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by Jacqueline M. Newman

Fruits, Desserts, and Other Sweet Foods

Fall Volume: 2015 Issue: 22(3) pages: 25 to 26

Musa acuminata are the banana's botanical name. Chinese most often call them xiang jiao. They grow in bunches that are correctly called ‘hands’ and on these plants are large leaves often used to wrap things, food included. They are also use the leaves to steam or fry foods in or on. The plants themselves have underground rhizomes, their fruits adored by babies and elderly folk when ripe, soft, and sweet.

Green before ripening and yellow when ripe, bananas are related to the plantain and there are many varieties of both. Known in Chinese as gong jiaoor ba jiao, these fruits grow quickly and are a broadleaf plant whether dwarf or large. Some are known as ‘teethe’ bananas, and we are not sure why.

A staple to millions in Asia and Africa, they probably first reached there and Indonesia thanks to Malaysian immigrants who colonized Madagascar and nearby islands. Then they brought them to the Pacific and the New World around 1000 CE, to the rest of the world soon after that.

In the Musaceaefamily, bananas are most often sold fresh, but are available dried or fried, as are their bulbous flowers which are used before they open. While bananas and plantains look alike, they are not the same fruit. They are different size-wise, length-wise, and how they are prepared. Plantains are starchy, almost never eaten raw, and almost all of them should be cooked to be digestible; and thy are Musa paradisiaca, dajiao in Chinese, their names do vary depending upon where they grow and where one eats them. A picture of them does accompany this article, as does one of a banana leaf.

Bananas grow with their hands pointing skyward, and can be eaten ripe and when boiled, baked, and prepared in many other ways. Cooked sweet or savory, if cooked at all, there are endless varieties. The banana is almost always a sterile fruit needing no pollination.

Worldwide, these fruits are called kelaa in Hindi, pisang in Malay, and other names in other places, there are many plantations that grow them as do many home yards. There are different Chinese recommendations for health be they for constipation, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, high blood pressure, even for hangovers. Some folk say they help cool fevers, benefit one’s urine, are a mid laxative, even soothe a fetus, or a baby with colic.

Thy are rich in glucose, sucrose, starch, and some protein, and they contain some vitamins A, B, C, and E. and the minerals potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and iron. They are also said to be cooling in nature, lubricate the intestines and the lungs, treat constipation and ulcers, strengthen one’s yin, relieve a dry cough, and are good cooked in thick soups. In addition, they detoxify the body. For this, steam them with their skin on and eat one twice a day. Their high sugar content is said to be useful treating alcoholism, and they can reduce blood pressure, and moisten dryness.

Used for their seeds, some in China in the Plantago asiatica family grow in the provinces of Heilongjiang, Liaoning, and Hebei. The Chinese say they are sweet in taste, cold in property, act on kidney, liver, and lung channels, and are used to treat gonorrhea, clear heat from the liver, improve vision, and resolve phlegm.

Early Polynesians, migrating to Hawaii, undoubtedly brought them to the New World as plants or they brought their rhizomes, then planted them in mountain valleys where they now grow wild. Though a poor source of calcium when eaten raw, they are a good source of iron when cooked. Cooked or raw, bananas can be served as a starchy vegetable and used in place of white or sweet potatoes. These foods were known in China centuries before the west ever heard of them. In China, they became widespread during the Tang Dynasty when they were shipped by courier on ice to Imperial Courts for preservation in honey or to be grown in their ornamental gardens.

There is one famous story all children know; it is about a chap in Northern Manchuria who when asked if he knew about these fruits responded "of course;" and then at a feast, did see others peel them when he said, "I always eat mine with the peel because these fruits are common where I come from, and are eaten this way.” He them chomped them down skin and all. He said they are used for their fiber, grown in the Yangtze Valley, and do not flower there.

Below are a few Chinese recipes to cook with bananas. We did find only one with banana leaves, unusual as it does not wrap food in them. Enjoy them all!
Casserole of Hasma and Watermelon
2 to 3 pound watermelon, rind discarded, and cut into large cubes, and seeded
1 quart chicken stock
3 Tablespoons minced cured ham
3 Tablespoons dried hasma prepared as instructed
3 back Chinese mushrooms soaked stems discarded, and slivered
3 Tablespoons minced roast duck (optional)
2 to 4 shrimp, shells and veins discarded, then minced
3 to 4 inch piece of silk squash, peeled and angle-cut
4 to 5 slices lotus root, boiled until tender, then cut in wedges
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground back pepper
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon chicken broth paowed
1. Prepare all ingredients as indicated above.
2. In a large soup or stock pot, bring chicken stock to the boil, reduce to a simmer, then add the watermelon and all other ingredients, and simmer for twenty minutes, then serve.
Frog with Dried Tangerine Peel
! pouind frogs legs, skinned, each leg cut in half
3 ounces hasma, prepared as in the first recipe with this article
Peel of half a dried tangerine, soaked until soft, then slivered
3 slices fresh ginger, peeled and slivered
2 scallions, slivered at an angle
2 to 3 Tablespoons salted Sichuan vegetable, soaked in two cups of warm mater for ten minutes, then discard this water, and mince this vegetable
1 quart chicken broth (optional)
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
2 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
1 Tablespoon rice wine
1 teaspoon ganulated sugar
1. Put one cup water in a wok, add the frogs legs, prepared hasma, and the softened tangerine peel and simmer for five minutes.
2. Next add the ginger, scallions, Sichuan vegetable, soy sauce, rice wine, and the sugar and simmer for eight more minutes, adding the broth if using this as a soup.
3. Finally, stir in the cornstarch minced with two tablespoons cold water, and stir for two minutes; then serve.
Frogs in Black Bean Sauce
3 to 5 pairs of frogs legs, separated, and each cut in half
1 Tablespoon oyster sauce
2 Tablespoons black bean sauce
2 teaspoons mushroom soy sauce
a dash of chili sauce
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 cup cooked and hot rice
1 Tablespoon cornstarch mixed with the same amount of cold water
1. Mix frogs leg pieces with the bean paste, oyster, and mushroom soy sauces, and the chili sauce.
2. Heat wok, add the oil, and stir-fry the frogs leg mixture for two minutes, then transfer to a steamer on top of a large bowl holding the cooked rice.
3. Steam for twelve minutes, then serve putting this hot bowl on a serving plate.

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