Originating in South-East Asia, the banana plant is actually a giant flowering herb. Its fruit, in addition to being the perfect portable snack, is embraced as an ingredient in kitchens from Thailand to Jamaica and beyond. While the Cavendish banana is the most common variety grown in Australia, hundreds of others are grown in hot climates all around the world.
By
Kerryn Burgess

22 Oct 2013 - 8:51 PM  UPDATED 13 Nov 2013 - 11:54 AM

Banana streusel cake (cuca de banana)
In the early 19th century, when Brazil became independent from Portugal, thousands of Germans settled in the south of the country to work farms, bringing with them their recipes for streuselkuchen (crumb cake). Back home in Germany, the cake would have been made with apples or plums, but bananas were a natural adaptation in the new tropical and subtropical land. In southern Brazil today, cuca de banana is almost as ubiquitous as Australia’s banana bread. The coconut we've added in the topping is our own nod to the country’s produce.

Steamed banana cakes with coconut custard (apam pisang)
Making cakes and other sweets by steaming them was originally a necessity in many parts of Asia. These days, even though domestic ovens are more common, it’s become a preference. The technique ensures a very moist, tender result that baking can’t match. Steaming many individual cakes on a stovetop can be difficult to manage, though, so we’ve baked these banana cakes in a steam bath in the oven. Traditionally eaten plain, we’ve also added a caramel topping and creamy, coconut custard.

Baked banana cheesecakes (banane céleste)
The cuisine of Martinique, a French territory in the Caribbean, brings together French and Caribbean ingredients, and these cheesecakes with caramel and banana are a delicious example. Sugar has played a key role in the development of Martinique ever since the Dutch introduced sugar cane to the islands from Brazil in the 17th century. The cinnamon, too, is a result of the Dutch spice trade, which delivered it from Sri Lanka to the New World. To preserve the creamy texture of these cakes, take care not to overcook them – they'll become firmer as they cool.

Banoffee mousse tart
This hybrid banana toffee pie was created in an English restaurant, The Hungry Monk, in 1972. It consisted of a shortcrust pastry base topped with caramelised condensed milk, with sliced bananas and indulgently thick layers of whipped cream flavoured with instant coffee powder. These days, there are endless variations of the dessert. Here, we’ve made it a little lighter than the original, with layers of airy mousse flavoured with caramel and banana. We’ve also added a scattering of cacao nibs for a little extra crunch.

Banana blossom, coconut chicken and chilli salad
Served raw, banana blossoms lend crunch and astringency to all sorts of South-East Asian salads, including this Thai favourite. Look for large, firm blossoms without any discolouration. To prepare this vegetable, just remove the coloured outer leaves until you reach the pale heart, similar to the way you prepare globe artichokes. As soon as you slice into a banana blossom, you will need to place it in a bowl of acidulated water to prevent it from going brown.

Banana ice-cream with muscovado meringues and rum sauce
Bananas are ubiquitous on this Caribbean island and have a natural affinity with brown sugar, one of Jamaica’s most famous exports. The first printed recipe for banana ice-cream is thought to be from Caroline Sullivan’s The Jamaica Cookery Book, published in 1893, and is not too dissimilar to the one we feature below. We’ve roasted the bananas for some smoky depth, and the muscovado and rum provide delicious, dark caramel notes.