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Naomi Duguid's Banana Flower Salad, Rakhine Style

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Banana Flower Salad, Rakhine Style [Photograph: Richard Jung]

I had never eaten banana flowers until this week, let alone carry one home and prepare it myself. But after making the Banana Flower Salad from Naomi Duguid's Burma, I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for the purple buds from now on.

A blend of boiled and chopped banana flower, peanuts, fried shallots (with some of their oil), sesame seeds, and fish sauce, this salad's boldness belies its simplicity. Anyone familiar with banana flowers knows that the plant's similarity to artichokes: astringent when raw but it turns more and earthy once cooked. The richness of the nuts and oil magically tempers the bitterness of the flower, and the fish sauce adds brightness and addictive salinity. Duguid is right, however, to suggest eating the salad alongside other milder dishes, as more than a few bites in a row can turn intense.

Why I picked this recipe: Many of the salad recipes in Burma contain familiar vegetable bases; I wanted to try my hand at something totally foreign.

What worked: The short ingredient list balanced the slightly bitter flavor of the banana flour surprisingly well.

What didn't: My banana flower took about 30 minutes to turn tender and I ended up adding a bit more fish sauce, shallot oil, and nuts than directed. Still, even without these additions, this salad was shockingly flavorful.

Suggested Tweaks: I liked the salad best after it had been sitting for a couple hours; at this point, the flavors had fully melded and mellowed. Unfortunately, by that time, the crisp shallots had lost all of their crunch. Next time, I'd mix together everything but the fried shallots, let the mixture sit for 2-3 hours, and then scatter the shallots over right before serving. If you can't find banana flowers, don't totally despair. I'd bet that the salad tastes equally good with steamed artichokes.

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Burma: Rivers of Flavor to give away.

About the author: Kate Williams is a freelance writer out of Berkeley, CA. She is a contributor to The Oxford American and blogs at cookingwolves.wordpress.com.

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