Seasons: the banana plant
Flower power The banana plant is spectacular. Not only is it very large, it's also extremely useful. We eat the fruit, of course, and the leaves can be used for providing shade; as wrappers for steamed or grilled food (although the leaf is discarded after use); and as bio-degradable "plates" on which to serve food.
The large, deep purple-pink banana bud - also called a blossom or flower - is edible, too, and is used in Southeast Asian and Indian cuisines. The bud grows at the end of the thick stem on which the huge bunches of banana fruit sprout. Its flavour and texture are quite similar to those of the bamboo shoot, but it's not the easiest vegetable to prepare and there's a lot of waste. You start by peeling off and discarding the thick, tough petals. Under each petal are slender, flexible immature bananas, which are usually thrown away (although in Indian cuisine these are eaten after the stamen inside each banana is discarded). The core of the blossom comprises tightly closed leaves, which are a creamy colour, sometimes with a pale pink tip. Cut this core in half lengthwise and slice it crosswise. Put the pieces in a bowl of acidulated water, because they will discolour quickly. The bud can be eaten raw or blanched for a few seconds in salted water, which prevents it from darkening.
After draining the slices, squeeze out the excess water. The pieces can be mixed with a sweet-tart-spicy dressing of fish sauce, fresh lime juice, sugar, minced chillies and chopped garlic. Add some blanched shrimp, roasted peanuts, fresh coriander and mint leaves.