Saturday, March 10, 2012

Vietnamese Banana Pudding (Banh Chuoi Nung)

Smaller than the Cavendish banana
As I walked through a coffee farm, looking for ripened, blood red coffee cherries, someone handed me a thick-bladed, curved, long knife and motioned for me to use it. I held it carefully, made sure no part of me was in its path, and aimed...Slam! I hit the juicy, rubbery green trunk horizontally. "Hit it diagonally," I was instructed. I threw the knife at it a couple of more times. "Harder." I stood aside to avoid being sprayed by the water from the tree, and managed to cut a wedge in it. Finally. the knife changed hands as if it was in a relay race, as I let others finish what I had only started. They worked on the opposite side of the trunk, cutting off the giant leaves that looked like green wings with an elegant burgundy stripe running through the middle. The honeycomb center of the trunk was so white it reminded me of fish, or shark cartilage. Chunks of it lay on the ground.The magnificent banana stalk, recently cut off the tree, was taken home and hung to allow the fruit to gradually turn ripe. Fortunately, green bananas let you  gather recipes as you wait in anticipation of cooling off with banana rum ice cream, modifying classics by trying out a banana strudel, or discovering other cuisines when rolling out coconut rice banana tamales (!)

History of Bananas and the Dessert
The banana, native to Southeast Asia and India, was taken by the Arabs to Asia Minor, then Africa, and finally to America and the Caribbean, where bananas were grown starting in the 1830´s (quite recent). Another source declares that the banana made its way to Ecuador (South America) in 200 B.C. and that Spanish and Portuguese explorers took bananas to the Caribbean in the 1500´s. The date 1830 is probably mentioned because that is when it began to be grown in Florida, and also closer to the time when bananas were commercially grown and later exported, in different parts of the American continent.
In the U.S., bananas were introduced to make custards, pies and puddings around the 1880´s ( Countries or regions that grow bananas have many different names for the different kinds of bananas, as most of them are not like the standard Chiquita banana (the generic name is Cavendish). Some examples of names in different languages are: dátiles (baby), indios, plátanos/plaintains, red, fruit, manzano/apple, burro/majoncho, pisang raja, pisang nangka,
The french introduced butter and custards to Vietnamese cuisine (especially Southern Vietnam) in the 1850´s, so we might guess that at least the buttery version of the pudding appeared after that date.

The Vietnamese Banana cake is similar to Latin America´s "Budin de Plátano" or plaintain pudding. It can be served for the Vietnamese New Year.  Countries that surround Vietnam also share this dish.

1 cup butter
1 1/4 cups sliced bananas (approx. 5 medium)
1 1/3 cups flour
7 eggs, beaten
15 oz. can of condensed milk, or of coconut milk
1/2 cup grated coconut (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Mix butter, flour, eggs, and milk together with handmixer. Fold in bananas and coconut and place in greased and floured 8 inch cake pan. Bake for 40 minutes to 1 hour. This delectable pudding-cake is buttery and melts in your mouth.

Authentic recipe for banh chuoi nuong:

Worldesserts' chosen Website of the week:  It classifies recipes by banana ripeness

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