Bananas & Plantains

These two fruit are similar in many respects. They are treated together and unless otherwise indicated, both the introduction and the recipes for one fruit can be substituted for the other. As a rule, plantains are better cooked and bananas better eaten raw. The plantain and banana are descendants of wild, seeded varieties. Both of these originated in Malaysia, but the banana was transported as early as the 5th century to Madagascar, and then elsewhere. Other species of wild bananas, usually full of seeds, appear to be native to tropical rainforests on several continents.PlantainCultivated fruit are seedless and new plants are normally produced by planting the suckers -the new shoots. Both banana and plantain belong to the genus Musa, and because species have been crossed, they are described by genus and variety only. Linnaeus, when originally classifying so much of the botanical world, named the plantain Musa paradisiaca. In Indian Hindu legend, the banana was the forbidden fruit, and the island of Sri Lanka was Paradise.

The “tree” is actually a giant herb, and each stem flowers and fruit only once. However, new suckers perpetuate the life of the corm (the root knoll). A sucker unrolls (palms unfold) a fixed number of leaves before fruiting occurs. The flower-stem is pushed from the corm, through the stem, and emerges at amazing speed. Under each flower leaf (bract), one hand of bananas emerges. After all hands are exposed, the remaining male part of the banana flower (the “bell”) may be cut off. This marginally assists in the development of the bunch. In commercial varieties the male flower is sterile. In the non-red banana varieties the male flower is edible, but most Westerners would not find cooking it worthwhile. Within a cultivar, the speed of a bunch’s development, the number of hands, the size of the hands, and the size of the bananas, largely reflects the health and cultural conditions of the plant from the early age of the sucker.

An average bunch will have 8 hands of 15 bananas (fingers) and weigh 20kg. Bunches of over 30kg, however, are common in some varieties. In international trade, bananas are the most commonly traded fruit after those of the citrus family. When stored at 14ºC, ripening of mature fruit is suspended and this allows shipping over long distances. To ripen, temperature is elevated and fruit is exposed to ethylene gas. The gas mixture is more important than temperature; in fact, with an ethylene absorber bananas could be stored for 30 days at 30ºC.

It is possible to harvest required fruit only, by cutting the most developed upper hands from the bunch and leaving the rest for another week. Once picked, bananas ripen at variable rates largely dependent on temperature. A hand enclosed in a plastic bag with an apple ripens faster.

Bananas are much better when harvested mature. This is when the fruit have filled out and lost their angular appearance. If allowed to ripen on the plant, bananas will almost certainly be attacked by fruit bats. As bananas ripen, starch is converted to sugars, the fruit softens and the Bananascolour changes from yellow-green, to yellow, then gold, and eventually to almost brown, becoming mottled with dark spots. The ideal temperature range for this process is 18 -22ºC. Under hot conditions, fruit ripens very quickly, but the skin colour turns a dirty green and the fruit becomes mushy. During summer months it is advisable to ripen bananas in the coolest room, near floor-level, or in an air conditioned area. Ripe fruit may be refrigerated. Cold damage darkens the fruit’s skin. This may be reduced by wrapping fruit in several layers of newspaper and storing it high in the refrigerator, away from any cooling coils. If refrigerated, green bananas quickly lose their ability to ripen later at room temperature.

Whole bananas may be frozen (see recipes). They will, however, become mushy when completely thawed. Add a little lemon juice to mashed bananas before freezing; vitamin C (ascorbic acid) in lemon juice prevents darkening of the pulp. Frozen bananas may be used in milk shakes, cakes, ice-cream and many other recipes.

There are almost 300 known varieties of Musa, but in most Western countries it is rare for more than two varieties to ever reach the markets. The diversity of bananas is similar to citrus. Consumers would be aghast if only oranges were available, when they knew about lemons, limes, mandarins, pummelo and grapefruit.





Banana Crisp
slightly under-ripe
plantains or bananas
salted water
vegetable oil for cooking
Peel and slice bananas into 12mm rounds and drop these into a bowl of iced, salted water.
Leave to soak for 30 minutes.
Drain and dry with paper towels.
Heat vegetable oil in an electric frying pan. Fry the slices until crisp and golden. Do not overcrowd.
Drain on paper towels.
Serve immediately.

Cool Bananas
ripe bananas
“paddle pop” sticks
Peel bananas, insert the stick from one end, freeze.
Give to children and adults too, in lieu of ice cream.

Spiced Banana Sauce
5g butter
5ml cumin seeds
2 mashed bananas
125ml yoghurt
3ml salt
1ml chili powder
Heat butter gently in pan.
Fry cumin seeds first, then add rest of ingredients.
Stir together.
Take off heat before it boils.
Serve hot or cold.
Recommended as a side dish with fish or pork.

Plantain Omelette
50g butter
2 near-ripe plantains
6 eggs
80ml water
pepper (?)
5ml cumin seeds
20ml lemon or lime juice
Heat a little butter in a frying pan. Peel and cut plantains into 10mm slices and fry until just brown on one side.
Lightly beat eggs, water and seasonings.
Turn over plantain slices and pour egg mixture into pan.
After a minute, lift the edges of the omelette with an egg-slice and tilt the pan so the liquid mix runs under.
When the omelette is golden-brown on the underside, loosen the half nearest the handle.
Then lift the handle to tilt the pan about 40º, and with the egg-slice turn the upper half of the omelette onto the lower one.
Cut the omelette into three or four portions and serve immediately.

