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Banana blossoms, the large reddish-purple flowers that grow from the end of a bunch of bananas, are used like a vegetable in many Asian cuisines—in salads, stir-fries, stews, and soups. A10 chef Joe Giacomino, challenged by Andy Motto of Quince to create a dish with banana blossoms, originally thought he’d work them into a staple of his Polish ancestors: stuffed cabbage.

His plan was to substitute the large outer petals of the banana blossom for the cabbage, wrapping them around a filling of ground beef and rice and braising the rolls in tomato sauce. But while the inner petals (also called leaves or brachts) of the flower are tender, the larger outer ones are tough and fibrous, and needed to be blanched to make them edible. “It reminds me of an artichoke,” Giacomino says. In terms of flavor, there are “subtle notes” of banana, but the leaves are astringent and taste more like the rind of the banana than the fruit.

Still, the banana blossoms had a tropical flavor that made Giacomino decide that he wanted coconut milk with them, so he changed the braising liquid to a coconut curry. Then he tweaked the filling, adding ginger, cilantro, mint, and fish sauce to go with the curry, as well as a little minced banana blossom from the tender inner leaves. After adding an egg to bind everything together, he wrapped the filling in blanched banana blossom leaves, put the rolls into a small cast-iron dish, and topped them with the coconut curry: shallot, ginger, garlic, celery root, carrot, and lemongrass, simmered with coconut milk, chicken stock, turmeric, and curry powder.

A 90-minute braise helped to soften the banana blossom leaves even more; after they came out Giacomino sprinkled the rolls with more fresh herbs, shredded banana blossom petals, and Aleppo pepper. The finished dish turned out to bear little resemblance to grandma’s cabbage rolls, Giacomino said, but it did have an interesting flavor, and he’d try cooking with banana blossoms again.

Joe Giacominos stuffed banana blossoms
  • Julia Thiel
  • Joe Giacomino’s stuffed banana blossoms

Who’s next:
Giacomino has challenged Ray Villalobos of Table Fifty-Two to create a dish with fresh turmeric.

Stuffed Banana Blossoms

Coconut Braise
3 shallots, small dice
12 cloves garlic, smashed
1 T fresh ginger, minced
3 carrots, medium dice
1 celery root, medium dice
3 stalks lemongrass, smashed
2 tsp turmeric powder
1 T Madras curry powder
3 cans coconut milk
3 qts chicken stock
6 sprigs mint

In a medium sauce pot over low heat, sweat garlic, shallot and ginger until translucent. Add carrots and celery root and cook for about three to five minutes. Cover with coconut milk and chicken stock and simmer. Add turmeric and curry powder and reduce by half. Add mint sprigs and let steep for ten minutes. Remove mint and lemongrass.

Beef Filling
3 cups steamed rice
24 cloves garlic, sliced
5 lbs ground beef
1 T garlic, minced
1 T fresh ginger, minced
1 T banana blossom, minced
2 whole eggs
1 T fish sauce
3 T mint, chopped
3 T cilantro, chopped

In large saute pan toast the garlic until golden brown, add ground beef, saute until cooked through. Remove ground beef and put in large mixing bowl until cool. Fold in remaining ingredients until mixed thoroughly.

To complete:
Remove eight of the larger leaves from the third layer in from the outer banana blossom. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, blanch the leaves for 45 seconds each, and shock in ice bath. Once your leaves are blanched, lay them on a flat surface, place one cup of filling in the middle and roll each leaf around the filling, completely encasing it. Repeat this step with all the banana blossom leaves. Once you have completed your rolls, place in baking dish, and cover with curry braise liquid. Cover with foil and bake at 300 degrees for 90 minutes. Remove foil, bake for ten minutes longer until desired color is achieved, and serve.

Garnish with fresh mint, cilantro, and leaves from the very center of the banana blossom.