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What Is That? Banana Blossom Salad

Banana Blossom Salald

I think there is nothing about New York I miss more than the amazing markets that populated my former neighborhood of Jackson Heights. Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian, Indonesian–if you needed exotic produce and quirky packaged goods, this was the place you came. If you needed anything more authentic, you could catch a flight just a few blocks north.

These days some of that longing is assuaged with a visit to the H Mart just west of downtown Baltimore. This large Korean grocery offers a dizzying array of fruits and vegetables that you won’t find at your local grocery, as well as aisle after aisle of strange and exotic snacks, canned goods, packaged convenience foods, and frozen dumplings of 101 varieties. Most of the condiments are not labeled in english, which adds a “box of chocolates” excitement to the shopping experience.

Since my trips are usually made spur of the moment, I don’t usually walk through the door with the idea that I’ll be gathering ingredients for a specific dish. As a result, my basket ends up filled with a lot of weird stuff. This goes some way towards explaining why there is lotus root in my crisper drawer and a dragon fruit on my counter.

This past weekend’s trip had me feeling especially adventurous, so I grabbed an item I had long been fascinated by but had zero idea how to actually prepare. Banana blossom in hand, I went home to investigate.

H Mart Shelves

Banana Blossom: Unpeeled

Banana Blossom: Interior

You see those florets underneath each leaf? If you want to use them in a culinary capacity, you have to remove the inner pistil and scale from each and every one. (I can’t imagine doing that AND deveining shrimp, all for the same dish, but do let me know if you’ve tried it.) The flower prep a bridge too far for me on this outing, I decided to hunt for a salad recipe that used the core of the blossom and could otherwise be made out of ingredients I had on hand.

Banana Blossom: Peeled

Banana Blossom: Soaking

After some frustrating googling, I landed on this recipe and decided it was something I could execute without screaming. Since I was in a rush, I pared it down even further.

Banana Blossom Salad
Adapted from Green Kitchen Stories to suit my laziness/pantry limits

1 banana blossom, outer leaves removed
2 cups ice water with 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice added
1 clementine, separated and each section halved
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 carrot, shredded
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
2 tablespoons coriander and/or mint leaves, well chopped
chopped nuts or spicy india snack mix to top

1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon tamari
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4-1/2 teaspoon tuong ot toi (vietnamese chili garlic paste), or to taste

Remove dry exterior purple layers of the blossom, reserving two for use as salad bowls if desired. Discard the rest, as well as the florets found beneath each leaf unless reserving for another purpose.

Peel off the interior layers of the blossom if they come away, continuing to discard the florets. Roll up layers together like a cigar, and slice rings as thinly as possible. Once the leaves become impossible to peel back, slice rings from the heart itself. Immediately plunge the slices into the prepared citrus water. Let soak for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, assemble the dressing and mix well to combine. Adjust heat to suit.

Toss the remaining salad ingredients (aside from the crunchy topping of your choice) together, adding the well-drained blossoms once they are done soaking. Dress and toss the salad. Plate and top with the garnish of your choice.

Summer Simple: Tomato and Cottage Cheese


Admittedly, this is not actually a recipe, but I had completely forgotten about how much I love eating this simple summer dish. Growing up in Ohio, we had a garden overflowing with beautiful tomatoes each August, and burying them under cottage cheese often made for an easy lunch. Still, somehow the image most deeply seared onto my mind is of the ones I ate with my grandparents in the cafeteria at the Canfield Fair, line upon line of these bright red fruits stuffed and served on small paper plates, ready for the claiming. (Can you even find a fresh vegetable to eat at the fair anymore?)

Tomato with Cottage Cheese: The Cut

Tomato and Cottage Cheese

1 ripe tomato
1/2 cup cottage cheese
salt and black pepper

Core tomato and slice into wedges top to bottom without fully cutting through the fruit (leave about 1/2 inch at the bottom). Plate and nudge open wedges, sprinkling a bit of salt over top, if desired. Stuff center of tomato with cottage cheese and top with ground black pepper. A chiffonade of fresh basil or a few snips of chive would certainly not be amiss sprinkled over top of these beauties, but my family was never so fancy.

