Cooking with Banana Leaves

Hal getting ready to Cook with Banana Leavesby Hal Schade, s/v Griffin

Throughout Central America you find many foods, such as tamales, cooked inside banana leaf packets tied with a string and usually steamed. The contents are always moist and flavorful with the subtle taste of the leaves. What a great way to cook fish, fowl or meat, but I didn’t want to spend time making multiple packets (call me lazy!). Then I had the idea of doing a “banana leaf pie” with a yummy filling!

My pressure cooker has a steaming tray with a handle. I prepare the banana leaves (info below) and lay them across the tray as you would pie dough. I crisscross them to ensure a seal and leave long overhangs that serve as the top of the “pie.”

Next I fill the pie with the main course along with spices, vegetables, etc. Then I fold the leaves over the food and finish by putting a small ceramic dish on top to hold down the leaves.

This goes in the pressure cooker/steamer, and I cook according to experience for the type of food and my cooker.

When done, I pull the tray out, trim the top leaves as you would a pie crust, and there you have a steaming serving platter, probably just right for 2-4 people, depending on your hunger!

So far I have done this with fresh fish and chicken. My favorite is to put sliced tomatoes and green or red chilies on the bottom, cover with fish and top with chopped leeks, fresh basil and oregano and ground pepper. I have also added chunks of fresh coconut meat.

Banana Leaf Preparation: The leaves are delicate before this, but are easily folded after prep. The number of leaves depends on their size, the size of the cooker and your dexterity! Leaves can be prepared over steam or flame, but on the boat water conservation is important so I do it over flame.

Select long leaves with no splits. Trim the leaves along the central spine. Wash and lightly dry. With a stove burner on low, slowly draw the leaf across the flame, SHINY TOP SIDE DOWN. You will see the dull underside of the leaf change color as the leaf softens. This may take a few tries to get it right. Don’t burn them. To see how this work, test a leaf by wadding it up! What a difference, huh? It sounds challenging, but, hey, I can do it! Really quite easy. NO, DON’T EAT THE LEAVES!!

Step 1:  Trim Banana Leaves Step 2:  Soften leaves over steam or flame.
Step 1:  Trim Leaves Step 2:  Soften over steam or flame
Step 3:  Layer in pot & fill with good stuff. Step 4:  Cook
Step 3:  Layer into pot & fill with
good stuff
Step 4:  Cook

Buen Provecho…

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