Prasadam - Bananas, Part 2

BY: SUN STAFF

Jagannatha Deities, ISKCON Australia
Gaura Purnima, 2005


Jun 21, 2010 — CANADA (SUN) — A journey through India: border to border, bhoga to prasadam.

Bananas hold a special place among the most favored foodstuffs offered in temples. Used in fire yagnas and in opulent displays of fruit offered to the deities, bananas are always a striking symbol of Sri Krsna's amazing arrangements for feeding the living entities. At Lord Jagannatha's temple in Puri Dhama, bananas are featured in numerous offerings and rituals performed for the Deities. During Makara Sankranti (January 13-14th), Their Lordships are offered Makara Chaula, an opulent mixture of fresh uncooked rice that is moistened with milk and mixed with ripe banana, ginger, coconut, cheese, raisins, black pepper, sugar candy and camphor.

Among the 56 varieties of bhoga offered to Lord Jagannatha each day (chhappan bhoga), each morning at 9:00 a.m. breakfast foods are offered, including ripe banana, curd, chipped coconut, khai (sweet popcorn), and kora (coconut sweets).

Throughout South India, bananas are regularly offered to the deities. Lord Murugan is offered Panchamirtham (Five Nectars), made of banana, honey, jaggery, kalkandu and ghee. At His Kerala abode, Sri Padmanabha Swamy (Visnu reclining on Ananta) is regularly offered Unni Appams, which are spongy, golden-fried sweets made of rice flour, banana, jackfruit and jaggery.


Frying banana chips


As the devotees know, Sri Krsna loves to eat bananas, and Radharani makes Him many opulent foodstuffs that feature these golden fruits. In the Govinda-lilamrta, which we have often quoted in this Prasadam series, we find many descriptions of the wonderful dishes prepared for Krsna by Radha and the Gopis. In Verse 41, Mother Yasoda is calling out the names of so many dishes for Krsna:

    Govinda-lilamrta 41-42:

    "Oh putri (daughter) Radhe! You are an experienced rasavati (cook) in flavorful cooking. Mother Rohini has already gone to the kitchen. So you can join her to make all sorts of sabjis and sweet-rice. Oh Putri Rai!

    Carefully prepare the soft, nectar-defeating tarts called karpura keli and amrita keli. When Krishna samples them, he becomes invigorated. But within the three worlds, only you know how to make such delicious pastries."

The Rasa-tarangini Tika commentary gives the recipes for preparing some of these sweets:

    "Karpura keli —First yogurt is added to boiling milk to make curd. Then rice powder, yogurt, black pepper, sugar, ground coconut, jatiphala (a fragrant spice), cardamom, cloves and bananas are mixed into a paste. Next mung dahl is ground into powder, rolled in the above mentioned ingredients, and fried in ghee, adding honey and camphor.

    Amrita keli—Ripe bananas, kalai-dahl powder, ground coconut and pepper are added to think milk. Then cardamom, cloves, jatiphala, cinnamon and camphor are added. These ingredients are fried in ghee and later fried in sugar water.

    Although these are the directions, no one can prepare such recipes like Radha—for with her unique touch, they become divine."

In verses 88-109, Yasoda Ma is describing some preparations made with banana flowers:

    Govinda-lilamrta 88-109:

    "Just see! Moca (the banana flower), mankocu and panikocu (roots that grow in the ground and in the water). gourds, pumpkin, potatos, along with darasha (lady fingers) were all cut into circular pieces and fried in ghee. Then everything was dumped in a sweet sauce made from mung dahl paste." [ ]

    Radha has made mouth-watering dugdha-tumbi (milk and squash) adding sugar, cardamom and black pepper. Then using khira (instead of milk), she made khira-tumbi also. Here is another dish made with large turnips cooked in ghee with dhatriphala seasoning, yogurt and sugar. And using kad-bael fruits, another variety was prepared. We cooked banana flowers and large squash, adding yogurt and sugar. This cooling dish has a sweet and sour taste."


