Friday, October 10, 2008

The Heart of Cooking

Fresh banana heart and blossoms are full of sap, which leach out when they are cooked, transforming everything else cooked with them. Whereas the raw heart and blossoms are vividly-colored, when cooked they turn pasty.

The most common way of cooking banana heart (the innermost core) and blossoms (the young banana flowers that turn into fruit) is by adding them as vegetables to the Filipino special dish kare-kare, a stew of oxtail, beef skin and tripe in a peanut sauce, eaten with bagoong alamang (salted krill).

The blossoms are also dried, and traditionally added to pata tim - pork hock stewed in vinegar, soy sauce, garlic and bay leaf.

In Pangasinan, it is cooked into a vegetable dish where it is one of two main ingredients, the other one being saluyot. The chopped blossoms and heart core are boiled with the saluyot in water seasoned with ginger and bagoong (salted fermented anchovies). To contrast with the saltiness a souring agent is added, usually pias (kamias, Averrhoa bilimbi).

My in-laws substitute santol when their pias tree is bereft of fruit. I've quite taken to this concoction, so I always have puso'y ponti tan saluyot with santol when it is santol season, and it is what is in photo above.

The combination of banana blossoms and santol is a potent one - guaranteed to make knives and fingers sticky and marked with striations of indelible sap that turns black in a few minutes. Good thing, though, the cooked dish is not. The sap only turns the soup milky, the acidity of the santol mellowed down with the cooking process.

Another common use of chopped fresh banana blossoms and heart core is in inselar a bangus - sinigang na bangus, milkfish in soured broth. Here the souring agent used is again santol (the chopped fruit was not submerged in water after peeling it so it has "rusted" in color).

The number of ingredients is sparse - just the chopped banana blossoms and heart core, the souring agent, the milkfish and a thumb-sized piece of ginger. Choice of seasoning is also bagoong, but it can be just salt. All ingredients are showcased as main ones here - enjoying that thick belly fat and milky flesh means also enjoying - side by side - the sappy chopped fruits in the soup.

The pairing of the banana heart and santol is a traditional and classic one - I don't remember eating bangus and banana heart soured with any other acidic fruit. But I didn't like it growing up - it had been too sappy for me. It is only now that I've taken back to eating it, especially since banana hearts are so common in Cavite, where you can buy the entire heart, or just the heart core.

Related Posts
  • Another way of cooking santol is in laing
  • There is a milder version of inselar a bangus/sinigang na bangus
  • Saluyot is traditionally cooked with labong


Anonymous said...

I love to eat eat bangus and santol is my favorite fruit.

Kai said...

Hi, Dan, they're quite a pair to eat then! Thanks for dropping by. Hope you discover many more Filipino food you'd love to eat!

eatingclubvancouver_js said...

That sinigang is making me salivate. Haven't tried sinigang with santol before.