Recently, while nosing around in the freezer section of the market, I noticed that frozen fruit mixes labeled "tropical" always contain banana, pineapple and strawberry. I found the same thing in the dried fruit section. Strawberry? Doesn't "tropical" refer to the steamy and fertile band of earth near the equator, between the tropics of Capircorn and Cancer? This is not a place where strawberries thrive.
So I began to ask myself about truly tropical food combinations, and I thought of doctoring up some banana bread.
The usual banana bread routine involves walnuts, which are not tropical nuts. So I started with macadamias and cashews. Both were good, but I was surprised that I preferred the macadamia. As a nod to that frozen bag of "tropical fruit," I added dried pineapple and rehydrated it with a good long rum soak. I took the usual cinnamon from banana bread and swapped it with allspice, from Jamaica, for its distinct hints of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove. Finally, coconut — I took this quite literally, using both the oil and shredded stuff. With all that fruity sweetness, I dialed down the sugar. The result was a fruity treat that still felt tame enough for breakfast.
If it seems a little out there for you, skip the nuts and the pineapple, but promise me you'll at least try this recipe using coconut oil instead of your usual butter or vegetable oil. It gives the bread a subtle fragrance that elevates the bananas and makes it feel lighter.
Now, the question of chocolate is an obvious one. Cocoa beans are native to the tropics, so yes, you're allowed to go the chocolate chip route. We know it's what you want, anyway. But stay away from those strawberries!
Tropical Banana Bread with Macadamia Nuts, Pineapple, and Coconut
Makes one 9-inch loaf
1 tablespoon rum or orange juice
1/3 cup finely chopped dried pineapple
4 large ripe bananas
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup coconut oil, heated until liquified
1/2 cup lightly packed light brown sugar
2 cups unbleached white flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon Jamaican allspice
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/3 cup lightly toasted and roughly chopped macadamia nuts
1/3 cup lightly toasted shredded coconut (unsweetened)
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Grease a 9-inch x 5-inch loaf pan and line it with parchment paper.
Place the rum in a small sauce pan set over medium heat. Bring to a simmer then toss in the pineapple pieces and turn off the heat. Cover and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, mash the bananas with the back of a fork until the largest remaining lumps are about the size of grapes. Stir in the eggs, oil and brown sugar. Sift the flour, baking soda, allspice and salt together over the banana mixture and stir until just combined. Drain the pineapple if any liquid remains, discarding the rum or reserving for another use. Fold in the pineapple pieces, nuts and shredded coconut.
Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake until a cake tester or wooden skewer comes out clean, about 45 minutes.
Will keep well in the freezer wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.
(Images: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)