Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Kitchen Korner: Unripe Green Bananas

I am an island girl I was raised on this beautiful island. I carried the island and its culture in my heart even after we moved that is why coconuts are an integral part of my life. Islanders like me add coconut milk to almost everything we cook, rice, beans, baked foods, pastries, chicken, fish, meat, sweet potatoes, cassava etc you name it if we can trust me we will be adding it. I learnt as a little girl how to make homemade coconut milk from scratch; we would break the shell pour out the coconut water into a cup and drink it most times:) then proceed to grate the flesh using a sit down hand grater called a “mbuzi” and then squeeze the grated bits in a cone shaped woven basket like container called “Kifumbu(a regular sieve works just as good) using warm water to make the milk. The first squeeze produces very thick, creamy milk which gives the best flavour and taste when cooking. Please see the link at the bottom of this post to see how this is done. The entire coconut tree from the leaves, to the stem to the actual coconuts themselves has a gazillion uses from building houses, making brooms and furniture, making hair and beauty products to cooking.
My friend who lives in Mombasa, Kenya was kind enough to send me this picture of a traditional coconut grater. Apologies for the grainy image it was from a camera phone go HERE to see a clearer photo of the coconut grater. It is very common to find traditional equipment in modern western style kitchens in African homes both in Africa and abroad; the lady in the video link at the end of this post lives in the United States but uses a traditional coconut grater.
Green bananas (these are unripe bananas; once they ripen they become fruits and are best used in pancakes, desserts or baked foods) are part of a main meal and also a snack depending on how they are cooked in many parts of East Africa. I put emphasis on unripe because there are some bananas that remain green even when ripe. Different communities have different names for them but the one name that is popular across the entire East African region for any green banana meal is Matoke which is Ugandan in origin. It doesn’t matter whether you are in a restaurant in Kenya, Tanzania or Uganda chances are if you ask for Matoke the waiters will know what you are talking about. They can be steamed, boiled, mashed, fried, roasted or oven baked.  This recipe uses both coconut milk and green bananas in Swahili we call it Ndizi mbichi za nazi or unripe green bananas in coconut milk in English.

4 small or 2 large green bananas (unripe)
½ cup coconut milk or ¼ cup coconut cream
Salt to taste
Pinch of cardamom powder (East African coastal folks love cardamoms it is used a lot in cooking)
Enough water to boil the bananas

Using a sharp knife, peel and chop bananas into big chunks. The peel can be sticky so greasing your hands with cooking oil prior to peeling helps to keep them clean of the sticky peel residue. Rinse the peeled, chopped bananas and place in a pot. Pour water I would say fill ¾ of the pot with water it doesn’t have to cover the bananas. Add the salt and cardamoms and let them boil for about 10-15 minutes on medium heat or until tender. You can test for tenderness with a fork if it goes through they are done. Drain the water and add the coconut milk and let simmer for about three minutes until the bananas are entirely coated with the coconut milk and have absorbed the flavour. Turn off the heat cover the pot and leave to steam heatless for anything between 3-5 minutes to let the bananas fully absorb the coconut flavour. Serve with any protein (beans, chicken, meat or fish) or vegetables of your choice and a vegetable salad if you wish. I had mine with grilled chicken and sliced tomatoes. Alternatively if you have access to plenty of coconut milk then you can leave out the water and boil from start to finish with the coconut milk. I do this mostly with plantains since they are already soft. Quick tip: if you end up over cooking the bananas don’t worry you can just mash them and have them that way instead.

This meal can also be made as a one pot meal which is how I make it sometimes. For simple one pot meal instructions; make your meat, chicken or vegetable stew as you would normally. Just before the stew is done add the peeled chopped bananas and coconut milk as the last ingredients. The one pot meal is ready once the bananas are tender. Both meals can be prepared without the coconut milk if not available or desired but I highly recommend using the coconut milk if you can. The peeled bananas can also be left whole I just prefer mine chopped.
Vegetable one pot: onions, tomatoes, eggplant/aubergine and unripe green bananas
They can also be fried the same way you would shallow fry plantains or potatoes. The trick to fried green bananas is to use the ones that are just starting to ripen but are still firm. I use the same recipes for plantains and unripe green bananas they are family after all. Depending on where you live you can purchase unripe green bananas from your local green grocers, Afro-Caribbean or other international food stores.
Fried green bananas

Kitchen Korner is a feature that appears regularly on the blog showcasing food made with ingredients that can also be used for the hair; double food hair products I like to call them. Today’s double food hair products are bananas (use only ripe ones for hair, overripe are even better) and coconut milk/cream. Please see my "DC Recipes" page at the top for deep conditioning recipes using these ingredients.

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Thank you for reading...feel free to add a comment, suggestion or question. I am always happy to hear from you! Lydz.