Recently I was asked what fruits and vegetables are in season during February. The usual cast of roots and greens came to mind: beetroots, broccoli, beans, and… bananas. Yes, I think, bananas! But what is locally in season? Nowadays, with grocery stores full of fruits and vegetables such as New Zealand kiwi, South American avocados, and yellow bell peppers from Spain, it seems everything is always in season.
It’s quite chic to eat in season, and even more chic to use sustainable products. Honey from around the corner produced by a dwindling family of local bees and eggs still warm after being plucked from a backyard chicken coop (you can now buy designer coops online for around $500 –- it’s all the rage), are making their way back into our independent grocery stores and neighborhood fish markets. However, it’s more than just chic to buy and eat locally, it’s necessary.
Eating healthfully is as much what you eat, as how much and how often you eat it. Back when our ancestors traipsed out into the dawn’s light to sit and wait for an unsuspecting four-legged dinner guest, eating fresh and sustainable was not a thought; it was a necessity. And local and organic vegetables were the only option. Crops were dictated by the weather and the soil, allowing the body to continually refuel and renew. Now, as we are challenged by tight schedules, demanding jobs (or the lack of), a rocky economy, and college tuition… OMG, it’s enough to make you want to eat a box of heavily laden high-fructose-corn-syrup-processed-packaged cookies, and wash it down with a artificially-flavored-carbonated-sugar-substitute drink. But falling off the edge of the Dr. Oz-inspired health wagon will not help our waistline or health, so lets get some perspective on what’s in, and what’s out (kind-of a Heidi Klum from Project Runway approach, but in a food-kind-of way) when it comes to eating in season.
Let me go back to the banana. The banana is the Samsonite of fruits; it can go anywhere, it’s always ready to travel, and arrives in a neat and convenient no-fuss package. It’s just always there, sitting quietly on a display shelf in every grocery store imaginable from high end Whole Foods to warehouse conglomerates like Costco and Wal Mart. The banana is the welcomed guest on every Las Vegas buffet table, and kid’s lunch box, as well as the grab-and-go, breakfast of a SUV driving mama (that’s me) and Bluetooth-activated, cell-phone-using, stick-shift driving executive on Sand Hill. The banana reins supreme in a banana split, banana foster, banana bread, and chocolate-covered banana. It is baby’s first fruit, easily squished between tiny fingers and charmingly smeared on to their round smiling cheeks. Yep, the banana. It waits on the kitchen counter like a good pair of black heels in the back of one’s closet… always ready to fill in where needed. But it’s not local, unless you are living in the tropical terrain of Southeast Asia.
So when is it okay to eat ‘out of season’ or ‘not locally’? When you see a banana, that’s when. However, I do think the banana deserves to be elevated to a more glamorous place on the table. So with ease, and speed, please enjoy the recipe that takes the banana form a one-dimensional snack or predictable dessert, to a so-simple gourmet show stopper… oh yeah, no, it’s not local, but it has to be somewhere.
Caramelized Cinnamon Bananas with Rum / Serves 6
1/2 cup walnut halves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons raw sugar
1/4 cup dark rum 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
Zest of 1/2 orange
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon honey
3 or 4 fresh mint leaves cut into ribbons (optional ingredient)
1 cinnamon stick (optional but well worth the effort)
1. Remove bananas from peel and cut in quarters by slicing lengthwise then in half. Dust bananas and walnuts with the ground cinnamon evenly all over. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a nonstick sauté pan over medium-high heat. Place the bananas and walnuts in the butter. Drizzle the honey and sugar around the bananas and walnuts, and let it cook until it starts to caramelize. Gently move the bananas and walnuts around so they caramelize. Once the banana are dark caramel, remove the banana and set aside. Remove the walnuts if they become too dark.
2. Remove the pan from the heat and add the rum, orange juice and zest. Return to heat and let reduce for a minute. Return the banana to the pan and the walnuts if they have been removed, and toss in caramel gently.
3. Mix all sauce ingredients. Place bananas on a warm dish, drizzle with sauce or French vanilla ice cream. Shave fresh cinnamon stick over the bananas and sauce.