This angular squat banana is known as the saba banana (Musa paradisiaca) — a varietal that must be cooked before eating. I prefer it when it’s still firm-ripe, as in this photo, if we’re using it for grilling or pan-frying, but many people will say it should already have black spots and be much softer before cooking. I’m guessing there are many folks who have tasted saba bananas and maybe not realized it. It’s often used in Filipino sweets — either rolled in sugar, wrapped as a lumpia and deep-fried (turon), or found with sweet potatoes and pillow-light mochi balls in the soupy, coconutty dessert ginataan. Honestly, I like them best pan-fried with a little butter, either with other sweet things like french toast or pancakes, or with savory foods like eggs, rice and sausage, or a stew. Whichever way it’s eaten, I think of saba bananas as part of my Filipino heritage, though I’m sure many other Southeast Asian cuisines utilize them as well. A couple of weeks ago, I wanted to do something a little different for a lazy weekend breakfast. A check of pantry and fridge turned up sweetened drained yogurt that was on its way to becoming an Indian dessert (shrikand) but instead was hijacked for this recipe, some homemade sweet azukii bean filling (tsubushi-an), and some instant taro pancake mix that needed to be used. The result? Pan-Pacific melding at its sweet best: taro crepes filled with buttery pan-fried saba (the bananas, not the mackerel), pandan-flavored sweet beans, and a dollop of thick sweetened yogurt.
Since this came together more by chance than by design, we were surprised just how good the combination was! With or without the pandan essence, the nutty flavor of the beans and their firm bite were a great contrast to the soft, apple-citrus essence and caramelized flavor of the cooked banana. Japanese-style sweetened azuki bean paste comes in 2 styles: smooth (called koshi an, short for anko) or coarsely mashed, with pieces of whole bean (called tsubushi an). I always prefer textures that have a bite to them (chunky vs. smooth peanut butter, or smashed vs whipped potatoes, etc.), and I think the nutty quality that comes through with the pieces of whole beans in the tsubushi are key here.
As for the crepe, taro/poi adds a pleasing chewiness and elasticity to the crepe, as well as its tell-tale violet hue, but not really a distinct flavor. It made for a very forgiving medium with which to practice my “pour-swish-flip” crepe-making technique. Normally I lose every third or fourth crepe to tears or rips as I try to flip them, but this time every single one was a winner. The yogurt was truly an after-thought — I was wishing we had creme fraiche or heavy whipping cream to top off the crepe, and used the drained plain yogurt, hastily sweetened, as a stand-in. I ended up loving the way the yogurt’s tangy underbite contrasted with the different sweet flavors of the fruit and beans, and its heavier texture retained its creaminess when creme or cream would have long dissolved into sweet dairy puddles.
TARO CREPES WITH FRIED SABA BANANAS & TSUBUSHI-AN
(makes 5-6 crepes total)
For the crepes:
1 cup Taro Brand taro pancake mix
2 cups cold water
oil for pan
Combine pancake mix and water. Stir well to eliminate all lumps. Batter should be a very thin pouring consistency, add more water as necessary.
Lightly oil a seasoned 10-inch skillet or crepe pan with an oiled paper towel. Heat well over medium heat. Pour 1/2 cup batter into pan and immediately swirl batter to cover bottom of pan in a thin film. Cook until batter is set and dry to the touch. Carefully flip over and cook for another 5 seconds. Remove to plate, and while warm, roll pancake (jelly-roll style) and allow to cool while rest of the batter is used up. Cover with a clean kitchen towel. Rolling the crepes while warm will prevent splitting when they are filled later. Use within an hour of making.
For the bananas:
5 saba bananas, washed
To peel, cut off the top and tail of the banana, then make a cut lengthwise through the peel. Remove peel. Slice lengthwise.
Pre-heat a small skillet or cast-iron pan over medium heat. When heated well, add a teaspoon or more of butter (depends on how decadent you are) to pan, then the sliced bananas, cut-side down. Cook for 6-7 minutes, or just until the banana caramelizes, then turn over for another 2-3 minutes or until the fruit takes on a translucent quality. Remove to plate to cool. Slice again lengthwise into quarters.
1 cup of prepared tsubushi an (recipe minus pandan essence on Recipezaar) or store-bought
(add 1 drop [a little goes a long way] of pandan essence to 1 cup of prepared anko if you want to experiment with this version)
1/2 cup drained plain full-fat yogurt sweetened with 1 tsp. sugar, or creme fraiche
Unroll finished crepe. Fill with 1-2 TBL. anko. Place 3-4 banana slices on anko, then fold over one end of the crepe to hold in fillings. Finish by rolling crepe to close. Garnish with a dollop of yogurt or creme fraiche and mint, or a dusting of powdered sugar.
Serve with Portuguese sausage for a real multi-cultural breakfast feast.