Banana leaves serve many purposes in Asian cooking, from adding flavor to foods cooked inside them, to simply being used as a colorful and exotic background for serving plates and party platters. Banana leaves are beautiful, fun to use, and easy to cook with! Find out how to buy banana leaves, how to cook with them, how to decorate your platters with them, and how to store extra banana leaves for use next time.
Here's How to Use Banana Leaves:
Use this guide for all these banana leaf uses:
- Buying Banana Leaves: Banana leaves are very inexpensive to buy. They cost a few dollars for a large pack. Buy banana leaves fresh or frozen in large, flat plastic bags at your local Asian supermarket (check the freezer if you can't find them on the shelf or in the produce section).
- Cooking with Banana Leaves: Banana leaves can be used for baking anything "wrapped" in the same way you would use tin foil or parchment paper. Note that banana leaves are porous (unlike tin foil), so some of the "sauce" or juices from your food item may seep through. Therefore, it's a good idea to place your banana leaf "packets" in a glass casserole dish or a tray that has sides on it. That way the juices won't drip to the bottom of your oven. The traditional Puerto Rican pastele is an example of a recipe using banans leaves as a wrap.
- Banana Leaves for Grilling/Barbecuing: You can also use banana leaf as a kind of "mat" for barbecuing fragile fillets of fish, smaller shrimp, or vegetables that have a danger of falling through the grill. Simply lay a piece of banana leaf on your grill, then cook your food items on top of it (as you would with tin foil). The banana leaf will turn bright green at first, then brown as you cook. It will give a nice hint of flavor to your food that is very pleasant.
- Banana Leaves for Serving: Banana leaf also makes a beautiful background on which to serve various Asian dishes. They are excellent for party platters or finger foods. They can also be made into Banana Leaf Boats which are great for serving salads, rice, fish, and other dishes. Or, simply cut a banana leaf (rinse well with hot water and pat dry) and use it to line a platter, serving plate or bowl. Banana leaf dresses up the dish, adding an exotic touch to any Thai or Asian recipe.
- Eating on Banana Leaf: Any dish that has been cooked in the banana leaf can also be served in/on it. This makes the dish even more beautiful to serve and to eat and makes for a wonderful conversation starter at dinner parties! For an example of a good recipe to do this, check out Thai fish in banana leaf packets.
- Storing Banana Leaves: Usually, you will have leftover leaves after you've finished making your recipe or serving your food, as they are sold in large packs. To keep the rest for use later, simply wrap up in plastic (a plastic bag will do, secured with elastic), and keep in the freezer. Banana leaves only require about 30 minutes to thaw, so this is a convenient way to keep them fresh. If using within a week, store them (wrapped in plastic) in the refrigerator.
To successfully use banana leaves, try these suggestions:
- Use scissors to cut banana leaves into the size you need, depending on your recipe. For wrapping and baking food items, you will need a large "sheet" or leaf. Place enough for one serving in the center of the leaf, then fold like a handkerchief to make a square packet.
- Banana leaf is also excellent for steaming, as it allows the steam to penetrate the food inside or on top of it. You can use banana leaf to line a steamer or to wrap your food and then steam it.
- Secure banana leaf "packets" with toothpicks inserted and woven through the leaf. Or simply place the packet "seam-side" down to keep it from opening. Try wrapping up some chicken, fish or seafood, or other meats in banana leaf and baking them in the oven. First, mix in a little curry paste, then wrap up in the leaf (square-shaped packets are easiest to make). Secure the packet with toothpicks, or simply place the packet "seam-side" down to keep it from opening while baking.
- Banana leaves can be composted when you're finished using them.