When a reader from Texas told me where to find purple yams here in Canada, I figured it wouldn’t be that hard to find banana leaves, either. Sure enough, a small store just 10 minutes away sold them.
Giant leaves in hand (these things are humongous), I set about getting dinner ready for guests coming to a birthday party.
The night before the big day, disaster struck.
It was the sauce
Like the banana leaves, the three tiny Thai peppers Chef Mo called for were a new ingredient for me. I had to beg them from our local store, because they were sold in packages of 502 (or so it seemed). I only wanted three. They sighed and said OK, this time, just for you. I had no problem throwing all three into the mix as they were, well, so tiny.
My blender roared, efficiently turning the whole concoction into a green juice. I pried off its lid. The fumes nearly knocked me out of my apron! Still reeling, I put a small drop on my tongue. The taste seared into my blood and flames breathed out my nose (or so it seemed). Those three little red chilies pack a wallop! What on earth would a person ever do with 502 of the little beasts? People must be genetically engineered to like this stuff, I think.
“Help!” is what I emailed to the chef, in my after-midnight distress.
In the morning, I found a message from this kind fellow. To tone down the heat, I could use coconut milk.
To 1 cup of coconut milk I added 2 tablespoons of the fiery brew. Yum. This was wonderful… warm, smokey, not painful. I added another spoonful… still bearable. The sauce was a go.
The result was all Chef Mo had promised… A delicate creamy goodness to the salmon. Complex and exotic flavors, thanks to the juices leached from the leaf. And most surprisingly, a total lack of heat. The burn had entirely disappeared during the cooking, leaving behind a smokey warmth.
Here’s how I put it all together, with modifications to tone down the heat.
Salmon baked in banana leaves
Green chili sauce
- 1 bunch cilantro leaves, washed and with stems removed (2 cups pressed firmly down or 2.5 ounces)
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds (ground)
- 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 fresh Thai chilies, seeds removed and discarded (use rubber gloves)
- 1/3 cup water
- Juice of 1 lime
- Salt and white pepper to taste
- 2/3 cup coconut milk (I use light)
- Combine all in a blender and purée. Clean the sides with a spatula and blend again.
For the salmon
- 4 pieces wild salmon, each 1/3 to 1/2 pound (or one filet about 1.5-2 pounds)
- 2 banana leafs cut into four, well scrubbed and rinsed, then dried well (or tinfoil*)
- String for tying
- Oil for basting
- Season salmon with salt.
- Place each salmon piece on a banana leaf. Leave room at each end to fold under.
- Coat salmon with 1/4 cup sauce.
- Take both ends of the leaf and fold toward center.
- Tuck the open edges underneath. Note: The leaf can tear along the grain, so position the salmon lengthwise across the grain to minimize this problem.
- Use string and tie the parcel like a gift, crossing at the centre to secure in both directions. An extra pair of hands comes in handy.
- Brush oil on top and bottom of parcels.
- Place parcels on baking sheet and roast in oven at 350F for 30 minutes.
- Let guests open their own packet at the table.
*Tin foil can substitute for the leaves. With tinfoil, the salmon is almost as creamily delicious. But presentation and health benefits can be worth the effort of sourcing the leaves.
The spice – Peppers, garlic and horseradish contain powerful chemicals that fight cancer and infections. These compounds also boost your metabolism. That means you burn more calories faster, which helps in controlling your weight. People vary in their capacity for the heat. Experiment. Good luck and enjoy!
The salmon – This fish, along with other oily swimmers, is your best bet for the essential omega-3 fats. It’s the only food that provides this fat in a form used by your brain to operate smoothly. You can also get omega-3 from walnuts, flaxseed, and chia seeds… but some studies suggest this form of the fat is not efficiently converted into the kind the brain needs. Smart, calm people eat salmon and other oily fish at least once a week, in addition to plant sources of this compound.
Salmon is an excellent source of protein. But it also provides other micronutrients that are harder to get. Vitamin D, selenium and B vitamins, for example, are amply present. These all spell good news for your heart, joints, and mood, your ability to think clearly, and your eyes. They also help in preventing cancer.
The banana leafs – They are loaded with potent phytochemicals and antioxidants that fight disease.
Many thanks to Chef Mo for sharing his fabulous recipe and for helping me learn to appreciate the wonders of chili peppers.