Banana plant in flower


The dishes described above, made with banana flowers, are among the most exotic and wonderful dishes to be made from parts of the Banana. Each part has a name; bananas in general are called Kela, Nendran, or Nenthra pazham. Green bananas are known as Hara kela and Kachcha Kela. The flower of the Banana is called Kere, Kafool, or Mocha kela ka phul. Banana pith is Thora gahar, while the soft inner stem is called Vaazhai Thandu.

Outside of India, banana flowers, kafool, are often looked upon as an exotic foodstuff, and many cooks never try their hand at preparing them, but in Vedic cuisine they're considered a staple ingredient for sabjis. We find mention of banana flowers in the Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya lila narrative of Mother Saci's pastimes after her son Nimai had taken sannyasa:

    Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya lila 15:42-92:

    "One day My mother, Saci, offered food to Salagrama Visnu. She offered rice cooked from sali paddies, various kinds of vegetables, spinach, curry made of banana flowers, fried patola with nimba leaves, pieces of ginger with lemon, and also yogurt, milk, sugar candy and many other foods.

    "Taking the food upon her lap, Mother was crying to think that all that food was very dear to her Nimai.

    "My mother was thinking, 'Nimai is not here. Who will accept all this food?' As she meditated upon Me in this way, her eyes filled with tears.

    "While she was thus thinking and crying, I immediately went there with great haste and ate everything. Seeing the dish empty, she wiped her tears away."

Another mention of this specialty, kafool curry, is found in Madhya Lila 9.296:

    "As soon as Sri Ranga Puri recalled Navadvipa, he also recalled accompanying Sri Madhavendra Puri to the house of Jagannatha Misra, where he had taken lunch. He even remembered the taste of an unprecedented curry made of banana flowers."


    Banana flowers
    [Photo courtesy of Ashish Chopra]


    And we also find mention of banana flowers in the Bhoga-arati-kirtana from Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur's Gitavali:

    (4)
    sukta-sakadi bhaji nalita kusmanda
    dali dalna dugdha-tumbi dadhi moca-khanda

      "They are then served a feast of s'uktâ and various kinds of green leafy vegetables, then nice fried things, and a salad made of the green leaves of the jute plant. They are also served pumpkin, baskets of fruit, small square cakes made of lentils and cooked-down milk, then thick yogurt, squash cooked in milk, and vegetable preparations made from the flower of the banana tree."

    The deep purplish-crimson banana flower is borne at the end of the stem, and is quite beautiful to behold. Long, slender, flowers are protected by large reddish bracts. To cook them, you must remove and discard the outer bracts until the inner, paler portion is revealed. You can steam the whole blossom for 20 minutes, then use it in whatever preparation you like.

    The following recipe for Banana Flower Salad, a delightful summertime dish, is a good place to begin, since it includes detailed instructions on cleaning and preparing the banana flower. The same method can be followed when prepping the flowers for sabjis, although you could include some of the tiny, immature bananas rather than discarding them, to add a note of bitterness to the dish.



    Banana Flower Salad


    Banana Flower Salad

    Ingredients:


      Banana Flower, male, 1
      Potatoes, 2 pounds
      Sesame seeds, 4 Tblsp
      Fenugreek sees, 1 tsp
      Peanuts, 1/8 cup
      Jalapenos, 3
      Lemon juice, 4 Tblsp
      Turmeric, 1/4 tsp
      Ghee, 3 Tblsp
      Mint, fresh, a handful

    Wear gloves or oil your hands when working with banana inflorescence (the large bracts), as it emits a black sap that's difficult to remove. Wash and peel the other bracts (purple petals) off the male banana flower. Save for use as serving dishes. Peel off the tiny, developing bananas and discard (too bitter to use for salad). Keep peeling until you get down to the pale layers, where the banana buds are much more tender. Only these are used for the salad. Remove the most tender flowers buds from their base by holding the base firmly in one hand, and snapping off the tendrils in a clump.

