When I visited artist Ron Finley at his South Central L.A. home, his famously “illegal” parkway garden was in transition. He didn’t think he had any salad material to offer, but I spotted two large banana blossoms hovering above our heads. Ron brought these flowers to the Getty Salad Garden, where we gathered the remaining ingredients for our own twist on a Vietnamese banana blossom salad, the Southeast Asian salad of my fantasies.
If you don’t have a banana tree of your own (I don’t have one, either), then look for the blossoms at your local Asian grocery store. Sometimes you have to ask the grocer to bring them from the back. They are really fun to work with, and you can even present the dish as a salad boat, serving in one of the reserved outer leaves instead of a plate. If you can’t find banana blossoms anywhere, sub red cabbage and plan to take your next vacation in Hanoi.
Note: Use a mandoline or a Thai hand-shredder (available at most Asian grocery stores) to cut the green mango or papaya into long, thin julienne strips— you don’t even need to pit or seed the fruit first, just stop scraping when you reach the pit or seedy center.
This is excerpted from Salad For President: A Cookbook Inspired by Artists by Julia Sherman.
- 1 Thai bird chile, minced, with most seeds removed
- 3 makrut lime leaves, tough center ribs removed, minced
- 1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
- 1 T palm sugar (grated if it’s very hard)
- 11/2 t fish sauce
- 3 T fresh lime juice
- 3 T coconut oil
- 2 shallots, thinly sliced
- 1 fresh banana blossom
- 1 C (95 g) shredded red cabbage
- + ice water (if using banana blossom)
- + distilled white vinegar (if using banana blossom)
- 1 C (110 g) peeled and julienned green mango or green papaya
- 1/4 red onion, very thinly sliced
- 1 C (150 g) cold Pulled Poached Chicken, optional
- 1 t chopped fresh cilantro leaves, plus more for garnish
- 2 T unsalted peanuts, toasted and crushed
Make the dressing: In a mortar and pestle, combine the chile, lime leaves, garlic, and palm sugar and grind them to a paste. Add the fish sauce and lime juice and stir until well combined.
Make the salad: In a small skillet, heat the coconut oil over medium-high heat. As soon as the oil is warm, add the shallots and cook, stirring constantly, until light golden brown, 3–4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer them to a paper towel and set aside.
If using the banana blossom: Fill a large bowl with ice water and a generous splash of vinegar. Remove the stem, the dark-colored outer leaves, and the long, thin stamens between the leaves, peeling off leaves until you reach the more tender, cream-colored heart of the blossom. Cut the blossom into quarters and immediately transfer it to the ice water. Working with one quarter at a time, cut the quarters cross- wise into very thin strips (it’s okay if there are still small white buds between the inner leaves) and return the strips to the ice water. Once all the blossoms are sliced, agitate them in the water with your hands to remove any extra stickiness. Drain the shreds in a colander and rinse with cold water. Be sure to drain all the excess water.
Transfer the banana blossoms to a large bowl along with the mango, onion, and chicken, if using. Pour the dressing over the mixture, toss with the cilantro and mint, and spoon the salad onto a serving platter. Top with the crushed peanuts, crispy shallots, and more herbs, if desired.