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New Ways to Cook with Bananas

Get the Recipe: Grilled Bananas with Sweet Toppings

Sure, they make a great snack and terrific banana bread, but bananas can transform the way you cook. In the last few years I’ve discovered that they can stand in for more ingredients with tastier results then I ever imagined. You probably already know that they pack great flavor and good nutrition, but try them in a host of innovative, creative recipes, and you’re likely to see them with new respect. 

And there’s another reason to explore bananas more deeply: Their essentially culinary qualities aren’t fixed. This marvelous fruit is one of few that ripen better on your kitchen counter than on the plant. Banana fans have opinions about how ripe the ideal banana should be — from those who want a firm, somewhat starchy fruit with green skin just tinged with yellow to those who prefer the skin eclipsed with brown spots and the flesh inside meltingly creamy and honey-sweet. But personal whims aside, there are some general guidelines that will help you match ripeness to your recipe.

  • For cooking whole and savory dishes: Greener, less ripe bananas will hold their shape better for cooking whole. And they will have a higher starch content and lower sugar content, helping them blend easily with savory flavors.
  • For slicing and eating raw: Bright yellow, medium-ripe fruit will have pronounced sweetness but will also maintain their shape and texture.
  • For mashing and baking: Here’s where you want deep-yellow, speckled or blotched fruit that’s delicate and soft to the touch. These have wonderfully developed sweetness and a viscous texture that will be outstanding in baked goods or in frozen desserts.

Need to control the ripening of your fruit? It’s easy. Place greenish bananas in a paper bag with an apple to speed up ripening. And keep already ripe fruit in cool temperatures or in the refrigerator to slow down or halt the process. And here’s the best banana advice ever: If you’ve got a glut of ripe bananas, peel and freeze them; they can go straight from freezer to blender or food processor for smoothies or frozen treats, and they’ll thaw quickly for mashing.

Bananas are in season year-round, so innovating with them will really expand your cooking options. Here are ideal ways to enjoy them throughout the day and throughout the seasons.

Get the Recipe: Black-Eyed Peas and Tomatoes with Bananas

Savory, Not Sweet

Banana plants are prolific fruit producers, so it’s no surprise that in tropical regions they serve as an important food source, not just a snack or dessert ingredient. Choose greener, very firm fruits for best dinnertime results. Samoan Green Bananas in Coconut Sauce sounds exotic, but this easy side dish is ready in just about 20 minutes and is actually a true comfort food, terrific to serve with simple chicken or fish dishes. Black-Eyed Peas with Tomatoes and Bananas, hailing from Ghana, makes a popular vegetarian main course that’s easy enough for weeknights. And if you find absolutely green, totally firm bananas, you can substitute them for plantains in Spiced Pork Roast with Plantains; just leave them in 1-inch slices since they cook a little faster than their denser cousins the plantains.

Get the Recipe: Banana Milk

To Replace Dairy

Here’s a recipe that was a real eye-opener for me: Banana Milk. All you need is a blender, a banana and some water and you have a wonderful nut-free dairy alternative. It’s fabulous over cereal and does a super job as a substitute for cows’ milk in many recipes. Heatlhy Vegan Chocolate Banana Pudding teams bananas up with protein-packed tofu and dates for extra sweetness. And in this rich, decadent Sweet Potato Chocolate Mousse, you can substitute mashed bananas for part or all of the sweet potato called for.

Get the Recipe: Banana-Cocoa Snack Cake

For Baking

Mashed bananas are magical when stirred into a batter. Think of the wonderful moistness and the complex sweetness they bring to banana bread, and then keep thinking to find more delicious and unusual ways to use them. Their slightly sticky texture also helps acts as a binder in baked goods, much the way eggs do. That’s the reason they work so well in Banana-Cocoa Snack Cake, a treat that’s popular with both vegans and omnivores of all ages. Banana-Oatmeal Snack Cookies  are another eggless favorite, and they’re made with just five ingredients and absolutely no refined  sugar−just naturally sweet fruit. Bananas are also a wonderful ingredient in classic Hummingbird Cake, where they team up with pineapple for fabulous flavor and moistness.

Great Grilling

Putting your bananas over coals is one of the easiest and most successful way to deepen and transform their flavor. The direct heat brings out their custardy texture and honey-like aroma for impressive results. Grilled Bananas with Sweet Toppings is a versatile starter recipe that could revolutionize your cookouts or camping trips; the bananas are grilled in foil so there’s virtually no chance of sticking or no messy cleanup. Banana Splits with Grilled Fruit and Chocolate Sauce features halved bananas grilled in their skins right on the grill rack for complex, smoky flavor.

Get the Recipe: Creamy Banana and Brown Sugar Pop

Frozen Glory

Here’s one of the great surprises of modern banana recipes: Frozen, pureed bananas as a delicious, healthful alternative to ice cream. No cream and no added sugar is required for this fabulous dessert. Banana Nice Cream is this technique near its simplest, but you have plenty of other options for flavorings and add-ins, including those in Raspberry Nice Cream and Raw Banana Ice Cream. But you don’t have to stop there for ice cream alternatives. For a great popsicle take off, check out Creamy Banana and Brown Sugar Pops, a treat that looks as great as they taste. And finally don’t miss Chocolate and Coconut Frozen Banana Pops, delicious enough for dessert but healthy enough for afterschool snacks or any-time chocolate cravings.

Got a creative banana recipe? Tell us about it!