Question: Would you please tell me how to choose bananas--the kind you eat raw or slice over dry cereal or add to fruit salads? Sometimes those I buy have black, fuzzy lines running down the center as big as a pencil lead. It seems to be more prevalent with age and ripeness. How can you spot such bananas in the market?
Answer: According to Barbara Vukelich, manager of the food center for Dole packaged foods, the black line is due to shock damage, probably caused by mishandling, such as the shipping carton or the bananas themselves being dropped. Bananas ripen from the inside out and the black line is caused by a breakdown of cells.
Vukelich said there is actually nothing wrong--nothing harmful--when bananas have this line. Unfortunately it's impossible to detect this condition from the outside.
In general, color is the barometer of ripeness when purchasing bananas. Bananas with green tips will be firm. If the peel is golden yellow the interior will be a bit sweeter. Choose those that are yellow, flecked with brown if you plan to eat them immediately.
Once bananas have reached the desired degree of ripeness they should be refrigerated. Chilling will darken the peel, but will not affect the fruit.
Should bananas become overly ripe, mash them with a small amount of lemon juice, place the pulp in a moisture-vapor proof container and freeze. Add to the container until there is enough to make a loaf of banana bread or a batch of muffins.
Q: On Jan. 18 the Cartoon Kitchen recipe for fried, spiced eggplant called for two teaspoons of garam masala. Can you tell me what this is?
A: Garam masala is the basic blend of hot or warm spices of northern India. It varies, however, from one northern state to another.
The spice blend may be purchased at markets specializing in Indian foods, but you may also make it yourself, using this recipe from "Better Homes & Gardens Classic International Recipes," (Meredith Corp.: 1982).
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
4 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
2 teaspoons whole cloves
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
1 (3-inch) stick cinnamon
Combine peppercorns, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cloves, cardamom seeds and cinnamon stick and place on jellyroll pan. Bake at 300 degrees 15 minutes. Place in food processor or blender container and process until finely ground. Store in airtight container. Makes about 1/3 cup.
Variation: Combine 1 tablespoon ground cumin, 1 tablespoon ground coriander, 2 teaspoons ground black pepper, 2 teaspoons ground cardamom, 1 teaspoon ground cloves and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon to yield 1/4 cup.