Forget everything you know about bananas...those long, mushy or hard as a rock green phallic-looking things you get at the grocery store that are typically imported from Central or South America and taste, at best, slightly banana-like or way too sweet and banana-like - going from perfect to completely mushy in 60 seconds. You know the ones I'm talking about...they're as long as your forearm and taste about like it would probably taste to lick your forearm too...if you covered it in banana mush. It's not the other Americas' fault the banana varieties they typically export - the Cavendish and Williams are sub-par...but it doesn't make them taste any better by wishing they were either (sorry Other Americas).
Lucky me, I've never been one to like bananas much anyway (can you tell?). Sure, I loves me a good loaf of banana bread (especially one that is dense and caramelized on top, or with some dark chocolate chips in it - xoxo Kristin!), but eating one raw? Bah. Only if I have to so that it won't go to waste and if it hasn't gone too black and brown and mushy and overly banana flavored on me. And don't even get me started on banana "chips" - more like poker chips if you ask me, since that's about all they're good for (pass me a big one, LB - I win!). As a side note, dried bananas of any type are a dream...and we're talking whole, dried bananas people! Banana-y (but not too much), soft, chewy...they're positively onolicious (Hawaiian slang for super-dooper delicious)! But those can be sometimes be hard to come by, and expensive (if you're in the neighborhood, Kimberly often has dried apple bananas at her booth at the Farmer's markets or the next time you're in Haleiwa, you can find them at Celestial Natural Foods; if not, then try your local natural foods stores for dried bananas. Trader Joes also has them, but they flatten theirs and cut them into thin slices and it's just not quite the same.). I digress.
Hawaii's bananas, called apple bananas because of their slight apple-like scent, only slightly resemble their longer, mushier cousins. They are sweet (but not as sickeningly sweet as the other varieties), they are short and fat, they have a slight tang to them, and they stay firm (just the right amount of firmness) for far longer than other bananas. And they won't even go all brown on you as soon as you cut them and expose them to air! But it's the tang and the firmness that get my heart racing. I have loved these little babies since the first bite after we arrived here. Better still, we just happen to have several apple banana trees in our back yard! (oh Hawaii, how I love thee...oh landlord, how I love thee for planting thy trees...). But if you don't have an apple banana tree of your very own, or friends that have their own trees because they'll have them coming out of their ears every time they harvest, most of the supermarkets here have them too. I have also been told that some specialty stores on the mainland will carry them imported from Hawaii. (One note: do not harvest bananas from your tree in clothing you like - there is a super sticky resin that will look like rust on your clothes and never, ever come out). Also, while apple bananas can be found elsewhere, the soil in Hawaii makes them the most luscious, sweetest apple bananas out there...or so They say...and I believe it.
Funny, but here you will often find people buying their apple bananas green, not yellow, and letting them ripen at home. That's just how it's done. With most of the fruit here, actually. Buying fruit at different stages of ripeness allows you to get a variety of fruit on the same day (like the once-a-week farmer's market) and eat it all week long, at the perfect ripeness. Perhaps it's also because most of the tropical fruits sweeten as they ripen, so it's easy and accepted to buy them green and wait for that peak of ripeness from the comfort of your own home.
While I could eat several apple bananas a day raw (and I do), when we harvest from the tree, a large clump of bananas comes down at once...and they all ripen at once (bananas give off ethylene gas which will ripen any fruit around, even if it's not a banana, so keep your other fruits away if you don't want them to ripen too). So you can give them away, eat them yourself, freeze them or start baking and cooking with them right away. And I've been doing lots of all of these options, leaving me with several yummy banana recipes I'd like to share with you. So, expect more to come in the future. To tease you: apple banana gingerbread; caramelized apple bananas with brandy; and frozen apple bananas dipped in chocolate...
