Update: Thank you Joumana! She sent me a picture she took from a banana tree in flower in Tyre, Lebanon to show you I speak the truth lol. Look at that stunning deep blue purple!
Here is one of those great ‘what the heck is it’ finds I recently made while in Chinatown in Toronto. I am such a sucker for the unknown in my plate! A giant purple pod like item caught my attention on our way to the cash register. Sold in twos the sign said these pods were Banana Flowers. In the cart they went and back to Montreal they traveled.
Unfortunately with the traveling the veggie blackened but I swear it was purple before. After a bit of research I found out Banana Flowers, the flower of the banana tree, are close to artichokes in taste (very subtle) and in preparation and are a common item in Asian cuisine. And yes the lemon bath is essential as it will turn black from oxidization, although it remains still tasty and edible (which was my case). In between each ‘leaf’ of the flower there is a series of pods all lined up in a row. I was taken by surprise and screamed when I removed the first leaf and the pods jumped all over the place.
They are usually served as a salad and I found a great recipe for Vietnamese version. But before I tell you about the recipe let me explain how to prepare the flower. As I said before imagine an artichoke but there is no fuzzy middle. Just pluck and discard the first 2-3 layers as they are older and tougher. Cut the first few inches off the tapered end and discard, as well as bit of the bottom part. What you are left with is all edible. Prepare as desired.
Banana Flower Salad
1 banana flower
2 teaspoons of sugar
1 teaspoons of salt
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon of chopped garlic
1 teaspoon of chopped chili
1/3 cup of fresh basil
1/3 cup of crushed peanuts
Cut the banana flower into bit size strands with a knife. Place in a mixing bowl and add the salt, sugar, oil and lemon juice. Next add the garlic, chili, basil and peanuts and continue mixing. Place some lettuce in a bowl and top with the banana flower mixture in the middle.
I served it as an accompaniment with a South African dish called Bobotie. I have to say off the bat I was not finding this experience very mouth watering. I felt more like I was a scientists dealing with a prehistoric plant. But in the end it was really good and I hope to find some in Montreal soon.
Now you all know how I love ADORE trying unknown foods. My favorite activity in Chinatown is to scout out a food I am unfamiliar with – sometimes I don’t even have the name since the tag was in Mandarin or something – and take it home, research it and eat devour it.
It really started this summer after reading a book called The Fruit Hunters by Adam Leith Gollner. Just so happens he is a Montrealer. Driest read ever but I learned so much about exotic fruits, most I will never see or taste. But I was determined to hunt out a few in my local ethnic grocery stores.
One of the first finds, mentioned many times in the book, I came across was the mangosteen. I even have a picture of the first bunch I saw in Toronto’s Chinatown. I was completely mesmerized by these stunning purple orbs. What could they taste like? Needless to say I bought a few.
The mangosteen grows on small evergreen trees in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and southern India. The inedible rind of the fruit is deep reddish purple when ripe. The fruit is about the size of a tangerine and the edible part has segments just like any citrus fruit. The flesh is white. It is really hard to describe the taste as nothing else really compares, but the best I can say is the taste is sweet and tangy, citrusy with notes of caramel and butter, also peach like. Confused but curious yet lol?
Well it is one of the most refined fruits I have ever tasted and I was happy to learn I was far from being the first person to be so enamored with the mangosteen fruit. There is a legend about Queen Victoria offering a reward of 100 pounds sterling to anyone who could deliver to her the fresh fruit. This legend has earned the Mangosteen the nickname “Queen of Fruit”. If you want to taste it your best bet is to go to your nearest Chinatown when the fruit is in season because you will not find it in your local grocery store. If it is not in season Asian grocery stores usually sell canned or frozen mangosteens.
Now the fruit has also been used for centuries as a medicinal tool. Humans have claimed the fruit can cure or aid everything from dysentery, eczema, diarrhea, cystitis, gonorrhea and urinary disorders. In our modern age inventors and investors have taken the mangosteen to the science lab. It turns out the fruit, mostly the rind, is full of antioxidants and over 40 xanthones which are under study for potential disease amelioration effects. Honestly at this point nothing has been proven and the potential health benefits of fruit are now at the center of a debate. Only 6 xanthones have been studied yet and no actual clinical trials have been done yet. This potential ‘ cure-all rejuvenation’ fruit remains speculative.
