The Banana tree (Vaazhai maram in tamil) is sacred to Indian culture. In South India especially, the tree grows abundantly and is an important part of both culture as well as cuisine. Even blessings in tamil contain the name of the tree, thats how important this is! 🙂 The tree is such that no part of it goes waste – each part of the tree is useful in one way or another:
- Plantain leaf – In many South Indian states, it is traditional to serve meals on banana/plantain leaves. When hot rice is served along with ghee (clarified butter made from cow’s milk), mixed with whatever curries or gravies are part of the menu, it tastes phenomenal. The polyphenols from the leaves are said to be absorbed by the hot food, allowing the nutrition of the food to be enhanced. Also, this is eco-friendly way of serving food, because the waste is perfectly biodegradable and goes in as compost for plants, or fresh leaves can double as animal feed.
- Raw banana/plantain (vaazhai kai) – cooked and consumed as food
- Banana flower (vaazhai poo) – cooked and consumed as food
- Banana (ripe fruit) – consumed as is, there are several varieties; wedding feasts in particular always contain this fruit. Iyengar wedding feasts in particular, start with a piece of banana rolled in sugar, served on a plantain leaf. This is the first dish that is served; other South Indian wedding feasts almost always serve a banana at the end of the meal, along with the quintessential betel leaf.
- Banana stem (vaazhai thandu) – Banana stem can be cooked or consumed raw, as is or in juice form. Said to be cooling in nature according to Ayurveda, this is great for people living in tropical climes. This is rich in fibre and helps you lose weight, by increasing the feeling of satiation. It is good to include this in your diet atleast once a week. Banana stem is said to be a diuretic and helps detoxify the body. It is said to prevent and treat kidney stones.
Banana stem can be used in several ways in my household, as a poriyal (dry curry), kootu (gravy) and in dosa batters! However, the easiest and arguably, the most delicious way to use banana stem is in this traditional thayir pachadi, or raita style dish. Utterly delicious and quick to put together. It was even quicker because I bought cleaned and chopped banana stem from bigbasket, and that can save you a big chunk of time. Read on for the recipe!
- Banana stem – cleaned, cut – 1 cup
- Salt – to taste
- Sugar – half a tsp
- Thick yoghurt / curd – 1 cup
- Fresh coconut – 2 inch piece / 1 tbsp of grated fresh coconut
- Banana stem – a handful, or less
- Green chillies – 2
- Fresh mint (optional) – a handful
- Fresh coriander – a handful
- Jeera – 1 tsp
- Ginger – 1 inch piece / half a tsp ginger paste
- Hing – a pinch
- Oil – 1 tsp
- Black mustard – 1/2 tsp
- Wash, peel and chop the banana stem. (I bought the chopped version so I skipped this step). Keep the chopped banana stem soaked in water/buttermilk so that it does not turn brown.
- Add all the ingredients under the ‘to grind’ list to a mixer jar. Add the green chillies, jeera, hing, ginger, coconut & banana stem first and make a coarse paste without adding water. There’s enough water content in the banana stem to make a paste.
- I forgot to add ginger so I added ginger paste later.
- Now add the mint and coriander, add a little water if required (1 or 2 tsp) and make a paste…
- …This should look like a thick but spreadable chutney.
- Add this ground mixture to the drained banana stem.
- Heat oil. Once hot, add black mustard and allow to splutter.
- Add this tempering to the banana stem mixture
- Add salt and sugar as per taste
- Mix well.
- Now add the curd/yogurt to this and mix well. Check for taste, add more salt if required. Dilute with buttermilk/water based on how thick or thin you prefer this to be. I like it thick, so I added very little buttermilk.
This can be served with rice as well as roti. You can serve this as an accompaniment to vathakuzhambu, or any spicy sambar, kootu or kara kuzhambu. I had this raita with methi theplas and it was an excellent combination with that as well. This is a welcome change from the usual raita and goes well with any rice bhath/pulao.
TIPS & TWEAKS
- Choose really fresh, young and tender banana stem so that it can be used raw. If the stem is not very tender, then cook it for 1 or 2 whistles in pressure cooker until soft.
- If the stem is somewhat mature, cleaning is also difficult as it will be more fibrous.
- This is widely available throughout the year, especially in summer, making this an ideal dish for hot days.
- Instead of grinding the green chillies, coriander and hing, you can choose to chop it finely and add to the oil while tempering, along with mustard. This will also taste great, and the raita will look white instead of green.
- Mint is optional and can be omitted (although I love the fresh zing that it imparts to raitas!).
Do try this and let us know if you liked it! 🙂