If you've ever seen a banana tree, perhaps you have noticed the teardrop-shaped purple flower at the end of the banana fruit cluster. This is the banana blossom, also called the banana heart. It is an edible flower used in Southeast Asian and Indian cooking, where they consider it a vegetable. You might be surprised that banana blossoms have a lot in common with a more well-known and popular vegetable. Can you guess what it is? Hint: while more widely known as a vegetable, it is actually a flower!
Found in Asian grocery stores in the US, banana blossoms can be eaten raw, and are also cooked in soups, stews, and curries. They can also be steamed and served with dips, and peeled apart like an artichoke. Some people claim the flower's petals taste like artichoke leaves. Similar to artichokes, the fleshy petals and the "heart" of the banana blossom are edible. And while most of us think of artichokes as vegetables, they are actually flowers - they are large, un-bloomed thistles!
To prepare, slice off the bottom and peel off the dull-colored tough outer petals. As you get deeper inside, the petals will start to fade in color. Stop peeling away the petals when you reach the non-dull ones. You may also see clusters of teeny, tiny baby bananas! These are called "stick fruit." The yellow ones are edible, but throw out any brown ones. When cut up, banana blossoms oxidize and turn brown fast, so work fast or rub lemon juice on the cut parts.
Recipes with banana blossoms:
• Banana Blossom Salad with Chicken and Asian Pears - Eating Out Loud
• Banana Blossom Salad - Food Network
• Shrimp and Banana Blossom Salad - Washington Post
• Banana Blossom Curry - RecipeZaar
• Banana Blossom and Prawn Curry - hsa*ba
• Fried Banana Flower - Out of the Garden
(Image: Kathryn Hill)