Last week, before NPR and I left for Seattle, I decided to make a special Southeast Asian-style dinner.
My inspiration? Mostly NPR–he spent much of last summer traveling around Southeast Asia and continues to extol the glories of the regional cuisines. Also, my heroes at Green Kitchen Stories–David, Luise and their baby Elsa–have been traveling around Hong Kong, Vietnam and Thailand for the past several months and have periodically posted recipes for local dishes. Green Kitchen Stories is one of those tried-and-true blogs that you can visit when you want a dish that you know will taste incredible and is also fool-proof. I eagerly look forward to each post, and was nothing short of enchanted when I saw their recipe for a colorful Banana Blossom Salad, especially since I recognized banana flowers from the glorious Dekalb Farmer’s Market…a market in Atlanta that carries the most unbelievable range of produce (with a ton of organic options) for the cheapest prices in town. While I had previously noticed the unusual looking banana flowers on my weekly trips to the market, I had resigned them to a section of the market filled with exotic produce (ugli fruit, Indian bitter melon, aloe vera leaves) that I suspected I would never know how to prepare. Eager to succeed in this culinary challenge, I decided to go a step further in my Asian-themed dinner and also prepare spring rolls, also from Green Kitchen Stories. I gathered my supplies, ignored NPR’s questioning looks when I set banana flowers in my grocery basket and set out to amaze.
To put it mildly, there were a few setbacks. The first? I failed to anticipate that preparing not one but TWO dishes that required intense chopping/shredding/julienning might be next to impossible in the absence of a spiralizer or veggie peeler. Midway through the first dish, I realized we were on target to eat at 11:30 pm and had to call in reinforcements (aka NPR, the recipient of my special dinner) through my special siren call that involves incessant whining/a damsel-in-distress routine.
I wish I had a picture to go with this, but I was too busy weeping into my failed banana flower dish to snap a photo. Oh. Did I give away the next setback?
So yes. The banana flower dish was not to be, and I felt quite bitter given the amount of effort that goes into preparing banana flowers.
After soaking the “edible” portion of the flowers per the recipe directions, NPR and I did a quick taste test. Bad move–we are both still trying to forget the taste! For some reason, chewing the flowers seems to coat your tongue in a fuzzy layer. Not good. We thought that it might be hard to find good banana flowers in the U.S. and the odd taste might be indicative of compromised quality. David, Luise, (or anyone else who loves banana flowers): tips? Would be much appreciated!
So I found myself in misery, leaning over the bowl containing the rest of the ingredients for the dish and a separate bowl housing the wretched flowers. I weighed the expended effort with my pride as a cook and decided to omit them. NPR may or may not have done a jig in celebration of my deviation from obsessively following recipes to the T. And the final creation? Yummy and flavorful, especially the next day when the flavors had even more time to marinate. Behold, I give you:
De-flowered Green Papaya Salad, based on Vietnamese Banana Blossom Salad (serves 2)
1/2 green papaya, shredded or julienned
2 onion thinly chopped
2 carrot, shredded or julienned
1 green pepper, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp cilantro
2 Tbsp mint leaves
4 Tbsp peanuts, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp shallots to garnish (I sautéed mine in a bit of oil until lightly browned)
2 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp reduced-sodium soy sauce
Juice from 4 limes
1 tsp garlic, chopped
1 tsp shallots, chopped
1 tsp habanero chili, chopped
Add all of the ingredients for the marinade to a small bowl and combined until well incorporated. Combine papaya, onion, carrot, green pepper, cilantro, marinade and peanuts in a large bowl and toss well. Serve in a pretty dish (at last found some utility for those blasted banana flowers) and sprinkle with crispy shallots and chopped peanuts.
I served the salad along with the Fresh Summer Rolls recipe from Green Kitchen Stories and followed the recipe without modification, except for the sauce…NPR and I liked the marinade for the Papaya Salad so much that we modified the dipping sauce to taste more like it. And? Complete winner. NPR–who is already well-versed in the art of spring-roll assembly–dubbed them the best spring rolls ever.
In his own words: “The mango and avocado really take it over the top.” Mango. “In my spring rolls?” Yes. So good. Please try and see for yourself!
Up ahead this week: A Seattle recap, reminder to remember the impact of HIV/AIDS in women, and other random musings from yours truly.