But if it tastes good and it may keep you healthy why not have some! Most mangosteen juice products contain whole fruit purée, including some healthful extracts from the inedible rind. One such company is XanGo and the people at Xango were kind enough to send me a bottle of Mangosteen juice for me to try out.
I believe they are the first to bring mangosteen juice to an international level. I just love the elegant bottle and the gorgeous burgundy color. The taste of the juice is not comparable to the fruit I have to say because of the tartness of the rind…but that is where the health benefits are. It is still a lovely juice to enjoy for sure.
Now this is not the kind of juice you want to guzzle back from a large glass. I was actually a little surprised when I saw the daily recommended dose of 2 to 6 tablespoons per day! Almost sounds like medicine. Now I understand why they say a bottle can be good for over a week per person.
Now you won’t find this juice in a store either, it is sold through private distributors, mostly online. And it has the price of medicine too. A bottle averages around $37 (or around $120 for a 4-pack). I was sent some recipes for XanGo juice that included Xango Turkey Meatballs, Xango Cream Cheese and Berry Pie and a Xango Tropical Salsa. But I decided to hoard my bottle for the daily usage and see if I feel any healthier in a week or so. I did try the juice out on a bit of homemade fig ice cream and the tartness was a perfect contrast to the sweet iced treat.
Obviously it is not a product, at least for now, that can suit every budget but in time and with popularity the price may go down and it will become more accessible. If you can afford it then why not try it once and see what you think.
I have my daily shot in hand and I send a toast to your health!
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Today, September 22nd, Chinese people around the globe will be celebrating the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar. Coinciding close enough with fall, this is a celebration of the supposed fullest and roundest full moon of the year. It is called Mid-Autumn Festival or Moon Festival.
Chinese families and friends gather to moon gaze, feast and dance. For 2,000 years this festival has had the purpose of communing with the heavens (deities) and giving thanks for the harvest of year.
Traditional foods include lobster, salmon, pomelo citrus, apples, pomegranates, Black Horn Nut, roasted peanuts and of course the mooncake. I was in Chinatown about 2 weeks ago on a Saturday and the stores were filled with these mooncakes. You could by them individually or in boxes of four. Of course I bought one to try as you can see below.
I never heard of mooncakes before till a month ago. A foodie in the Montreal food blogger circuit said they wanted to try making some but it was complicated. From there I did a tiny bit of reading up on it but I had not realized the significance until I went shopping in Chinatown.
The traditional mooncake is round or rectangular, measuring about 10 cm across and 5 cm thick. A decorative thin 2-3mm crust protects a luscious dense filling usually made from lotus seed paste . So mooncakes have inside the filling one or more yolks from salted duck eggs representing the full moon. The top pf the cake has a Chinese symbol usually wishing health or harmony or longevity. Nowadays most people buy them as they are labor intensive…as in some recipes take days till you get the final product.
The crust is usually made from a lard based dough. But today there are vegetarian versions and also really experimental ‘crusts’ with gelatin or glutinous rice preparations in all colors of the rainbow. The traditional filling is a lotus seed paste but it can also be made from bean paste or jujube paste. But now you can even get ice cream filling, green tea, chocolate, pineapple…..and many more!
There are plenty of recipes online if you wish to try your hand at making these mooncakes. You’ll need to buy a mooncake mold. The traditional mold is made of wood but you can find some in plastic and aluminum for a small price. And for some of us finding the prepared can of lotus seed paste may be a challenge…but you can improvise.
Mooncakes are rich so a small piece is plenty. The traditional way to serve this cake is cut into small triangle wedges. You can accompany it with a nice pot of Chinese tea.
Visiting Chinatown is becoming a very dangerous affair for me. Every time I go I come back with a bag of food discoveries I don’t technically need…or even know what it is. Here is one one of those unknown discoveries, it’s a doozie.
I saw this box of ‘stuff’ for sale at 2,99/lb outside an Asian grocery store…
These things looked like bull heads, or devil heads, or even evil demon bunny heads. The sign said Water Calton…at least that is what I was able to read. From past experience English names in Chinatown are not reliable. I bought a handful and could not wait to get home and research my devilish find.
OK so googling Water Calton brought nothing up except a suggestion of Carlton from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air!!! Ah, pretty sure that is wrong. After playing with word combination I finally found out what these were: water caltrops.
