Sunday, November 14, 2010

Banana Flower Salad with the BrookeWorms Book Club

Last week I had the privilege of attending my first book club discussion for Communion. My mom’s book club, The SaddleBrooke BrookeWorms, gathered at my parents' home in the SaddleBrooke community in Tucson, to talk about Communion, make fresh spring rolls, and nibble on a few Vietnamese dishes.

In writing Communion, my hope was to start a conversation not only about Vietnam, but about how we eat reflects who we are as individuals and as communities. Being able to have that conversation with a group of smart, interesting women was the best part of the night. It was so much fun to hear the comments and answer questions about everything from Communism to font size. I was most struck by how much everyone enjoyed reading about my relationship with my sister, who took the book’s culinary journey with me, as well as all the photos. While Communion is about Vietnam, it cannot help but be personal, because of my love for the country and because of the meaning food has for me—I associate eating with the best times spent with my parents, sister, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends.

The BrookeWorms

After the talk, we got down to business in the kitchen. It was clear that most of these women are cooking pros, since there were a lot of perfect first-time spring rolls. (After years of practice, mine are still inconsistent and often floppy!) Ingredients for the night were purchased at Lee Lee Market in Tucson, an incredible supermarket that even had banana flowers. Except for Thai basil, which the store was out of, I found everything needed for lemongrass chicken, spring rolls, and banana flower salad.

Making spring rolls

As requested, the name of the sauce everyone enjoyed is “Mae Ploy sweet chilli sauce.” The ingredients that went into our spring rolls were rice paper, rice sticks (vermicelli), red bell peppers, shitake mushrooms, shrimp, mint, a Vietnamese cinnamon-flavored herb whose name I can’t remember, and baked tofu. Since I left the cookbook with the lemongrass chicken recipe at my mom’s house, I can’t share that yet (but will soon, I promise). In the meantime, I’m posting the recipe for banana flower salad.

But before I do … a thousand thanks to my mom for shopping, prepping, hosting, and bragging. To Ann, Dee, Dot, Judy D., Judy H., Marilyn, Marsha, Nancy, Pat, and Sue for not only supporting Communion, but for reading it so thoughtfully. To special guests Marilyn, Sharla, Paula, and Gail for adding to the discussion. And to Bette, the editor of the SaddleBag Notes, who will be writing about the night and Communion for the newspaper. Lastly, to illustrate what a lovely group this is, book club member Elizabeth, who was out of town, called the next day to tell me how much she enjoyed the book. This is exactly the kind of readership I hoped Communion would find.

Julie’s Banana Flower Salad

Serving: 4 as a side or 2 as a main dish for lunch.

Salad ingredients:- 2 banana flowers, thinly sliced (see directions)
- 2 tbsp. peanut oil
- Scant 1/4 cup shallot, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup roasted peanuts, chopped
- 1/2 cup fresh mint, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup fresh Thai basil, coarsely chopped
- 3 tbsp. lime juice + 1 lime for the bowl of water
- Large bowl of room temperature water

Dressing ingredients:

- 3 tbsp. lime juice
- 2 tsp. brown sugar
- 1 red Thai chili, chopped
- 2 tsp. fish sauce
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped


1. Heat the peanut oil in a large skillet. Sauté the shallots until golden brown. Leave them in the oil, and set aside to cool.

2. Squeeze fresh lime juice into the bowl of water. This will be used to prevent the banana flower slices from turning brown.

3. Peel back the dark purple layers of the banana flower until you reach layers with just a hint of purple. Using a mandoline, slice the banana flower into thin rings, beginning at the point and slicing about three-quarters of the way down. The rings will look similar to onion rings. Immediately soak the rings in the lime water until ready to use. Set aside.

4. Once the oil is cool, mix in half of the mint leaves and half of the Thai basil with the sautéed shallots.

5. Mix the dressing ingredients in a separate bowl. Heat lovers will want to add more chili.

6. When you slice the banana flower, you will end up with small bits from the center of the flower. Strain these out using a spoon. Don’t worry if you don’t get all of them. Remove the banana flower from the water, and combine with the shallot/mint/basil mixture, chopped peanuts, and remainder of the fresh mint and basil.

7. Toss in the dressing, and serve.

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