Monday, July 26, 2010

The Banana Heart

Everybody is familiar with the banana heart. I don’t know if the heart is THE banana flower itself or is just the casing of the banana flower (what about the banana blossom inside the heart?) but I’m certain it is where the banana fruit develops from. So technically it is the banana flower however unflowery it may look. It looks like a fruit to the uninitiated (read: idiot) because it really looks like one. Just like a caterpillar or a tadpole that metamorphose into a completely different being when they mature to the next level of their life cycles.

Different types of banana bear their own respective variety of heart. They differ slightly in shape and size, although all of them are generally in the form that more or less resembles a heart; some are more elongated, some are more like a sword. The colors of their outer “petals” differ, too, ranging from red to yellow to green, but they are mostly red. The heart of the saba banana is for me, the definitive of all. This variety of banana heart is the one you will most likely find sold in the market especially in Metro Manila. But if you stroll in the public markets of Southern Tagalog, chances are, you’ll find other kinds in all shapes, sizes and colors.

Flower or not, this red or reddish yellow heart-shaped plant part of the banana tree (now, I’m confused whether to call it a vegetable or fruit) is highly edible and is treated mostly as a vegetable having made its way into some popular dishes like Kare-Kare, as a vegetable addition to Sinigang na Bangus; or even stand on its own as Ginataang Puso or just plain boiled dipped in bagoong sauce. I know some people from the Visayas that make pickled banana hearts using only the innermost core of several banana hearts, jar them and pour cooked mixture of sugar, vinegar and spices much like making atsara.

Preparation of this vegetable is easy. Just take away the outer petals along with the “infant” bananas that cling which tend to be hard and fibrous. It’s just like discarding the outer layers of cabbage. Then after 3 or 4 layers, you get a light yellowish-reddish layer that is so tightly wrapped around the core that is difficult to peel already. That’s when you know when to stop peeling. Then cut it open by slicing it in the center and it will reveal all the unborn bananas hidden in its core. Heads up because it excretes a mild but nevertheless staining latex that can stain your clothes and it’s almost impossible to get rid of even if you bleach it.

I made a dish, meatless kare-kare with the banana heart as the main “meat”. Stroll down the blog to see the recipe.

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