It all began when I saw a large purple bud hanging from my banana plant. It had been a long time since I had seen a banana flower. My grandmother would use these flowers in a salad.
I decided to try to make one myself with assistance from my Sri Lankan helper, who eats them back home on her island, as do people in other South-east Asian countries, such as Thailand and Laos.
Some of these other cultures would cook the blossoms in curry.
Why we no longer eat such local flowers in Singapore, I do not know. Indeed, why do we not eat more locally produced food, especially when many health diets recommend that we eat produce that is grown locally?
Macrobiotics, for example, emphasises eating food that is fresh, organic, seasonal and locally grown.
While we do not have much farming land, we could include produce from Malaysia, which has the same climate and soil conditions.
While I got my blossom from my garden, you can obtain one easily enough at Tekka market. The younger smaller ones are more tender, but you may have to use more than one.
I plucked a banana blossom just minutes before eating it and cut it open to examine its anatomy.
Those purple "leaves" are actually the petals, which enclose a row of stamens and the bud.
You need to remove the tougher outer petals, which can be used as a natural container for the salad, and the stamens. You peel off the petals until you arrive at an ivory coloured bud.
Cut these petals finely and immerse them immediately in a bowl of acidulated water - a bowl of water to which lemon or lime juice has been added - to prevent browning. You now have a pile of shredded banana blossom that can be used in a salad.
You could use them on their own or you could add shredded green mango, green papaya or cucumber.
While I remember that my grandmother added boiled prawns to her salad, the Laotians and Thais, for example, use minced meat. They also rely on fish sauce dressing, while the traditional Peranakan recipe uses coconut cream, which I find too satiating.
Instead, I decided to use fresh sambal belacan, which is fresh chilli pounded with toasted shrimp paste or belacan. (You could opt for the bottled version, though in the macrobiotic diet, you should avoid processed food.)
I thinned it with lime juice, then added honey or palm sugar - both are types of complex sugar which take longer to digest and are healthier than simple sugar - to give it a mellow sweetness.
A scattering of dried prawns and roasted shredded coconut adds richness.
The result is a nutty tasting salad which is ideal for an Asian meal as it is spicy and sour, adding a clean counterbalance to other rich dishes.
I like it just because I need not go too far to obtain my salad ingredients.
Banana blossom salad (Serves four to six)
2 tbs pounded dried prawns
2 tbs toasted grated coconut
1 banana blossom, available at Tekka market
1 green mango, if desired
8-12 fresh prawns
2-3 shallots, peeled and shredded
1 tbs sambal belacan, either homemade or store-bought
1 tsp palm sugar or honey
Juice from 2 limes
½ tsp salt
1 red chilli, sliced
2-3 kaffir lime leaves, shredded finely
½ cup roasted peanuts
Soften the dried prawns in a cup of hot water.
Then remove and process them in a food chopper till they become fine. Set the water aside.
Roast the grated coconut, sprinkled with a little salt, in a 180 deg C oven till it becomes golden. Cool and store it in an airtight container for use when needed.
Peel the banana blossom, setting aside the tough outer petals and discarding the stamens and bud.
Cut the inner petals finely and immerse them immediately in a bowl of water to which lemon or lime juice has been added.
Peel and shred the green mango, if you choose to use it.
Put the fresh prawns in a pot. Pour the water used for soaking the dried prawns into the pot and add more water until it covers the prawns.
Boil them till they turn pink. When they have cooled, peel them.
Place the banana blossom, green mango, lime zest and shallots in a bowl.
Separately, mix the sambal belacan, palm sugar or honey, juice from two limes and half a teaspoon of salt to make the dressing. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Add a little water to the dressing if you prefer it more moist.
Add the dressing to the bowl and toss everything together.
If you wish, place the salad in the tough outer petals.
Top the salad with boiled prawns, dried prawns and toasted grated coconut. Garnish it with red chilli, kaffir lime leaves and roasted peanuts.
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