We tend to ingore things that are in abundance around us. I'm not talking of any grave issues affecting the nation, but about the humble banana. India is blessed with a rich variety of this tropical fruit - rich in potassium, - and this is the first to be banned from your life by most dieticians and weight loss experts. I do understand with the sugars and calories that a banana brings in, it can be of some concern for someone who wants to lose weight. But surely it can be better than a packet of chips, when hunger strikes!
The banana tree is not called the Kalpavriksha without reason - and while most of us might have written essays in school, it nice to remember how each and every part of this plant is useful in day to day life. The leaves make for ecofriendly plates on which one can eat a five course meal. (well, almost!) The fruit of course needs no introduction - being one of the first things we learn to eat as humans while being weaned from the breast. The raw bananas (plantains) can be cooked into koftas, used as a substitute for potatoes by Jains, fried into the widely-loved chips. The flower whose intricate design is a true miracle of nature, is used to adorn the entrance of auspicious events like marriage, while also being cooked into delicacies in many Indian cuisines. The stem (which is actually a false stem, as it is a collection of leaf stalks) is full of fibre and when the outer shiny layers are pulled off, the inner pith is edible and that's what this post is about.
Fibre is too important component of our diet to be ignored - some of it's key benefits put simply -
-It provides satiety or the fullness experienced after a meal, so you don't end up consuming too many calories to feel sated.
-It binds with the bad cholesterol preventing it from getting deposited in the walls of the blood vessels causing heart attacks and strokes.
-It protects from cancer of the large intestine and of course...
makes your mornings hassle free :)
Eating whole grains, beans, lentils, vegetables and fruits with their skins wherever possible, adds up to provide the 25 odd grams of daily recommended fibre intake.
This recipe is one sure shot tasty way to get some of that daily fibre.
1 kg stem or a cylinder 8 inches long
2 cups thin buttermilk (old and sour buttermilk is better)
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp oil
Pinch of asafoetida
2 sprigs curry leaves
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp udad dal
2 broken red chillies
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup moong dal soaked in water for at least 2 hours
1 tsp sambar powder (optional)
salt to taste
Fresh coconut scrapings for garnish (optional)
Oil hands before handling the stem as it stains the hands.
Peel off the satiny outer layers with a knife until the inner rough part is exposed. This could be 2 layers or more depending on how thick the stem was to start with.
Keep a big bowl of diluted sour buttermilk on the side to immerse the chopped stem pieces. This prevents them from darkening.
To cut the plantain stem, slice it thinly - 4-5 slices at a time, place them in a stack and then finely dice it, immersing the chopped pieces in the buttermilk immediately. Do this until you have chopped the entire length of the stem into small bits. Any tough fibres that come in your way, peel them off and discard. Small fibre bits will remain and that's what will make this dish extremely healthy.
Once you are ready to cook, drain the chopped plantain stem and place in a vessel with 1/4 cup water and turmeric powder mixed well.
Place 2-3 cups of water in a pressure cooker large enough to hold the vessel containing the chopped stem.
Pressure cook this for 3 whistles and 3-4 minutes on sim. Once cool, remove and drain if required. You can also boil this in very little water until almost soft.
In a wok, heat the oil, saute the udad dal till light golden, put in the remaining tempering ingredients. After a quick stir, put in the drained moong dal and cooked plantain pith. Add sugar and salt, plus sambar powder if using. The pinch of sugar is offset the slight bitterness in the stem.
Sprinkle water and cook covered for 10 minutes with occasional stirring, so that the dal is quite done.
Check for salt and adjust, remove from flame. Sprinkle fresh coconut and serve hot with rice and mor kozhambu.
I was wondering if cutting off the stem of the poor banana tree, caused it to die a premature death. A bit of research reveals that the banana tree yields only once after which it is anyway cut off and fed to the cattle, or to banana-stem eating folks :)
Plantain pith, plantain stem, vazhaithandu, vazhaipindi, musa pseudostem are all the various terms of endearment of the banana stem.
Some interesting links:
How to cook a Musa Psedostem- this one is a must read by CY Gopinath
Celebrate the Banana republic - Ratna Raman