Monday, February 4, 2013

African Banana Leaves with an Indian Twist


It turns out that blogging about infrastructure is a real drag.  Not to mention that talking about infrastructure makes me sound like a hard-to-please pessimist judging a singing competition on TV.  So don’t misinterpret: We love love love living on this continent.  But when it comes to infrastructure, we know how good it can be from places we’ve been in the past.  And we can’t help but know how challenged the amazing people on this continent are because of a lack of it.  Frustrating.  Enough said.

I promise to talk a lot more at various times about infrastructure in the future, but after a month of discussing large frustrations, right now I’m ready for a different topic.

When I mentioned to our three year old that some people in Africa, as well as in other places, cook with banana leaves, Jonas could not contain himself.  As he does with all suddenly enthralling topics, he needed to see a U-Tube video immediately…. Easier said than done here, ahem, speaking of infrastructure…
Here are the eventual results of our exploration with Africa’s banana leaves, grown in our own back yard.

Banana leaves are giant, but shred very easily. Here we have chosen an already dying, already slightly shredded leaf. First we cut our pieces from the leaves, making about 9" long squares and rectangles.  My sous-chef is very good at this. (Though, don't worry, I don't let him use the cleaver in the picture above!)

We then wash the leaves.  If using the leaves right away, use very warm water to make them a bit more pliable.

These are leaves we are using in place of aluminum foil. Because the leaves are porous, we also put them inside of a baking dish.  Here we are filling our leaves with a chicken and sauce mixture. Okay, so the recipe is not African.  But the ingredients were all readily available here, and we cooked it in true African style…

We made chicken korma, an Indian dish, with our first batch of banana leaves.  My association with this amazing dish is that it is made with a gluttonous amount of deliciously unhealthy cream.  But really, there was no cream involved.  Just pureed onions and a few spoons of unsweetened yogurt gave this dish a divinely rich but healthy make-up.  Even our three year old loved it!  I highly recommend it.  It is Indian for beginners- give it a try! (recipe below)

Before and after cooking.
Banana leaves are available at Asian food stores (usually in the freezer section for a few dollars) throughout Europe and the US if you do not live in Asia or Africa.  But if you don’t have banana leaves, try the recipe in a plain glass baking dish.  You won’t get the taste of the banana leaves, but it will be entirely worth it just the same.

Cooking in banana leaves gives food a special, slightly sweet taste.  Divine.

Banana leaves are also used decoratively in cuisine.

 Here, with the help of two toothpicks, we have used them to hold fruit and couscous, a popular African carb.

Chicken Korma

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
2 large onions, chopped
6 tablespoons plain yogurt (mine were heaping)
2 tablespoons mango chutney (can be bought in a store, or instead just puree a few pieces of mango)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons turmeric powder
1 teaspoon chili powder  (I cut out to keep it less spicy for my little guy)
2 teaspoons garam masala
2 teaspoons salt
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup sliced almonds (forgot this step, still good without!)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a 2 quart baking dish.
  2. Heat oil and butter in a skillet over medium heat. Cook onions in oil until soft.
  3. Place onion, yogurt, mango chutney, garlic, turmeric, chili powder, garam masala, and into the bowl of a food processor. Process into a smooth sauce; it should be about the consistency of thick cream. Add a bit of water or yogurt to thin it if needed. Spread chicken into prepared baking dish, and pour the onion sauce over the chicken. (We mixed sauce with chicken pieces, put into banana leaves, then set packages into the ungreased dish.)
  4. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Sprinkle sliced almonds over the top, and serve with rice.