I often visit that corner of the compound where a lush green banana plant occupies a special spot. I look on it with reverence because it is without a doubt something that is devoted to being an ‘offering’ in every sense. It is a bounty of nature. When you look at the banana plant, it radiates health from every pore. It was once an intrinsic part of daily life. Especially in South India and also synonymous with a healthy lifestyle.
The flower, the stem, the raw banana and the fruit all contain a multitude of benefits. They all can be cooked in several ways. But, for now, let’s just focus on the green banana leaf.
Thankfully, many of us still use the leaf to serve the traditional feasts. Guests visiting from abroad treasure the experience of eating off a banana leaf. Last month, during one such meal, someone wondered why we no longer used it every day. Why indeed? Buffet meals may be one reason. But I hope the practice of using banana leaf never dies out. What’s the big deal, you may wonder.
It is a big deal because the banana leaf has rich doses of antioxidants, polyphenols, nutrients, vitamins, etc. Before we eat off a leaf, we always wash it first. That is to get rid of impurities that may be sticking to the leaf. When hot food is served on the leaf, the polyphenols (EGCC ) in it are activated. That is then absorbed into the food and into our system. This was also another reason that food was always cooked fresh and eaten piping hot on a banana leaf. By the time the last course of the yoghurt came, any remaining goodness of the leaf was wiped clean by the hand and eaten!
We teach our kids about the goodness of ‘biodegradable’ things. The banana leaf is biodegradable. Of course, not everyone may have access to a banana tree in their garden, and it is one more thing to remember to buy every day. But what if we try, sometimes? For example, at a children’s party, observe how many patterned paper plates are wasted. A pakku mattai plate, lined with a green banana leaf, is not only a healthier and eco conscious option but looks clean and vibrant too. Another very attractive way of using the banana leaf is to make cones out of it. This is one of my favourite ways of serving food. Choose a colourful salad that contrasts with the green leaf.
Or, Thai food. This is also traditionally served on banana leaves. Banana leaf cones can be made a few hours in advance. Cut small squares of the banana leaf and soak them in water for about half an hour. This makes them pliable. Take them out, wipe thoroughly and fold into cones and secure with toothpicks. These can be refrigerated in a wide bowl before being filled with the hot mixture just before serving. Alternatively, banana leaf squares can also be used to make parcels for steaming fish and vegetables. They turn a dark olive green and impart a unique flavour. The banana leaf sellers, will also willingly cut discs of the leaf, to the required size, for a minimal price. The banana plant adds quality to life and needs to be cherished and appreciated. It’s sad that flower sellers are resorting to using plastic packets instead of wrapping up their delicate wares in a banana leaf and tying that with natural plant fibre. We should all do our bit to revive the use of banana leaves in our lives.
Read more about food on Shanthini’s website www.pinklemontreerecipes.com