Tomato and Cottage Cheese

Child of Invention: Shake and Pour Pantry Peanut Dressing


There is a comforting romance to tracing your culinary roots back to grandma’s stained cookbooks or memories of mom letting you wear her apron and stir. These bits of nostalgia are stereotypically accented with the recollection of shared kitchen laughter and lessons learned at the elbows of others—food preparation that bonded the family and ended in feasts of Norman Rockwell perfection.

In my case, however, this love affair with formulas and mixtures and experiments began in the garage. My father had set up an old Formica-topped table, behind the cars and next to the lawn mower, where I could spend hours by myself just messing around in my own imaginary kitchen. I made milk by shaking together baby powder and water in a cast-off baby bottle, “reduced” dish detergent by pouring it into a plastic bowl and leaving it out in the sun until it congealed. Once, after I saw a special on PBS, I even took a handful of clay from some craft supplies we had and formed my own wine vat, mashing up grapes from our vines and sealing this mixture inside, burying the whole thing in the ground just as I had seen on TV. The next spring when I unburied the clay container and brought a glass of the reeking fermented liquid to my mother, the color drained from her face at the idea that I might have been drinking it. I was only eight, but still—perhaps they should not let me spend quite so much time alone in the garage.

Polaroids from my 1st grade science fair project. The experimental side of cooking is what attracted me.

I didn’t think much about those days once school and friends and violin lessons took over my focus and “playtime” was a thing of my past. In college I cooked to survive, and as a single working woman in New York, I cooked only on the rare occasion that I was actually in my apartment long enough to eat. Once I married, moved, and established a real home, cooking became a more seriously integrated part of living and my inner mad scientist reawoke. My fridge is now crammed with jars of housemade pickles and chutneys and various condiments. I lug home gallons of whole milk that I turn into yogurt and cheeses, fruit and honey that I ferment into mead. My freezer is packed with flours and yeasts of various sorts; I keep a jar filled with the latest sourdough starter, a life that I labored to bring into this world and yet now keep forgetting to feed.

I love to research but I’m not such a fan of measuring, so my favorite dishes tend to be more memory than recipe-based. In the process, I destroy and I discover. I’m still eight-years old really, just better outfitted this time.


Shake and Pour Pantry Peanut Dressing

Shake and Pour Pantry Peanut Dressing

When it comes to dinner salads, there is a point between a heavy dairy laced dressing and a simple vinaigrette that I often find myself seeking in order to accent a full meal of raw vegetables. More often than not, I’ll end up turning to this spunky peanut butter-based recipe. Though honestly, I feel like the instructions which follow should read along the lines of: “Open refrigerator. Remove several complimentary condiments. Shake together and pour.” Because really that’s what I do. I promise I actually measured the recipe below, but I’m never so careful in real life. I almost always forget at least one ingredient, and sometimes I add others, such as honey or toasted sesame oil. If there’s not enough of something, I just use something else.

As if that wasn’t a slippery enough slope, I also adjust it several times throughout its shelf-life to suit different purposes. Need it thicker for cooked veggies or as a dumpling dipping sauce? Spoon in more peanut butter and shake. Need it thinner again to cover another round of salads or to kick up some quinoa? Taste and add more liquid and adjust heat–usually a bit of soy sauce and a squeeze of mustard will do it.

2-3 T peanut butter (processed or natural, chunky or smooth)
4 T tamari (I use reduced sodium)
2 T balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. mustard
1/2 tsp tuong ot toi (vietnamese chili garlic paste)

Measure all ingredients into a jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake until well combined. Taste and adjust balance to suit your tastes. Refrigerate until needed.

