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Eric Akis: Banana lends fruity richness to savoury curry sauce

In this recipe from chef Eric Akis, cubes of seared chicken are baked in a banana curry sauce until tender and very flavourful.
Chicken in banana curry is served with basmati rice flavoured with lime and coconut. ERIC AKIS

Bananas are great in breakfast foods, such as muffins and pancakes. You can have them at lunch, too, perhaps sliced and added to a peanut butter sandwich. They, of course, are also splendid in desserts, whether flambéed and served on ice cream, or used in a cake or pie.

But what about a very savoury, saucy, curry? Would bananas work well in that kind of dish? The answer is yes, as long ago bananas worked their way into some of the curries made in places such as southern India and the Caribbean.

To make them, pieces of banana are used, or they are blended into the sauce for the curry. The latter is what I did, whirling slices of banana with coconut milk, curry powder and other spices, lime juice and zest, honey and chicken stock until smooth.

That mixture was simmered, poured over seared cubes of boneless chicken and baked in the oven until the chicken was tender, bubbly and flavourful.

You might think the banana in the sauce would overpower its flavour. But instead, it gives the curry a hint of fruity richness that’s balanced by the other ingredients used in the sauce.

Banana works well with the tastes of coconut and lime, why I also added lime zest and juice and coconut flakes to the basmati rice I served with the chicken curry.

To round out the meal, you could serve the chicken curry and rice with naan and mango chutney, both of which you’ll find for sale at grocery stores. And, if you wanted to a serve vegetable, something steamed and vibrant green would look great beside the chicken and rice, such as snap peas or snow peas.

Note: In my next column, on Wednesday, I’ll be keeping the banana theme going by offering a splendid recipe for banana bread with an option for turning it into a chunky monkey loaf.

Chicken in Banana Curry Sauce

Cubes of chicken are seared and baked in a banana curry sauce until tender and very flavourful. Chopped cashews and cilantro (or mint) are also added to the curry, further enhancing its appeal.

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: About 40 minutes

Makes: Three servings

1 ripe, medium banana, sliced

1 1/2 tsp medium or hot curry powder

1/4 tsp ground coriander

1/4 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp paprika

1 Tbsp fresh lime juice

1 1/2 tsp honey

3/4 cup + 2 Tbsp coconut milk (see Note)

1/3 cup low sodium chicken stock

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, or 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 550 grams)

1 Tbsp + 2 tsp vegetable oil

• salt to taste

3 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro or mint

1/3 cup unsalted cashews, coarsely chopped

• lime slices and cilantro or mint sprigs, for garnish (optional)

Place the banana, curry powder, coriander, ginger, paprika, lime juice, honey, coconut milk and stock in the cup that came with your immersion (hand) blender, or in a food processor, and pulse until very smooth. Set banana mixture aside for now.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Cut the chicken into 1 1/2-inch cubes. Pat the chicken dry with paper towel (this will help prevent splatters when you sear them).

Heat the oil in a large skillet set over medium-high. When hot, sear the cubes of chicken, in two batches, until nicely browned, and then lift out of the skillet and set in an eight-inch square baking dish.

Drain any oil from the skillet and pour in the banana mixture. Bring to a simmer, and season with salt. Pour banana mixture over chicken. Cover pan with aluminum foil and bake chicken 20 minutes. Uncover chicken and bake chicken 10 minutes more, until bubbly and tender. Mix the cashews and chopped cilantro (or mint) into the chicken with banana curry sauce and heat through a minute or two. If desired, garnish with lime slices and cilantro (or mint) sprigs.

Note: 3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp coconut milk is about half a 400 mL can. Give the coconut milk a stir to combine the milk and solids before measuring. The leftover coconut milk you have from the can could be frozen for another time.

Coconut and Lime Basmati Rice

Aromatic, steamed basmati rice, flavoured with coconut and lime, you can serve with the chicken in banana curry sauce.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: About 20 minutes

Makes: three to four servings

2 tsp vegetable oil

1 cup white basmati rice

1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken stock

1 tsp finely grated lime zest

2 Tbsp fresh lime juice

1/3 cup medium unsweetened coconut flakes

Heat oil in a small to medium pot set over medium heat (My pot was six-inches wide, and 5-inch tall). When oil is hot, add the rice and cook and stir two minutes.

Add the stock, lime zest, lime juice and coconut flakes and bring rice to a boil. Cover the rice, turn the heat to its lowest setting, and cook 15 minutes, or until the rice is tender. Fluff the rice with a fork and serve.

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Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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