Banana blossoms are found in salads throughout Southeast Asia, usually flavored by a dressing that includes lime juice, fish sauce and sugar. Their beautiful purple-red outer leaves sometimes are used as cups in which the salads are served. They are available at Super H Mart, as are the rest of the ingredients in this dish.
The recipe calls for several garnishes, among them a pungent shrimp powder that might not be appealing to some Westerners' tastes. If using the dried-shrimp garnish, you'll need to soak and drain the shrimp at least 8 hours in advance, or they will be too damp to pulverize. Both the dressing and the sliced banana blossoms need to stand for at least 30 minutes before the dish can be assembled.
This salad can be accompanied by sticky rice.
Servings: 4 - 6
- 1/4 cup tiny dried shrimp (see headnote)
- Juice of 1 medium lemon, for acidulating the banana blossoms' soaking water
- 4 cups cold water, for soaking the banana blossoms
- 2 banana blossoms (1 to 1 1/2 pounds each)
- 1/3 cup fish sauce
- 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (from 1 to 2 limes)
- 2 tablespoons Chinese white rice vinegar
- 4 tablespoons palm sugar (may substitute granulated white sugar)
- 3 Thai red chili peppers
- 1 large clove garlic, crushed then minced (1 to 2 teaspoons)
- 8 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast
- 12 small uncooked blue tiger shrimp
- 1/4 cup roasted unsalted peanuts
- 12 Thai basil leaves or mint leaves
- 2 tablespoons store-bought fried shallots or fried onions
At least 8 hours in advance, place the dried shrimp, if using, in a small bowl with water to cover, to rinse off the excess salt. Drain, then place on 2 layers of paper towels to dry. When the shrimp are completely dry, grind them to a powder in a mini food processor.
Combine the lemon juice and cold water in a medium bowl. Working with one banana blossom at a time, cut about an inch off the bottom of the bulb, then peel off the outer layers of petals and the undeveloped bananas under each layer until you reach a layer of petals that is almost entirely a creamy yellow color.
Starting from the pointed end, cut the bulb crosswise into paper-thin slices, placing them in the acidulated water as you work. When you reach the spot where you have started to cut into undeveloped bananas, begin peeling off the layers (discarding all the undeveloped bananas) and place them in the water. When you are finished, place the loose petals on top of each other in one or more stacks, then roll up the stack like a cigar and cut into paper-thin slices (julienne), placing them back into the water as you work. Repeat with the second banana blossom. Allow to soak for at least 30 minutes. Drain well and pat dry.
While the blossoms are soaking, whisk together the fish sauce, lime juice, vinegar and palm sugar in a medium bowl until the sugar has completely dissolved. Stem and seed the chili peppers, cut them crosswise into paper-thin slices and add to the fish sauce mixture. Add the garlic and stir to combine. Let stand for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.
Meanwhile, have ready a medium bowl of ice water. Bring two medium saucepans of water to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium. To one pan, add the chicken breast and cook until the juices run clear, about 10 minutes. Drain, transfer to a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap to prevent the meat from coloring. When it is cool enough to handle, use your fingers to finely shred the chicken. Add the shrimp to the other pan and cook until opaque, about 1 minute. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the shrimp to the bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Remove the shells (and heads, if any) from the shrimp and discard them or save for shrimp stock; halve the shrimp lengthwise and devein them.
Finely crush the peanuts. Roll up the basil or mint leaves, then cut crosswise into thin strips (chiffonade).
To assemble the salad, place the banana blossoms, chicken and shrimp in a large bowl and toss with the fish sauce dressing until well coated. Transfer to a serving platter. Garnish with the peanuts, basil or mint, fried shallots or onions, and powdered dried shrimp.
Adapted from "Essentials of Asian Cuisine," by Corinne Trang (Simon & Schuster, 2003).
Tested by Jane Touzalin.
Email questions to the Food Section at firstname.lastname@example.org.