And a whole series of nicknames: Black Horn Nut, Bat Nut, Devil Pod, Buffalo Nut. They are the seed pod of an Oriental aquatic plant. China and India have been cultivating them for over 3,000 years but can be found also in Asia and Africa. They are toxic if uncooked. There is a fury tuff at the top of the bull’s head and they do have a bit of a strange odor.
Cover them in water and some salt, bring to a boil and simmer for 25-30 minutes. Let them rest another 20 min. Then crack them open (very bad but as I read the easiest is with your teeth) and enjoy their chestnut like taste and texture. They taste like a cross between chestnuts and water chestnuts, maybe even a bit like Brazil nuts, but with a starchy texture. They can be added when cooked to rice and vegetable dishes.
They are in season in Fall and are a traditional food of the Chinese mid-autumn festival. I think they would also make awesome Halloween food props. One article I read said some people believe nailing a caltrop above your door while it is looking out will protect your home from evil spirits.
I spent the weekend a while back at my friend Karyn’s house which is just outside the island on Montreal. Even if basically part of Montreal for me it still felt like a trip outside of town. We had such a blast with great food (she will one day actually send me a guest blog of the breakfast she made (RIGHT?)) and we had a great day for a neighborhood party in honor of Fire Men Day. NO we saw zero shirtless firemen…I was very upset!
But the first night was one of BBQ, relaxation and cocktails, followed by a relaxing morning by the pool. We were talking about the vegetation and future plans of Kryn’s backyard. “Yeah those are vine leaves used for Dolmades’ she says. WHAT? Like I can just pick some and cook with them? ‘YES, take some” Karyn said.
Well she did not have tell me twice. I left there with 10 leaves. Here is my first dolmades experience! I had no clue what to do with them when I got home. I found ALL my answers here at Ellen’s Kitchen. I know you roll your mixture in the leaves…but what do you do to the leaves? What is the mixture and can I mess around with it? How on earth do I roll the leaf? How do I cook it? Ellen answered all my questions…phew!
The leaves: real directions on how to use fresh leaves.
Blanch loose, a dozen at a time, by placing in strong salted boiling brine, 1 C. salt to 4 C. water. Bring water back to a boil and then remove leaves immediately with a skimmer or pancake turner; and then plunge the leaves immediately into cold/ ice water. Drain, dry with paper towels or shake dry. Don’t omit this, it is done to set the color and also prevents enzyme action while freezing. Use immediately, or stack in rolls of six, roll from the side and tie; wrap in airtight plastic and freezer bags.
Usually dolmas is filled with seasoned rice, sometimes with a bit of meat as well. I invented my own filling, no measurements, just did it by feeling. Ingredients are:
- ground beef
- 1 egg
- salt, pepper
Stuffing and rolling
Trim stem off. With with shiny of leaf down, place a small spoonful of prepared stuffing at the stem end of the leaf, roll about one turn. Fold in the two sides. Continue rolling to the tip of the leaf. The package should be firm, but not tight, as the stuffing will expand while cooking.
See Ellen’s Kitchen for full instructions but I steamed mine. I did no have enough leaves for all the meat so I lined my steamer with parchment paper and flattened my leftover meat on the bottom…like a thin meatloaf. Then I placed the rolled leaves with the seam side down. I placed the basket in a large enough pot with 2-3 cups of broth. Once the broth was boiling I lowered to simmer and steamed about 45 minutes covered.
Finally I prepared a quit sauce to serve with….
Egg and lemon sauce, Greek style:
- 2-3 eggs, separated
- 1 tablespoon of water
- juice of 2-3 lemons
- broth from the dish being cooked (or hot beef or chicken broth or stock)
Beat the egg whites until foamy. Beat in egg yolks, water, lemon juice, and 2-3 ladle full of broth, beating continuously. Transfer mixture to a small saucepan and heat gently. Whisk while heating, until mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Do not boil.
Want to make a cocktail that will guaranty Ohs and Ahs?
I had such a cocktail last Friday while on a small 45 min cruise in Old Montreal port.
The Hibiscus Martini
Yes that is a real hibiscus flower in my glass. And it is edible!
How cool is that?The barmaid was thrilled to prepare the cocktail, my companion and I both wowed at the stunning presentation and as I sipped my cocktail on the top deck of the ship our neighboring table had to interrupt and ask what I was drinking. My companion alwso ordered a drink that night with the flower: the Hibiscus Mojito.
