Think outside the banana. Eat the peel

Banana peels are often considered a useless food scrap by many home cooks, but they are edible, and are cooked into a range of dishes around the world. PHOTO: NYTIMES

LONDON (NYTIMES) - In November, British cookbook author and food personality Nigella Lawson shocked her nation when she demonstrated a recipe from her latest cookbook, Cook, Eat, Repeat, on her BBC television show of the same name. It wasn't royal family-level scandalous. Still, based on public reaction, you would think she had caused a major controversy.

And all because she had prepared a fragrant dish of cauliflower - and banana peels.

"I certainly didn't expect newspaper headlines about it," she said in an e-mail. "It's hard to overcome the cultural assumptions about what is and is not edible, and to start eating what we have customarily regarded as waste."

A few months earlier, another British culinary television star and cookbook author, Nadiya Hussain, had appeared on a Good Morning Britain segment on cooking during lockdown.

"Everyone's making banana bread," she explained, offering resourceful tips on using scraps to avoid food waste. "Don't chuck the peel away. Cook it up with some garlic and onions and barbecue sauce, stick it in a burger, and you've got, like, pulled pork, pulled chicken."

After Lawson's show aired, Hussain's previous appearance resurfaced, and the peels became a culinary cause celebre.

"Nigella Lawson shocks viewers with banana skin recipe," read one Independent headline. "Are banana skins about to become a must-eat ingredient?" wondered the Guardian.

Hussain, whose parents are Bangladeshi, credits her father, a former chef and restaurant owner, for introducing her to cooked peels.

In Bengali cuisine, unripe skins are cooked until soft, then pureed with garlic and green chillis, and sauteed with additional seasonings.

Banana skins have been trendy among vegans since at least 2019, when online recipes began circulating for treating the peels like bacon.

At around the same time, the pulled not-pork had its first brush with Internet fame, courtesy of Canadian blogger Melissa Copeland, who published an explainer - and recipe - on her site the Stingy Vegan along with a video on Facebook.

She had developed it after learning that vegans in Venezuela use bananas' outer jackets for an alternative to carne mechada (shredded beef), and in Brazil a similar swap is popular in a dish known as carne louca (or "crazy meat").

Nigella Lawson's cauliflower and banana peel curry created quite a stir after she demonstrated the dish on BBC. PHOTO: NYTIMES

For American author Lindsay-Jean Hard of Cooking With Scraps, the appeal of cooking with banana peels extends beyond interests in veganism. She has spent the past 11 years learning as much as possible about utilising the jettisoned parts of her produce and bakes a banana bread with whole bananas.

Now that Hard is a marketer at the Zingerman's Bakehouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan, she encouraged the bakery to put peels in all of the banana bread it produces and ships across the country.

It's an "impact on a larger scale", she said. "We compost a lot at the bakehouse, and composting is great, but it's not as great as eating the food and not wasting it in the first place."

Cookbook author Lindsay-Jean Hard spent the past 11 years learning as much as possible about utilising the jettisoned parts of her produce and bakes a banana bread with whole bananas. PHOTO: NYTIMES

Hard has received only praise for her banana cake. And of her curry, Lawson reported that the feedback from those who have actually made it has only been positive.

"I don't think I've received one negative comment from anyone who's cooked it themselves," she said. "Some, certainly, said that they had doubts before they tasted it, but felt that they just had to try for themselves and were universally delighted."

British food columnist Felicity Cloake was among them. "I had to try it because there wasn't much promising going on at the time," she said. "And it did blow my mind. I did like it."

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