 side of chicken breasts; use your fingertips to make a pocket. Stuff about 1/8 of the filling under the skin of each chicken breast. Secure skin with a long toothpick, enclosing stuffing. Season with salt and pepper on both sides.
Heat olive oil on medium-high in a nonstick skillet. Add chicken, skin side down. Saute on both sides until browned, about 3 minutes per side. Place skin side up in a baking pan.
In a small bowl, combine pineapple, orange juice concentrate and bourbon. Stir to combine, and spoon around chicken.
Bake 40 minutes or until chicken is thoroughly cooked. Transfer chicken to a platter. Gently stir bananas into sauce, and spoon over chicken. If desired, serve with rice to absorb the juices.
Yield: 8 servings.
Nutrition information per serving: 525 calories, 26.9 grams fat (47 percent fat calories), 108 milligrams cholesterol, 305 milligrams sodium.
Note: The easiest way to chop walnuts is in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse until the nuts are very finely chopped but not ground.
White Chocolate Banana Cream Pies
Adapted from a recipe in Food and Wine magazine.
2-1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold solid vegetable shortening, cut into 6 pieces
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
5 to 6 tablespoons ice water, as needed
4 cups milk, divided use
1-1/4 cups sugar, divided use
5 large egg yolks
1/2 cup cornstarch
2/3 cup chopped white chocolate
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 medium bananas, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1/2 cup chopped white chocolate, plus 1/2 cup chopped white chocolate for chocolate curls
3 cups cold heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place flour, sugar and salt in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process 30 seconds. Add shortening and butter. Pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal.
With the motor running, add ice water in a thin stream through the feed tube. Process until mixture starts to form a mass. Do not overprocess the dough; it will make it tough.
Divide dough in half, and form 2 discs. Roll out into 2 rounds on lightly floured work surface. Ease each round of dough into a 9-inch pie pan. Crimp edges, and prick with the tines of a fork. Bake in a preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until nicely browned. Cool. (You can use prepared pie shells if you prefer; bake them according to package directions.)
In a medium saucepan, combine 3 cups milk, 1/2 cup sugar and salt. Stir, and bring to boil over high heat. Remove from heat.
In a separate, large saucepan, whisk egg yolks with remaining 1 cup milk, 3/4 cup sugar and cornstarch until smooth. Whisk in hot milk in a thin stream. Cook, stirring constantly, on medium-high heat until custard is thickened and starts to bubble around the edges (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat, and stir in 2/3 cup white chocolate. Whisk until chocolate melts. Whisk in vanilla; cool. The custard can be refrigerated overnight.
Place banana slices in cooled pie shells. Add filling, and press down gently with a rubber spatula. Cover pies with wax paper that has been lightly buttered where it comes in contact with the filling. Refrigerate.
For topping, melt 1/2 cup chopped white chocolate in the top of a double boiler over barely simmering water. Stir vigorously to melt chocolate (you don’t want the chocolate to get hot; it will just get warm). Cool to tepid. Beat whipping cream with powdered sugar until almost stiff. Beating, pour in melted white chocolate.
Discard wax paper from pies. Spread topping on pies, mounding it higher in the center. Garnish with white chocolate curls (use a vegetable peeler to make shavings).
Yield: 2 (9-inch) pies, about 20 servings.
Nutrition information per serving: 491 calories, 30.3 grams fat (55 percent fat calories), 124 milligrams cholesterol, 147 milligrams sodium.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: How to pick bananas, other tips By Cathy Thomas The Orange County Register Bananas are picked and shipped green. They develop better flavor when ripened off the plant. Choose bananas according to the desired degree of ripeness. Select green-tipped for cooking, broiling or later use. Select yellow bananas for salads. And fully ripened bananas, flecked with tiny brown spots, are good for baking, ice cream and blender drinks. To ripen bananas, keep them uncovered at room temperature. To speed the process, place bananas in a perforated brown paper bag with an apple. To slow ripening, refrigerate; the peel will darken, but the fruit inside will be fresh and ripe. More banana tips: Toss sliced bananas with lemon, lime or orange juice to keep them from turning brown. Peel and mash overripe bananas with a little lemon juice and freeze up to six months. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator, and use in breads, cakes, muffins and daiquiris. A pound equals about three medium or four small bananas, 2 cups sliced or 1-1/3 cups mashed. For a treat, cut peeled bananas in half lengthwise and place cut side up on baking pan. Sprinkle with brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Broil until sugar bubbles. According to the folks at Dole Food Co., the average American consumes 25 pounds of bananas a year. Botanists classify bananas as herbs because the plant contains no wood fiber and the stalk is composed of leaves wrapped tightly together.
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