Originating from south-east Asia, the banana travelled to East Africa with Arab traders, landing in the Caribbean and Latin America on ships bound for the New World. The word is derived from banan, the Arabic word for finger.
The leaf of the plant is used in Trinidad and Tobago to wrap meat pies known as pastelles, and in the Far East as wrapping for rice balls and other oriental delicacies.
In some parts of the tropics, banana leaves replace traditional western crockery, especially at large feasts and wedding receptions. This is not just for economic reasons. It is considered more hygienic to eat off a fresh banana leaf than off a plate that has been used by someone else.
Even the core of the banana stem, considered a herbal remedy for dyspepsia, is edible and can be cooked, while in the Philippines, fibres from the trunk are woven to create material for the very elegant local formal wear.
No other plant, with the exception of the coconut palm, is more identifiable with a tropical setting. The tree can be used in landscaping or as a potted plant. Not only is it imposingly ornamental in the garden, but it provides an abundance of fruit or flowers, depending on the variety. Recommended varieties for the home gardener are the giant plantain, the sweet sucrière, the traditional gros michel, the firm lacatan with its lower water content, varieties bearing ornamental flowers, and dwarf types for pot culture.
There is no more versatile fruit than the banana, which can be prepared in a number of ways. As a ripe fruit it is usually eaten raw, or as a breakfast food with cereal. It is used in salads, cakes, bread and desserts. The green fig can be cooked in soups or stews, and fried as chips. It is a special treat in West Indian green fig souse.
The plantain, which looks like an over-sized banana, should be cooked, not eaten raw. It can be fried or baked when ripe to provide tantalizingly tasty dishes.
Rich in carbohydrates and minerals, the banana is nutritious, palatable, easily digested and delicious. Some people seem to get a feeling of well-being from eating it. This may be due to its link with serotonin, a brain substance crucial in treating depression.
Dr Johnny Lee
GREEN FIG SOUSE
- green figs
- lime juice
- salt and pepper
Boil figs. When cool, peel and slice into pieces. Add enough water to just cover the sliced figs in a dish. To this add lime juice, crushed garlic and sliced onions. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with sliced cucumbers and water cress. Chill and serve.
- 5 very ripe bananas
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup shortening
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 3 cups flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease two 9 x 5 loaf pans. In a medium bowl, mash bananas and stir in eggs until well blended. Set aside. In a large bowl beat shortening, gradually adding sugar. Stir in vanilla and banana mixture. Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. Blend into butter. Divide between the prepared pans. Bake for one hour 15 minutes in preheated oven. Makes two loaves.
PLANTAIN BAKED IN ORANGE JUICE
- 2 ripe plantains
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 cup orange juice
- 2 tablespoons grated orange rind
- 1 teaspoon salt
Peel and slice plantain either crosswise or lengthwise. Place into a greased baking dish. Mix juice, rind, honey and salt, and pour over the plantain. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15 or 20 minutes or until browned and cooked.