February 17, 2014

Learning to cook the whole banana tree

Nutrition expert teaches St Jude's cooks how to make nutritious meals out of the blossom, stem and peel of a banana.

If you have traveled around Tanzania recently, you probably have bananas on your mind.

They are the most ubiquitous food you can find here. Traveling by car, it is impossible not to notice the banana plantations lining the roads, or the women selling them in plastic containers or on pieces of cloth placed on the ground.

Tanzanians already cook green bananas in many of their dishes, whether the fruit by itself or as an ingredient in meat, beans and lentil stews.

What no one here knew is that you can add a lot more than the fruit to your recipes.

The cooks at St Jude’s learned that first hand from Anne Perera, a food and nutrition consultant from New Zealand who volunteered to give a two-day banana tree cooking course at the school.

“The blossom, green peel and the pith of the stem have a high nutritional value,” says dr. Perera.

Nutritional value

As it turns out, green banana peels, blossoms and stems are important sources of fibers, potassium, and vitamins A, C and E.

The blossoms taste like artichokes. As with artichokes, both the fleshy part and the heart are edible. They contain saponins, phytochemicals thought to lower bad cholesterol and boost our immunity against infection. They are also an excellent source of flavonoids, which help prevent damage to DNA cells by neutralizing free radicals.

The green peel contains two important substances: tryptophan (increases serotonin levels, which balances mood and emotions) and lutein (a powerful antioxidant that protects the eye from a number of diseases and the harmful frequencies of UV radiation from the sun).

The banana stem is very beneficial for those on a weight-loss program. It is also a rich source of potassium and vitamin B6, which helps in the production of insulin and hemoglobin. Eating banana stems once a week keeps high blood pressure in control. They are diuretic and help detoxify the body.


Banana blossom

Wash it thoroughly and remove the colored outer petals one by one until the tender part is exposed.

Slice it thinly and place it in bowls with salt water.

Add cooking oil to the pot, heat it, and add chopped onions and garlic.

Squeeze the blossom slices to remove the salt water, place them in the pot and cook until tender.

Add salt and pilau masala to taste (Tanzanian seasoning made of cumin, cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon and cloves)

Add green sliced green peppers, tomatoes and amaranth leaves

Cook until well blended and in the end add coconut milk

Green Peel

Wash the green bananas and peel them.

Cut the peel into small pieces and place them in salt water.

In a bit of oil sautee chopped onions and garlic and add the cut peel.

Cook until tender

Add pilau masala and salt to taste, then quartered tomatoes and coconut milk.

Pith of the Stem

Remove the pith carefully,

Slice and remove the strands as much as possible, then place in salt water.

Cut the slices further into small dices.

Dice onions, garlic, carrots and green peppers, and place in a pan with heated oil.

Add diced sliced and diced pith, green pepper, tomatoes, and finally coconut milk.

A squeeze of lime for extra taste. 

These dishes can be served with ugali, the traditional Tanzanian polenta.


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