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Thursday, April 29, 2004

Banana Leaf Coconut Fish:Recipe

What's a beautiful shade of green, used in Asian, Latin American, Caribbean and African cooking, but completely inedible? Banana leaves! Banana leaves grow in tropical climates, and are used to steam, grill, serve and store food. In Thailand they are used just like tin foil and about as frequently. Banana leaves are used when they are still fresh and green, as a result, there is a very moist quality to any food cooked in them.

While not grown commercially in the US, banana leaves are worth seeking out because they lend a delicious herbal flavor to food when cooked. They can be used for slow moist cooking of tough meats or even tamales, and for quicker grilling, baking or steaming of more delicate ingredients like fish or chicken. You can cook several servings in a large banana leaf or cut the leaf into individual serving pieces. Steaming or baking individual servings "en papillote" is not only elegant, but generally makes clean up a breeze. The scent of the steam when the banana leaves are unwrapped is truly lovely.

This is a recipe I developed using several aromatic Asian ingredients. It has no chilies so it is particularly mild; though if you want to add chilies or other aromatics like lemongrass I suppose you could. I love using exotic ingredients like banana leaves, and when they only cost 79 cents a package, so much the better. Look for banana leaves in Asian or Latin grocery stores in the freezer section and if you find them, give them a try. (if you can't find banana leaves, you can almost always substitute tin foil or parchment paper) The foil is just used in this recipe to more easily seal the banana leaf packet.

Banana Leaf Coconut Fish
2-3 servings


1 lb firm white fish (sea bass or halibut are good)

2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tablespoon ginger peeled and chopped
1/4 cup packed chopped cilantro leaves
2-3 Tablespoons coconut milk
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon brown sugar, packed


Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl and add the fish cut into 4-6 serving size pieces about 1 inch thick. Let sit for 20 minutes.

Run the banana leaf under hot water until defrosted and pliable. Cover a baking sheet in tin foil, then lay a banana leaf or pieces of banana leaf, double the size of the fish, on top of the foil. Place the fish on the leaf or leaves and make sure all the sauce and herbs are put onto the fish. Wrap the banana leaf (leaves) around the fish and use the foil underneath to secure the banana leaf. Bake on the baking sheet for 20-25 minutes or until done. Serve with rice.