Monday, June 20, 2011

"Relax Mikey, it's just a Giant Banana!"

If you know who I am quoting, consider yourself on the team of Awesomeness.

Last weekend at the Dededo Flea Market (more like a Farmers Market really), I asked one of the produce stand workers (a voluptuous, sun-kissed islander) what the large cluster of tiny bananas were called.  She gave a warm smile, with no hint of snarkiness at my non-native naivete (which I feel thankful to her for), and replied that they are cooking bananas.  At my still quizzical expression, she continued by describing a few ways in which they are used; banana donuts, mashed ''potatoes," fried banana chips, and in place of anything in a baked good which calls for oil or butter.  This sounded fantastic because for one, there are plenty more of these than the bananas we are used to in the States, for sale here and two, because THEY'RE GROWN HERE.

  The native-grown produce is remarkable for many reasons but I'll stick to a few simple reasons for now.  If it grows here, I'm more than happy to try it because, what if it tastes better than anything my imagination can muster?   What if I can use it in many different ways and that saves me from throwing my money away on something else I didn't really need.  And obviously, if it grows here, it didn't have to travel here for me to buy and seriously, if anything perishable has to travel here, it's going to cost so much more than the average American mind can fathom.  Did you know that most of what you eat has to travel an average of 1500 miles, just to make to your grocery store?  Buying locally grown produce whenever you can is always a better option, and it also gives back to your community growers, etc.  So in that way, I try not to rely on fossil fuels to get my food.  I'm saving money and I'm giving back to the person to grew it.  I'm expanding my knowledge base for versatile cooking, and I'm nourishing my body.   Feel like I'm Winning at Everything Edible!

  In addition to the big cluster of little bananas, I bought a large bushel of Scallions, a pound of Plum Tomatoes,  5 heads of Garlic, 5 huge Avocados (which translated to 4 lbs of Guacamole), 3 sweet Yellow Onions, a pound of Serrano/Boonie peppers, and 5 lbs of Korean Fuji Apples...all grown on this island...and I paid only $15 for all of it....the same amounts of everything shown here would have cost me (and Yes, I did the math) over $30 at our base Commissary.  And the Commissaries are Cheap!!  Just remember how far those Mainland produce items would've had to travel to get to the Commissary here and how much fuel that would have taken, just for these items....Essentially, I would have been paying the store for getting them here, but instead, the Market Stands I bought these from will be using the money I paid them for their delicious products to feed their family, pay for their own gas, or to help cultivate more items to grow and sell.  I would rather be helping the family than paying for the travel costs of my produce.

  Bringing my goods home gave me a sense of triumph, and at the same time lured a shadow of would I be able to make use of Everything I bought?  What the Eff can I do with all of this??  It felt a bit daunting to take on such a culinary adventure in my own kitchen, where my comfort zone lies with taco meat, cookies, and grilled cheese?  Not to downplay my comfort zone, but I really couldn't see how I could incorporate the black sheep of my farm stand purchases...the large cluster of tiny bananas.  I felt like I was walking into a room full of strangers who wanted nothing to do with me.

  The only option was to eat the damn things and make them appetizing outside of their natural form.  Thank Jeebus for the Internetz!  Finding a few recipes and fine tuning them to my texture-sensitive palate was a bit tricky at times, but it was worth it!  I iz nawt a Chef, but experimenting like this brought on some pretty sweet accomplished acceptance with what was in front of me.  In many ways, I feel like I conquered the Enigma of the Banana without allowing any little bit to go to waste, even when I couldn't use all of it in one recipe.  This is where some prior knowledge came in handy...

  Something I learned from my mother and grandmother was to always freeze the overripe or under ripe bananas you won't immediately be using.  It doesn't matter if you toss 'em in with their peels still on their backs, or if you puree them, they Must go in the freezer once the peel starts to show liver spots and that ugly clown yellow.  They always saved those 'Nanas for Banana Bread, but since I acquired so many cooking bananas last week (too many to comfortably squeeze in my freezer at once, and they're not the ones I'd use for Banana Bread) I decided to use them at different points in their ripening.  The greener they are means they'll taste better in a savory dish like the Banana Grits, but the more mature they grow, the sweeter their final dish destination must be.  Of course, for the Dog Biscuits, if your pups are anything like ours, they don't care, they just want some 'NANAS!

Put on your Big Girl/Boy Panties and branch out of your niche with me...I don't think you'll regret it  :)

Banana "Grits"
1/2 cup coconut milk
3 large or 6 small bananas, peeled and sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium vadalia or yellow onion, chopped
1/2 cup masa harina flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black ground pepper
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- Heat the coconut milk in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until bubbly.
- Add bananas, garlic, and onion, and mash together in saucepan until it resembles chunky mashed potatoes.
- Fold in the masa until just combined, and stir in the salt, pepper, and pepper flakes. 
- Serve breakfast, lunch or dinner. Goes very well as a side to fajitas, steak, beans, etc.  I serve mine with grilled skirt steak and refried beans, or with corned beef hash and eggs. Yum!!

Bonelos Aga (Banana Donuts)
10-12 ripe small bananas or 4 regular sized ripe bananas
1 cup flour
4-5 tbsp sugar

- Peel and thoroughly mash bananas. 
- Add flour and sugar and blend until smooth. 
- Drop tablespoon fulls into hot canola oil or bacon fat. 
- Drain on paper towels and roll in a bowl of sugar.

 Peanut Butter Banana Dog Biscuits
1/2 cup mashed banana
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup rolled oats
2 cups whole wheat flour + extra all-purpose for rolling
1 tbsp baking powder

- Cream together banana, peanut butter in large plastic bowl.
- Stir in egg, baking powder, and rolled oats, blending well.
- Alternate adding flour and milk to mix until dough comes together and barely sticks to the bowl.
- Turn out onto floured counter and roll out to 1/4" thickness.
- Dip a small cookie cutter in flour before cutting out each treat, and place on a lightly greased cookie sheet.
- Bake at 375 for 9 -11 mins.  Bottoms should be crispy, immediately transfer to a cooling rack.  

  You should end up with about 100 biscuits if you use a small cookie cutter like I did, but if you use something a bit larger, you should still end up with at least 60!


   Since this recipe calls for plenty of whole wheat flour and oats, you'll be providing your pup with some much needed fiber content.  The peanut butter provides good protein and the banana offers a healthy does of potassium.  I don't recommend feeding these in place of a full meal, but using them as a training tool will prove helpful.  They can be stored in a jar or a Ziploc baggie for portability.

  And now for the Ultimate in Banana Goodness...

Barbara's Banana Nut Bread  (not to be taken or eaten lightly...)

3 mashed, very ripe bananas
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp baking powder
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tbsps molasses
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup oil 
1/2 cup water
1 cup walnuts, chopped

- Beat all ingredients for three minutes on med-high by mixer.
- Pour into well greased loaf pan.
- Bake at 350 for 45 -60 mins until the toothpick comes out clean.
- Cut yourself a slice while it's hot, and spread with butter or cream cheese. YUM!

  Mmmmm, I wish I could say I've covered every Banana Base, but I'm actually pretty glad that I haven't because that leaves so much more to be explored.  I'm keepin' my big girl panties on, 'cause I love where they're takin' me!

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