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Banana Republic

[whitespace] bananas
Christopher Gardner

Forget apple pie--the banana ranks as America's favorite fruit

By Joe George

THE BANANA is one of nature's most perfect foods, and also America's most popular fruit--a surprising fact given that it is a relative newcomer to the country. Before the turn of the last century, most people in North America had never seen, let alone eaten, a banana. By last year, per-capita banana consumption had risen to an average of 33 pounds per person.

Bananas are high in fiber, vitamin C and potassium. Like most fruits and vegetables, bananas contain virtually no fat, cholesterol or sodium; they are also relatively low in calories. And with their high potassium and carbohydrate content, bananas supply energy very effectively. The carbohydrates in the fruit are converted into energy within 45 minutes of consumption.

The word banana comes from the Arabic banan, meaning finger; thus it's no coincidence that a cluster of bananas is often referred to as a hand. It's also believed that the banana--not the apple--was Eden's forbidden fruit. Technically, though, bananas don't grow on trees: the treelike banana plant contains no wood fiber. A banana plant can grow as tall as 30 feet and yields only a single cluster of fruit; when harvested, the entire plant is cut down and a new plant grows from the roots.

Bananas are surprisingly versatile. They can be utilized in everything from the ubiquitous banana bread to garnishes on savory meals, and in the production of alcoholic drinks such as banana wine and beer. There's even banana ketchup--which may sound like a rather odd concoction, but is actually quite good as an accompaniment to Caribbean-inspired cuisine. And the dense yet somewhat silky consistency of mashed bananas can actually replace a portion of the fats in sweet preparations.

When purchasing bananas, consider ripeness. If they'll be eaten on the day of purchase, or possibly the next, select bananas that are bright yellow with no apparent bruises. Brown spots are not necessarily a sign of bruising: when bananas are fully ripe, tiny brown spots will often appear on the skin. Purchasing somewhat green bananas will ensure a longer shelf life, and if the fruit is too green, it can be placed in a paper bag to ripen faster. To speed the ripening further, place a tomato in the bag as well: the ethylene gas emitted by the tomato will serve as a natural ripening agent. If, on the other hand, the bananas are ripening too quickly, they can be stored in the refrigerator--but their skins will darken. Bananas are best stored at room temperature, hung from a hook. Setting them on a counter can encourage bruising.

Banana Walnut Bread
Yield: 1 loaf

  • 2 eggs
  • 3 bananas, mashed thoroughly
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 F. Using an electric mixer, combine eggs, bananas and vanilla. Add next four ingredients and mix thoroughly. Add nuts and mix again. Pour into a buttered loaf pan and bake 1 hour.

Sweet Banana Chips

Heat approximately half an inch of vegetable oil in a heavy skillet to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Peel a banana and cut it in half crosswise, then slice each half into 1/4-inch slices. Carefully slide the banana slices into the hot oil; do not overcrowd the pan. Cook the slices on both sides until they are golden brown and have shrunk considerably. Using a slotted spoon, carefully remove the chips from the oil to absorbent paper. When the chips have thoroughly drained, transfer them to a plate and sprinkle them liberally with granulated sugar. For crisp banana chips, allow them to cool for five minutes before eating.

Banana Ketchup
Yield: 2 cups

  • 2 large ripe bananas
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 1/2 small onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 3/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Peel and slice the bananas and place them in a blender or food processor along with the water; puree until smooth. Transfer the banana puree to a saucepot (preferably nonstick). Without rinsing the blender, combine the raisins, chopped onion, garlic, tomato paste and vinegar; puree until smooth and add this mixture to the pot with the banana puree. In the same pot, stir in the brown sugar, corn syrup, rum, salt, allspice, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, black pepper and nutmeg.

Stir all of the ingredients together and bring the mix to a slow simmer over medium heat. Decrease the heat to a low simmer and cook the ketchup for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Stir the ketchup often, making sure the bottom and sides are scraped clean to avoid sticking.

When the ketchup has reduced and thickened considerably, remove it from the heat and transfer it to the blender; puree the cooked ketchup for 20 seconds. Transfer the ketchup to an appropriate container and refrigerate for at least 1 hour--cool completely before use. Banana ketchup will keep for up to two weeks, refrigerated in a glass jar or plastic container with a tight-fitting lid.

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From the April 29-May 5, 1999 issue of Metro.

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