Pretty in Pink Week: Market Strawberries


We’re not really a fruit household. I mean, there’s Brian’s banana-a-day habit and my endless juicing of lemons, but aside from that, it’s the rare apple or lime that crosses our threshold; like cakes and cookies, the sweets just don’t carry much traction. Give us brussels spouts or give us broccoli, but please hold the peaches, pineapples, and grapes.

Still, even a hardhearted Team Savory fan such as myself could not resist the loveliness that was the first market strawberries of the Maryland season. And when my friend Marie helpfully prompted that I could “totally put a couple in a salad,” my defenses were crushed.

At home, I did indeed find a way to work them into an arugula salad with a tangy herbed buttermilk dressing. But I also got to thinking about that colonial fruit preservation method known as the shrub. I’d kept a jar of this vinegar-laced syrup a couple summers back and put it to good use in generous glasses of seltzer (yes, my homemade seltzer contraption is still going strong!). Perhaps it was time to make some more? Yes, yes indeed.

Strawberry Salad with Herbed Buttermilk Dressing
Serves 2

2 generous handfulls of baby arugula, spinach, or greens of your choice
6 strawberries

For the dressing

1/2 cup buttermilk
1 T white Balsamic vinegar
1 T fresh chopped basil or dill (or a mix)
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all dressing ingredients.

Rinse the greens (if necessary) and hull and slice the strawberries. Plate and drizzle with the dressing.

The Strawberry Shrub

After some internet research and reflection, I decided to go with the 1:1:1 ratio of fruit:sugar:vinegar. I macerated the fruit with the sugar (now that is a satisfying feeling) and left the mixture to sit for 24 hours. At that point, I added a cup of apple cider vinegar and will now mind it, shaking daily, for seven days. Then it’s strain and refrigerate until needed. Here is a helpful post, if you’re looking for more detailed background and instructions. The last time I did this, I worked in the reverse order, first infusing the vinegar and then cooking in the sugar. So we shall see how this new experiment compares.

Playing With My Food


This post was inspired by two things.

1. The $14 salad I ate last week that arrived looking like an SNL sketch ripping on modernist cuisine. Once I tamped down the snarky commentary in my head, it tasted so delicious I was shamed (at least until the check arrived) for my quick judgment call. An 1/8 of a pound of split pea pods and artichoke hearts perched on a slick of fennel dressing (accented–I’m not making this up–with a single, paper-thin radish slice) never tasted so lovely.

2. The fact that when I opened the refrigerator to figure out dinner last night, nothing was cooked besides the beets, and it was already 8 p.m.

Oh, and part 2b. I had been wondering if you could dye strained yogurt, which I also had on hand, with turmeric to make a bright yellow, tasty sauce.*

Okay, and 2c. For the past two weeks, every time we sit down for dinner and dig into the asparagus/greens/broccoli/brussels sprouts/sweet potatoes/etc., I wonder aloud, “How could anyone not like vegetables? They taste sooo good!” Granted, in our house they usually get served with all kinds of fun dressings made up on the fly, but that all really just brings me up to the actual point of this disjointed preamble.

Playing with food–especially as a gateway platform to enjoying vegetables–is to be encouraged.

I don’t actually find the time to create art much anymore, but for two minutes before I sat down to eat last night, I decided to get out the big plate and just get ridiculous. Maybe it’s the insidious influence of the Food Network, but that little creative vacation almost made up for the preceding 48 hours of stress and anxiety. It was just fun. And then I ate it.

Non-toxic finger painting that’s completely safe to lick off your finger tips.

* You totally can use turmeric to make a bright yellow, tasty sauce. I added one pressed garlic clove (mince it instead if you prefer a less potent dressing), 1/4 tsp salt, and a 1/4 tsp turmeric to about a cup of strained yogurt. Now I think I might just have to design an entire set of yogurt-based “paints” for plating/saucing/taking things too far. Beet juice? Blueberry juice? What else might make a good edible yogurt dye?