In Thailand, salads are quite diverse and adaptable, often incorporating whatever vegetable or protein one happens to have on hand along with some standard flavor from fish sauce, chiles, palm sugar, and lime juice.
I first had a version of a banana blossom salad at Uncle Boons (RIP…stupid Covid) in NYC. Uncle Boons was a little downstairs den of deliciousness. Run by to former Per Se cooks, it focused on their favorite Thai flavors with slightly elevated technique.
This recipe is inspired by Uncle Boons and de-mystified by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt for the home cook. The banana blossom (kind of a purple football-shaped looking thing) may be the only thing you have trouble finding, but even my local Asian market in Sarasota had them in stock.
- 1 whole banana blossom (trickiest ingredient to find but available at any Asian market with a decent produce selection)
- 1.5 cups canola or vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup sliced shallots (about 2 regular sized shallots worth)
- 8 cloves garlic, lightly smashed
- 2 stalks lemongrass, bottom white parts only, thinly sliced crosswise
- 1/2 cup unsalted peanuts
- 1 large boneless skinless chicken breast
- 5-10 thai chiles, roughly chopped
- 1 TBSP brown sugar
- 2 TBSP lime juice
- 2 TBSP fish sauce
- 1 tsp dried thai chile powder (more to taste)
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro (with stems) and/or mint leaves
For the fried bits
- Add sliced shallots and oil to a pan and set over medium heat, slowly bringing the oil up to temperature and frying the shallots until golden brown and crispy. Turn heat down if they are getting too brown after about 12 minutes.
- Remove shallots with a strainer or slotted spoon and transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate.
- Raise heat of the oil and add 6 cloves of smashed garlic and the sliced lemongrass to the now-hot oil and fry for 3-4 minutes until golden brown. Transfer to same plate.
- Turn off heat and add peanuts to the frying oil, letting gently fry for 4-5 minutes or until light brown. Remove and add to small bowl.
- KEEP THE OIL….you will use this for the final dressing of the salad.
For the chicken and dressing
- Add chicken breast to a small pan, cover with water and bring just to a boil. Lower heat to a bare simmer and poach the chicken breast for 15-18 minutes or until it reaches 150 F in the thickest part of the breast. Remove from water and let cool then shred by hand into small chunks.
- Add 3 cloves garlic, 5-10 thai chiles (I usually go for 8), and a pinch of salt to a mortar and pestle and mash into a paste. Add sugar and the fried peanuts and continue mashing gently…you still want the nuts to be slightly chunky.
- Stir in lime juice and fish sauce, adjusting both to your taste…more lime juice for more tangy and more fish sauce for more salty/savory. If this mixture is too spicy for you, balance it with a little bit more sugar. For a little more spice and smokiness, add some dried thai chile flakes.
- Add 1 TBSP of the frying oil to a large bowl then add your shredded chicken and massage the oil into the chicken. Add half of your dressing and mix to combine and settle in.
For the banana blossom and to finish
- Remove the outer layer of leaves from the banana blossom and slice in half lengthwise
- Fill a large bowl with cold water and a splash of vinegar….this will prevent the sliced banana blossom from oxidizing as you work with it
- Slice as the halves of the banana blossom cross-wise as thinly as possible and add to bowl of water, separating the individual layers with your hands as you go. A paper towel on top of the bowl will help keep the slices submerged.
- When finished, scoop out as many of little sliced floating buds as possible…it’s okay if a few remain. Drain the sliced banana blossom and dry with paper towels then add to the bowl with chicken.
- Add another splash of the frying oil, the rest of your dressing, and the chopped herbs and mix everything thoroughly. Add a handful of the fried bits and mix, then serve topped with the rest of the fried aromatics and a few more herbs for garnish.