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The Banana Snappers

January 14, 1998|MARIE SIMMONS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Simmons is the author of "A to Z Pancakes" (Chapters/Houghton Mifflin, 1997)

Until recently, the only bananas available in our neighborhood markets were the traditional yellow variety, known as a Cavendish. Today, however, many produce sections carry a selection of banana varieties. Among my favorites are the little fingerlings, red bananas and burro bananas. Each has a distinctive appearance and taste.

The Cavendish is mild-tasting when compared to some of the newcomers. The fingerlings are about half the size of the Cavendish (which is why they are loved by children and those of us who find half a banana filling enough). Their flesh is deep yellow and has a sweet, concentrated banana flavor. Red bananas, on the other hand, have salmon-colored flesh and a honey-like flavor. The burros are chunkier than the Cavendish and have a thicker skin. They have a creamy texture and a citrus-like taste.

Although we think of the banana as a snack food or dessert, it adapts nicely to savory dishes. This recipe for broiled fish fillets and bananas is one example. Serve the fish with a side dish of dried currant and cashew rice pilaf. For dessert, a fresh fruit sorbet, drizzled with fruit-flavored syrup, will do nicely.

BROILED FISH FILLETS AND BANANAS (30 MINUTES OR LESS)

4 red snapper, turbot, cod or other fish fillets (about 1 1/4 pounds)

2 bananas (Cavendish, red or burro or 4 fingerlings), halved lengthwise

3 tablespoons orange juice

2 tablespoons finely grated orange zest

2 tablespoons minced red onion

2 teaspoons minced jalapenos

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

1 lime, quartered

Cilantro sprigs

For best texture and flavor, make sure the bananas are firm-ripe so they will not be too sweet. To make fast work of the orange zest, shred it with a hand grater or remove 2 strips of zest from the orange with a vegetable peeler and finely chop.

Arrange fish fillets and bananas, cut side up, on broiler pan. Combine 2 tablespoons orange juice, orange zest, red onion, jalapenos, dash salt and grinding of black pepper in small bowl. Spoon mixture evenly on fish and bananas.

Broil about 2 inches from heat source until surfaces are well browned and center of thickest part of fish turns from translucent to opaque, about 10 minutes.

Transfer to serving platter and sprinkle fish with remaining 1 tablespoon orange juice. Garnish platter with lime wedges and cilantro.

4 servings. Each serving:

174 calories; 147 mg sodium; 42 mg cholesterol; 2 grams fat; 16 grams carbohydrates; 24 grams protein; 0.38 gram fiber.

RICE PILAF WITH DRIED CURRANTS AND CASHEWS

You may substitute walnuts for the cashews. If you do, place them in small dry skillet and heat, stirring, over medium heat until nuts are fragrant and lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle over pilaf just before serving.

1 tablespoon butter

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1 cup rice, preferably basmati

1 cinnamon stick

2 tablespoons dried currants

1 3/4 cups water

Salt

1/3 cup chopped cashews or walnuts

Melt butter over low heat in large skillet or broad saucepan. Add onion and cook, stirring, until golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in rice, cinnamon stick and currants and cook, stirring, until blended, about 1 minute.

Add water and 1/2 teaspoon salt and bring to boil. Stir once. Cover and cook over medium to medium-low heat until water is absorbed and rice is tender, about 15 minutes. Do not stir. Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes. Taste and add salt if needed.

Transfer to serving dish and sprinkle with cashews.

4 servings. Each serving:

264 calories; 328 mg sodium; 8 mg cholesterol; 8 grams fat; 42 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 0.40 gram fiber.

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