This martini is pretty much the classic Cosmopolitan Recipe but made with white cranberry juice. At the bottom of the glass is placed one wild hibiscus flower. How does it taste? kind of like a marashino cherry but with a petal texture. I liked it a lot.
White Cosmopolitan Cocktail
– 1 1/2 oz vodka
– 1 oz white cranberry juice
– 1/4 oz Cointreau
– splash of fresh lime juice
Mix all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a chilled martini glass.
These flowers can be purchased in syrup. The small jar contains 11 flowers. Check out the Wild Hibiscus website to learn more, order and find recipes.
Hey, psst…wanna by some Miracle fruit tablets? Have you ever heard of the Miracle berry and the hallucinogenic games it can play in your mouth? This is the coolest thing! The Miracle berry is a fruit originally grown in West Africa and has been used for centuries but of course the word of mouth spread only after the European dropped in for a visit/invasion. This berry makes sour foods taste sweet.
The berries contains a glycoprotein molecule called miraculin which coats and binds to the tongue’s taste buds when eaten. Science has extracted this molecule and successfully created a edible tablet which does the same thing than eating the fruit. Scientists have made the tablet yet they still don’t know why the phenomenon occurs. The one thing they know for sure is that miraculin messes around with your taste bud receptors.
Ever since I read about the Miracle Berry I have been so eager to try it. After some online shopping I found miracle fruit tablets at a very reasonable price. Finally the packet arrived in the mail. Right away I sent out an email to invite a select group of friends to my Fruit Dropping Party.
Why is it called that? Best guess I have is you are meant to eat acidic food so I assume is is a play of dropping acid? Such parties are also nicknamed flavor tripping parties. Let me assure you miracle fruit tablets are not a drug and are perfectly legal. It is however a subject of controversy as well, see last paragraph.
We were a party of 8 guinea pigs for this tasting experiment. Everyone brought a food to contribute. We all took a tablet and let it dissolve in our mouth, making sure we swished it around the whole tongue. The tablet itself tasted quite sour ironically. Then we all felt a earthy/powdery residue on the tongue. Someone volunteered to take the first lemon bite. It worked! We all jumped on the acidic buffet. See Karyn here bite into a lemon…
It was the strangest food spread I had ever seen: oranges, limes, lemons, grapefruit, tamarind, unripe mango, tomatoes, strawberries, pickled vegetables, sourdough bread, goat cheese, sour cream, salt and vinegar chips, salad with a balsamic vinaigrette, a sour candy called Toxic Waste, red wine and Guiness.
Not everyone reacted the exact same way to all foods but all found foods unusually sweet. A lemon still tastes like a lemon…just really sweet. Same for all other citrus. Tomatoes and unripe mangoes were so sweet ans strawberries were almost to sugary. The sour cream, the bread and goat cheese only had a slight effect but there was an unusual sweetness to it. Vinegary foods were less tangy but still had a bit of kick to them. The toxic candies were still sour..perhaps because it is a chemical sourness? Guiness had a more chocolaty taste to it. Bit I think the biggest shock for all was red wine: it tasted like Kool-Aid made with 5 cups of sugar, it was unbelievable.
We just ate in amazement for about 40 min until we started noticing the effect of the tablets was slowly wearing off. The effects can last between 15 to 60 min. At this point some guest were really happy I had bought antacid tablets. You flavor perception made be different but your stomach sees no difference! Oh boy! Many had a slightly sensitive stomach the next day. But it is totally worth it once to try. We had such a blast.
I highly recommend this experience. It is not expensive so get some and have your own Fruit Dropping Party. Just make sure to supply a bottle of antacid tablets too!
By the way Miracle Fruit tablets are great for those lacking appetite due to the metallic taste resulting from chemotherapy. Diabetic patients and dieters can use it as a way to calm a sugar craving without the calories or playing with their sugar levels.
But the US government has put a stop to any such research. It is legal to grow,buy, sell and consume Miracle berries on their own. It cannot be added legally to foods though because the FDA suddenly decided to classify it as a possible food additive instead of a food (as first planned). Why? Well there are stories that the sugar industry was not to happy about the whole situation. All we do know for sure is that in 1974 the one company developing miraculin for the diabetic market had to close its doors when the FDA slapped the food additive label. Such a label involves years of research and a whole lot of money, more then the Miraculin Company could ever dream of having. Did I mention too that it is a fact the offices of the Miraculin Company were ransacked not log before the FDA stepped in? Hmm, make your own conclusions.