Not many people have actually seen banana flower (or plantain flower) and very few know that it is edible. Banana tree (technically an annual herb), is one of those plants in which every part is used in some way or other. Banana inflorescence (collection of flowers) contains multiple flowers in layers covered by brightly coloured leathery bracts (used as the serving dish in the picture). Think I am getting very technical here (Botany was my favourite subject in my 12th grade), lets get back to cooking.
I do not cook vazhaipoo (banana flower) very often because, cleaning it takes quite a bit of time. Each flower has a hard stalk like thing (style and stigma) in the center which remains membranous even after cooking and hence has to be removed. As we move towards the center of the inflorescence, the flowers become smaller and just snipping off the top of each flower would do. At one point, it becomes impossible to remove any more bracts, then, the whole remaining inflorescence may be cut into small pieces. The flowers that were removed and cleaned need to be finely chopped. Cleaning vazhaipoo stains your hands (and clothes on contact), so make sure you apply oil to hands before you start. Vazhaipoo has a mild bitter (yummy) flavour and you can add some sugar or jaggery to mask the bitterness, I never do it though.
Cleaned and chopped banana flower - 1
One hand full moong dal - soaked in water for about 2-3 hours
Onion - 1 small - finely chopped
turmeric powder - 1/4 tsp
Grated coconut - about 2 tbsp
Mustard seeds - 1/2 tsp
Cumin seeds - 1/2 tsp
Hing - 2-3 pinches
Curry leaves - 6-7
Red chillies - 3 -4 broken into half
Urad dal - 1 tsp
salt to taste
Mix turmeric and salt into cleaned and chopped banana flower and set aside for about 30 - 60 minutes. This step can be skipped if you don't have as much time, add salt and turmeric while cooking.
Heat 2-3 tsp of oil in a saute pan over medium heat. When oil is hot, add hing and curry leaves and fry for few seconds. Add mustard seeds and cumin seeds. When mustard seeds start to crackle, add red chillies and urad dal and fry until urad dal turns golden brown. Now add chopped onion and mix to coat with oil. At this point little salt can be added to bring out the sweetness of the onion. Fry until onion is transparent. Now add the marinated banana flower and soaked moong dal. Mix well and add about 1/2 cup of water and cover to cook. When both moong dal and banana flower are cooked, add grated coconut mix well, remove from heat and serve.
This time, my vazhaipoo poriyal turned out really yummy, I think the vazhaipoo was very fresh...