4768660b1120b444829793f6d2182471-2When I was growing up, my after-school snack was very simple. A bowl of diced banana with half-a-cup of milk, sweetened with a teaspoon of sugar awaited us at home.

“Did you not get bored eating that every day?” my 12-year-old daughter gasps!

“Not really,” I smile. “Sometimes I would sneak in an extra spoon of sugar or two when my mother was not looking.”

I never dared to complain that it was the same snack everyday, because I knew my mother would simply have said, “Stay hungry till dinner then.”

Hygienically packed in its thick, soft skin, the banana is among nature’s ideal snacks. It is perhaps the cheapest and the most extensively eaten fruit. Rich and poor, young and old alike, relish the humble banana.

The size of the fruit varies from tiny finger-sized ones to some huge ones, the size of a man’s arm. There are many varieties of bananas, each with a distinctive flavor, color, and size. Color ranges from different shades of green, light to deep yellow, and reds.

This humble fruit is a powerhouse of nutrition and good health.

Cooked or ripe, bananas are very well digested and the nutrients are absorbed well. This fruit is a fair source of B vitamins and calcium. It contains appreciable amounts of many trace minerals as well as fiber. Apart from this, the fruit has many important acids, enzymes, and physiologically important chemical compounds.

The banana is a good source of potassium, which is a vital mineral for muscle and nerve function. Potassium also helps to regulate blood pressure. Bananas also contain a high level of natural sugar in both their fresh and dried form, which they release quickly into the bloodstream. This explains why many athletes, especially tennis players, often eat banana before and in between competitions.

Ripe bananas are easy to digest and rarely cause allergic reactions. They are also good for treating childhood stomach upsets. The BRAT diet (comprising of banana, rice, apple, and toast) is used to treat children with diarrhea.

The banana constitutes an almost complete diet if taken with milk. In ancient India this golden fruit was regarded as the nature’s secret of perpetual youth. Research seems to have thrown up evidence that regular intake of this fruit keeps blood pressure at bay, while it is also recommended in treatment of kidney disorders, tuberculosis, and urinary disorders. It is also said to prevent heart attacks and diabetes.

Is it any wonder then that this versatile fruit even finds mention in the Vedas and is considered so auspicious in India that it assumes significance in most religious rituals, where it is offered as prasad. The leaves of the plant too are used during ceremonies and women down the ages have worshipped it.

Bananas should be stored at room temperature for ripening purpose. Do not keep it in the fridge because that prevents ripening of the fruit.

My father would say that a banana’s flavor is at its peak when it develops small black dots on the skin. But once it has ripened, a banana cannot be kept for long as it spoils easily. Ripe bananas taste great in banana milk shake or smoothies.

At times I peel the ripe bananas, make 3-4 pieces, and store them in a plastic bag in the freezer. When I make smoothies I add the frozen banana chunks with other fruits to the juice or soymilk.

Mashed ripe bananas also make a great facemask for smooth skin.

Here is a recipe, which my aunt made with ripe bananas.

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BANANA CHAPATI

3 ripe bananas
1 cup brown sugar
2-3 cardamom pods
½ teaspoon salt
Atta flour to make firm dough
½ cup oil
In a large bowl mash the ripe bananas and mix with brown sugar and salt. Peel the cardamom pods and crush the seeds and add to the banana mix. Slowly add the flour to the banana mix to make firm dough. Roll the dough into thick rotis.
Slow roast these rotis with a little oil till golden brown. Serve piping hot with a dollop of ghee.
Hema’s Hints: This is excellent to pack for a picnic or for traveling.

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BANANA MANGO SMOOTHIE

3 ripe bananas (frozen or fresh)
2 cups mango pulp
3 cups milk (whole or low fat) or soymilk
1 tablespoon sugar (or as per taste)
a pinch of salt
Blend all ingredients in a blender and serve immediately.

Hema Alur-Kundargi is the producer, editor, and host of a television show “Indian Vegetarian Gourmet.”

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