Going bananas

Curious George — the one in my family, not the one in the movie — wrote to me again last week. I usually get four or five e-mails a day from this brother, but the goofy questions he writes in his “curious George” persona are my favorites.

“I found bananas for cheap yesterday…got some…what do they do for you?? many calories?? how many a day is enough??”

A few days later, I brought home a bunch of bananas from the store. In addition to the usual Dole sticker, there was another sticker, a little brown monkey labeled “Curious George.” What are a funny coincidence! So today, I am compelled to write about bananas.

When I was in high school, I did my first long-distance bike ride. It was the first MS-150 fundraiser for Central Ohio, and besides my sister and myself, there were only 6 other riders, all of them “serious” cyclists. We loaded our luggage into the “sag wagon” so we could ride unencumbered. That is, except for the mountains of bananas the other guys carried on their bikes. It was my first encounter with the bicyclists’ cult of bananas.

Bananas are the main reason why bicyclists have pockets in the back of their shirts. They eat them by the dozen. Some bicyclists can peel a banana one-handed. If they don’t eat enough bananas, they lose energy, which they call “bonking.”

Bananas are loaded with potassium, and they have more calories per unit than most other easily available fruits. Nature’s packaging is almost unbeatable, unless you put one in the bottom of your backpack and then throw some books on top. The resulting bruised banana mush is unappetizing.

I admit, I get bored with plain old bananas. I have to dress them up.

One trick is to eat a banana with a little tub of yogurt. Peel the banana, and dip the end into the yogurt. This is a little embarrassing in public, but it’s a good way to get a park bench all to yourself.

Another trick is to cook bananas. I’ve always been a fan of plantains, which look like huge bananas that must be cooked. I love a side of fried plantains in a Cuban restaurant — you can make your own by just peeling, slicing, and pan-frying them. Serve them with salt and lime wedges. I also turned up a Puerto Rican recipe where mashed plantains are used to make a sort of pie crust: Ripe plantain pie with meat.

Recently, I’ve discovered that regular bananas, slightly green ones, can be used like plantains. In some countries, both fruits are used the way we use potatoes. You can boil them, fry them, or add them to soups and stews. Last week, I tried a new tomato soup recipe that Barry says is the best he ever ate. It’s pretty simple, mostly just tomatoes, bananas, and onions.

Bananas are wonderful with coconut milk. You can cook the two of them with rice, or just poach bananas in coconut milk.

Here in the U.S. we’re more likely to think of bananas in baked goods, like banana bread, banana pancakes, banana cream pie. Or made into a healthy smoothie.

The weirdest recipe I’ve run across for bananas was this one, for a banana nut salad. I’ve never tried it, only because I’ve never had any Miracle Whip (TM) in my fridge. It sure sounds interesting, but one thing is certain: You’ll never find me dipping my bananas in Miracle Whip. At least, not in public.