Those recipes are all delicious, but the first recipe I want to share with you really stemmed from not wanting to waste any food. Looking for something interesting to make for breakfast, I convinced LB to make a batch of Heidi's Baked Doughnuts (LB is the bread/yeast man in our house). They turned out pretty great and we ate them for breakfast twice - but LB had made a full batch of these babies, so we had several left over. I tore them up into 1/2"-1" pieces, and threw them in a freezer bag...I figured they'd make a good base for a sweet and scrumptious bread pudding. Well, I was right - they did.
It was LB's general idea, and my recipe, and it turned out fabulous: (Apple) Banana Bread Pudding with Grand Marnier Sauce. It's a mixture of basic bread pudding recipes, reduced to four servings and made with what we had available, and we'll definitely be making it again (we still have doughnut pieces in the freezer!). An ever so slightly crisp topping set on a smooth and creamy base, it has just the right amount of a gentle tartness from the bananas to offset the sweet and rich butter sauce that feels like silk on your tongue, and the whole dish just screams comfort...it's like something your grandmother would make (you do know that Granny was always adding a touch of alcohol to your sweets, right? Helps with toothaches and such...). But better still, it's the perfect compliment to a dark, rich mug of Kona coffee.
Next time, I'd like to make a caramel sauce instead of using the Grand Marnier, although I do feel the very slight orange flavor complimented the gently tangy banana flavor quite well. I'm sure you could use brioche or even store bought sugar and cinnamon rolled doughnuts (or just add a bit more sugar and cinnamon to the recipe if you use something else) and you could probably use the more common varieties of banana in this recipe also (although you'll be missing that tiny bit of tang - maybe reduce the sugar a bit?) - but, my friends, you are certainly welcome to simply come on over and join us for breakfast, any time. We'll definitely be serving this to our house guests in the future.
Apple Banana Bread Pudding with Grand Marnier Sauce
1 cup of soymilk (or regular milk - we can only afford soymilk here!)
1 cup of half and half
1 1/2 tsp. high quality vanilla extract
3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
5 cups doughnut pieces, torn into 1/2 inch pieces (preferably Heidi's)
5 apple bananas, thinly sliced
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tbsp. Grand Marnier, or another orange-flavored liquor
Preheat the oven to 350F. In a medium bowl, whisk together the soymilk and the next 7 ingredients (through salt), adding only 1/2 cup of the granulated sugar (reserve 1/4 cup). Place the doughnut pieces in a large bowl and pour the mixture over the top. Mix gently and allow it to sit for about 5-7 minutes (since the bread component is doughnuts, it doesn't need very long to soak, you just want to make sure that all of the pieces are moistened thoroughly). If it doesn't seem moist enough, add an extra splash of milk or soymilk until it looks very moist, but isn't completely soggy. Gently mix in the apple banana slices.
Butter a 6"x 4" casserole dish (or you could probably use a pie dish, just adjust the ingredients accordingly (ie. up everything by 1/4 or so), and pour the mixture into the buttered dish. Sprinkle the top evenly with remaining 1/4 cup of granulated sugar. Cover the dish with a piece of buttered foil, and put it into a larger casserole dish on the middle rack in the oven. Pour hot water into the larger dish until it reaches about 1/2 up the smaller dish. Cook for for 25-30 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for another 10-15 minutes until the sugar becomes crispy and slightly browned, forming a little crispy shell on the top.
Just before it's about to come out of the oven, prepare the sauce. Melt the butter over medium heat with the powdered sugar, stirring until the butter is fully melted (but not brown!) and the sugar has dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the Grand Marnier. Serve over the top of the bread pudding - with extra on the side (it's good)! The whole thing - bread pudding and sauce alike, is just as delicious the following morning if you end up with leftovers (but you might not).
- Hawaiian words: ono - delicious; onolicious - super, duper delicious
- Dried bananas: apple bananas from Kimberly; regular dried bananas from Celestial Natural Foods, 66-443 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI 96712, 808.637.6729; or check your local natural foods store (Whole Foods in Hawaii does NOT have them)