Banana flowers are like artichokes, tightly layered leaves with an enticing astringent flavor. They’re beautiful too—dark-red to purple tapered cones. They are now often available here in Southeast Asian groceries. For this dish, you need a fairly small one, as fresh as possible, so its color is bright and it’s firm to the touch. If you want to double the recipe, use 2 small banana flowers rather than 1 large one.
Unlike the Shan and Thais, who use banana flower raw in salads, people in Rakhine State cook it first. Its slightly bitter taste is very appealing, here balanced and softened by shallot oil and the sweetness of fried shallots. If you taste the cooked chopped banana flower before you add the seasonings, you’ll notice an aroma like that of cooked artichoke, and its astringency will hit you. As you add ingredients, the flavor balance shifts in a delicious way.
This is also a great example of the way meals in Burma are composed of dishes that complement one another. Eaten on its own, this salad is intense; eaten as part of a meal, it comes to taste wonderfully necessary. Serve it with a slightly sweet mild dish such as Eggplant Delight, or as an accompaniment to roast pork or grilled lamb.
Bring a medium pot of water to a vigorous boil. Put in the banana flower, cover, and cook at a strong boil until cooked through, about 15 minutes. Test by piercing it with a knife: if the knife slides easily into the center, it’s done. Lift out of the water and set aside to cool for a few minutes.
Peel off 2 or 3 of the outer leaves of the banana flower and discard. Cut the banana flower into 5 or 6 chunks, place in a food processor, and pulse several times, just until you have a coarsely chopped mass. Turn out into a bowl, add the peanuts, sesame seeds, fish sauce, salt, and shallot oil and toss. Taste for salt and adjust if necessary, then add the fried shallots and toss again.
Serve at room temperature.
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