Plantain & Meat Loaf
1kg minced steak
3 mashed, ripe plantains
30ml lemon
or lime juice
20ml chopped onion
250ml breadcrumbs
10ml mustard powder
20ml chopped parsley
Mix all ingredients
Place in a loaf tin lined with baking paper.
Bake for 60-70 minutes at 180ºC.

Plantain & Curried Fish
20ml oil
4 fish steaks
160ml lime, grapefruit
or lemon juice
3ml curry powder
2 firm-ripe plantains
Preheat oil in a frying pan, fry fish steaks over low heat, turning once.
Mix juice and curry powder and add to pan.
Continue cooking, covered, for another 5-7 minutes.
Cut plantains into quarters lengthwise, add to frying pan and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Bananas & Cheese
2 firm, ripe
bananas or plantains
40ml lemon
or lime juice
100ml cream cheese
100ml finely chopped nuts
Peel bananas and cut into 20mm rounds. Marinate rounds in the juice in a sealed jar for at least one hour.
Rotate occasionally.
Recover banana rounds and spread with cream cheese and nut mixture.
Arrange on a platter with toothpicks speared into the pieces.

Banana Fritters
500ml SR flour
3ml sodium bicarbonate
3 eggs
180ml water
80ml sugar (?)
4 bananas or
2 yellowed plantains
oil for frying
Sift flour and bicarbonate into a bowl and mix with eggs, water and sugar (?) to form a smooth batter.
Peel fruit and cut diagonally into thin slices.
Heat frying pan coated with oil and spoon in several dessert spoonfuls of batter.
Cover dough with a layer of plantain slices and top slices with a smaller quantity of batter.
Turn fritters once, while frying over medium-low heat until golden brown.

Coconut Plantains
3 ripe plantains
20g copha
60ml coconut cream
Slice plantains lengthwise in to 10mm rounds.
Fry on very low heat in copha.
When turning over add coconut cream.
Continue cooking at low setting for 3 minutes.
Serve plain, or with cream or ice cream.

Creamy or Chocolate Cool Bananas
ripe bananas
thickened cream
or melted chocolate
& chopped peanuts
Freeze peeled, whole bananas.
Slice and serve immediately with a dollop of thickened cream, topped with nutmeg. Alternatively, cover bananas with melted chocolate and peanuts.

Guatemala Plantain Fritters
1kg green plantains
250ml flour
100ml cream cheese
oil for deep frying
(or just frying)
Cut un-peeled plantains into 50mm rounds.
Boil these until tender.
Peel and mash rounds with a fork.
Add flour to make a dough which is not too sticky to handle.
When worked in a food processor, this will make a crumbly mixture, which will stick together when pressed .
Flatten dough on a floured board and divide into sixteen pieces.
Divide cheese into sixteen pieces, and enclose each piece within a mantle of dough
Seal edges by pressing with the front end of a fork.
Traditionally, the fritters are deep fried in hot oil for 2-3 minutes, until golden brown.
However, they may be fried with just a little fat, if they are partially flattened with an egg slice.

Banana Oaties
185g butter
200ml sugar
1 egg
250ml mashed bananas
250ml rolled oats
125ml chopped nuts
375ml flour
3ml sodium bicarbonate
2ml nutmeg
4ml cinnamon
Beat butter and sugar until creamy; add the egg and beat well.
Mix in bananas, oats and nuts.
Sift together the flour, bicarbonate and spices.
Add to banana mixture and mix thoroughly.
Drop teaspoonfuls of mixture on to lined oven trays and bake at 220ºC for 15 minutes.

Honeyed Plantains
250ml SR flour
2ml sodium bicarbonate
40ml sugar
1 egg
90ml water
3 ripe plantains
vegetable oil
5ml honey
30ml chopped pecans
30ml thickened cream
Make a batter using the first five ingredients
Slice peeled plantains lengthwise in 10mm thick segments.
Dip in batter and fry in vegetable oil at low heat.
Pour honey over the slices and dust with a little cinnamon.
When browned on one side, turn over, and sprinkle plantain slices with chopped pecan nuts.
Remove excess oil by blotting slices on paper towel and serve with a dollop of cream or ice cream.

Banana Fruit Cake
strong>500ml wholemeal SR flour
3ml sodium bicarbonate
250ml sultanas
2 eggs
3ml vanilla essence
250ml desiccated coconut
3 large ripe bananas
about 120ml water
pecan nuts to cover
Sift flour and sodium bicarbonate (or mix dry in a blender for 2 minutes). Add sultanas, the beaten eggs, vanilla, coconut and thinly sliced bananas.
Mix well, add water to make a stiff dough.
Line a loaf tin with baking paper and transfer mixture into the tin.
Press pecan nuts gently into top of the cake as desired.
Bake for 50 minutes at 180ºC. Test by inserting a knife, which should come out clean when cooking is complete.

Blancoe’s Banana Bread
100g butter
200ml sugar
2 eggs
2 mashed ripe bananas
200ml flour
20ml cornflour
4ml sodium bicarbonate
Cream butter and sugar until they are light and fluffy.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating well in between.
Stir in 2 mashed, ripe bananas.
Sift flour, cornflour, bicarbonate and salt into the bowl, stir until blended.
Pour into a lined 230mm square baking dish.
Bake at 180ºC for 30-35 minutes.
Cut into squares.
Serve warm, especially nice with whipped cream and passionfruit.