Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Cooking with Banana Leaves

We recently had a Mexican grocery store and an Asian market open in the area. My visits have exposed me to a variety of interesting foods and new ingredients. I make an effort to try something different every time I go. Since both of these new stores carry banana leaves, that got me curious. What do you do with banana leaves? After all, they are inedible. Turns out you use them as an organic form of tinfoil. Instead of wrapping food for the grill in silvery packets, you wrap them in the banana leaves which allows the food inside to gently steam while giving it subtle flavor and aroma.

My first experiment with banana leaves involved several pieces of marinated swordfish. The swordfish was covered in lime juice, ginger, garlic, pepper and soy sauce and left to marinade overnight. The next day it was gorgeous outside and perfect for grilling. I preheated my gas grill and pulled some banana leaves out of the freezer to thaw. I place a marinated swordfish steak in the center of a banana leaf round smeared with a thin layer of coconut oil. I then folded up the edges and tied it in to a neat little package with some kitchen string.

These fish pockets went on the grill along with a couple packages of chicken I needed to cook. Fish cooks pretty quickly, so they went on the top rack. I wasn't really sure exactly how long to leave them on, but with the gas on low, I thought 15 minutes would work fine.

Turns out I was right. The fish came out perfectly. While it was steaming on the grill, I took the remaining marinade, added some butter, hot pepper, and some pieces of finely chopped fresh cherries and use it to cook up a batch of beech mushrooms that I also got at the Asian market. I poured the sauced mushrooms over the fish, leaving it all on the banana leaf which now served as a plate liner.

It was delicious. I ate my swordfish sitting on the back patio in the sun. The food was good and the setting relaxing, though I did lack a drink with an umbrella in it. I will be using banana leaves again when my book club comes over in a couple of weeks. Instead of swordfish, my next experiment will be with mahi mahi. I think it would also work quite well with vegetables, so I will have to come up with some side dishes to try as well.

Banana leaves are inexpensive and handy...no need to worry about fish getting stuck to your grill grates. Plus it gives your food a nice decorative touch. While I mainly go for ease and flavor, there is no reason it can't look interesting as well. And next time I wont forget the umbrella drink.


Abigail said...

Hmmm... I shall have to try that sometime when other people will eat (darn the banana allergy)...

Remind me to give you my peanut sauce and satay recipes!

Lauren said...

Did the banana leaves affect the flavor? Sounds like an elegant touch for a party.

Anonymous said...

They use banana leaves in India as plates as well :-)