Banana leaves are a versatile and traditional cooking tool in many cuisines, particularly in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. They are used for wrapping, cooking, and serving food, offering a unique flavor and presentation. While they add a nice, grassy aroma to the food cooked or served in them, the banana leaves are not typically eaten themselves.
Banana palms (and banana leaves) are abundant in Mae Sot, and at Tea Garden restaurant at Borderline Collective, the banana leaves are often used for cooking. However, before you can start cooking with banana leaves, they need some prepping, to turn them into soft, pliable sheets to wrap your food in.
How to prepare banana leaves for cooking
Begin by rinsing the banana leaf under cool running water to remove any dirt or debris. Since the leaves can be quite large, you might need to do this outside or in a large sink.
Use a pair of scissors to trim off the hard stem and any damaged or discolored edges of the leaf. If your recipe requires specific sizes or shapes, you can cut the leaves accordingly with scissors or a sharp knife, though it’s easier to do that after prepping.
Banana leaves are naturally stiff and can crack if bent when cold. To make the leaf more pliable, gently heat it over a gas stove, for a few seconds on each side. The leaf will change color to a brighter green and become softer. Be careful not to burn the leaf (and your fingers!). If you don’t have a gas stove, you can also place the leaves in a preheated oven for a few minutes until the leaves are soft and pliable.
The heat will draw out some moisture from the leaf, so after softening, pat the leaf dry with a clean towel or let it air dry for a few minutes.
You can wrap fish, chicken, pork, or beef in banana leaves with various seasonings and steam, grill, or bake them. The leaves keep the meat juicy and infuse a delicate, herbaceous flavor. If wrapping food, secure the packets with kitchen twine or toothpicks.
If you’re not going to use the leaves right away, store them in the refrigerator wrapped in plastic wrap or in a large zip-top bag. They can also be frozen for longer storage.