    Meanwhile, boil the potatoes, peel, and cut into ˝ inch cubes. Dry roast the sesame seeds and peanuts till they darken just a few shades, then grind to a fine powder. Gently fold together the potatoes and banana flowers. Add the powdered sesame mixture, salt to taste, and lime juice. Make a chaunk with the fenugreek seeds, chilies and turmeric. Fry until the fenugreek darkens a few shades (don't overcook as they'll go bitter). Pour the chaunk over the salad, mix well, and gently scoop the salad into the clean outer bracts to offer.


    Preparing banana flowers


    Following are a number of recipes for traditional banana flower curries and savouries, as they're prepared in both north and south India.


    Arati Puvvu Kura

    Ingredients:


      2 cups Banana Flower (crushed or chopped)
      2 tsp Mustard seeds
      1 tsp Rice
      3 red Chilies
      2 tsp Tamarind pulp
      a pinch of Turmeric powder
      a pinch of Asafetida
      2 tbsp Ghee
      Ssalt to taste
      1 tsp Black Gram Dal
      2 red Chilis (broken into pieces)
      sprig of Curry leaves

    Clean the banana flower well and cut the flowers finely. Prepare banana flower the previous night and keep it in the refrigerator. Put chopped banana flower in a bowl, pour water and salt and turmeric powder over it and bring it to boil, Cook until soft. Remove from the heat and drain the water and set aside. Soak rice and mustard seeds in the water 15 minutes. Grind them with red chilis into a coarse paste. Heat ghee in a pan and fry 1 tsp black gram dal, broken red chilis, curry leaves and asofoetida for 2 minutes, then add cooked banana flower. Stir well then add ground to a paste, mixing well. Add tamarind paste and little water to it. Cover and allow it to cook for few minutes. Remove from heat and let it sit uncovered for a minute before offering.


    Bengali Mocha Ghanto

    Ingredients:


      Banana flower 1 whole
      Wheat flour 1 tsp
      Red chilli 3 whole
      Kalonji seeds 1/4 tsp
      Cumin powder 1 tsp
      Chilli powder 1 tsp
      Turmeric powder 1/2 tsp
      Garam masala 1/2 tsp
      Fresh coconut 1/2
      Oil 2 tbsp
      Ghee 2 tsp
      Water 1-1/2 cups
      Salt to taste

    Clean the banana flower well and cut the flowers finely. Grate coconut. Boil in a pressure cooker with 1 cup of water, and when cooked remove water. Heat oil in a pan. Add whole Red chilli, Kalonji seeds, Cumin seeds, Turmeric powder and Chilli powder. Fry lightly. Add Banana flower and grated Coconut. Mix well and add salt. Add 1/2 cup hot water and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Add 1 tsp Wheat flour, pure Ghee and Garam masala. Mix well and offer hot.


    Dwarf bananas and flowers


    Kerala Vazhappoo Vada
    (Banana Flower Nuggets)

    Ingredients:


      Banana Flower: one whole stalk
      Channa dal: 1/2 cup
      Ginger: 1 small piece finely chopped
      Green Chillies: 4
      Cinnamon powder: ˝ tsp
      Jeera (Cumin): 1/2 tsp
      Buttermilk: 1 cup
      Flour (maida): 1 cup
      Curd: 1 tsp
      Turmeric powder: 1/4 tsp
      Salt: to taste

    Immerse Channa daal in water and set aside till soft enough to be ground. Peel the banana flower stalk (each layer will have many tiny flowers). Remove the outer layers till you find no more tiny flowers. This last bit inside should be chopped into fine pieces. Take water in a vessel, add a spoon of curd and immerse the chopped pieces in the mixture. Set aside for half an hour to remove any sap. Then wash it well and boil it in water with little turmeric powder and salt. When done, remove all remaining water and keep aside to cool it down. Squeeze out any remaining water.

    Grind channa dal, green chillis, ginger, cinnamon powder and jeera together. When done add the banana flower pieces to the mixture. Make tiny balls and flatten with hand to the shape of vadas. Dip these in buttermilk, roll lightly in flower, and pan fry both sides in ghee until brown.


    Gaura Purnima, 2005, ISKCON Australia



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