Friday, November 30, 2012

Storing and Using Bananas: Freezing and Dehydrating and other awesome uses

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Dear monkeys in the desert and in the arctic,

You never know when you might want to preserve bananas.  I was unexpectedly gifted with seven cases of them and, after giving some away to my friends, froze some and dehydrated a few boxes (this is why I never turn down free food, ever!).  I would have been just as happy to freeze and dry them all, but there was no way they'd last long enough for me to process them (and my freezer just isn't big enough!).

They are considered one of the world's oldest cultivated plants, and loaded with nutrition - Vitamin B6, Potassium, Vitamin C, Protein, and more.

You may see them on sale some time and wish to stock up - but how to do so?

Dehydrating bananas is easy and fast.  You may choose to dip them in a solution of water and lemon juice, or water and fruit fresh per package instructions, but I did a batch without and there was no perceptible difference in the bananas; in fact, I would say the bananas without the fruit fresh dried more quickly and without getting too gummy.  Plus, it speeds the operation up to leave out an extra step!

Food dehydration is easy and simple.  You can dry anything that contains water (yes, even meat and watermelon!).  It takes a while for the food to dry - depending on your machine, it can be ages! - but it is an easy way to store foods and it does compact them quite a bit.  Read this link for more ideas on using your dehydrator (drying tofu?  Reviving stale popcorn?  Making bagel chips?) and technical information on sulfuring, storage, and more.

Freezing bananas is equally simple.  I peeled these and chopped them into thirds (later batches were only cut in half) and froze them individually on trays.  If you have the time and space, this is the best way to do it.  In later batches, I simple dumped them into bags and froze them like that; they are a little harder to pull apart but they are not a very wet fruit, so they don't glue together into a solid brick.  

Dehydrating Bananas
Use dried bananas as a toddler snack, an addition to trail mix, throw them into oatmeal and let them rehydrate as the oatmeal cooks or bakes, chop and add to cookies or cakes, give them to an astronaut heading to space ... 

Peel bananas.  Slice into quarter-to-half-inch-thick slices.  Without pre-treating, line them up on a food dehydrator and set to "Fruit" or 135F/38C.  Rotating the trays occasionally as time allows, dry for 12 - 36 hours or until they have reached the level of dehydration you desire.  In order to store them in a cupboard without molding, they must have less than 20% moisture retained (they will be quite hard).  I store mine in the freezer or refrigerator in bags, just to be safe.

For easy toddler-hand-holding, I like to half the bananas and then slice them lengthwise into three layers.  These are easier for chubby fists to grasp and gnaw on then the small rounds.  You can also dry bananas whole, although I will warn you that there are few creepier-looking foods in the world.

Testing the moisture: For cupboard storage without molding, the moisture remaining in your dried products should be: 10% remaining in fruits, 5% in vegetables, 10 - 12% in grains, and 20% in meats.  Those bags of juicy Craisins that sit on your counter for months without molding have been treated with preserving agents, such as simple sulfur dioxide, so don't use commercial dried fruits as your benchmark.  Test your bananas by breaking them in half and trying to squeeze moisture out of them.  Another method I have used in the past is, after drying a batch of fruit, I store all in the refrigerator but a small amount.  I put this small amount in a jar and cap it, then observe over the next few weeks if mold grows on the fruit.  If nothing happens after several weeks or months, I remove the rest from the refrigerator and store in jars in the cupboard.

Using dehydrated bananas: to replace fresh bananas in baking, rehydrate 1-1/8 cups of banana slice in an equal amount of water for an hour.  This will equal approximately two whole bananas.  You can add dried bananas to smoothies, yogurt, and other homemade concoctions; they can be ground into powder and added to oatmeal or cereal or kefir.  Chopped chunks make a great addition to granola and trail mix!

Banana Leather and Baby Food
Bananas are pretty sweet, but if you like it sweeter or with a unique flavor, add maple syrup, honey or even brown sugar, up to one tablespoon per quart of puree.  Granulated sugar tends to turn leather brittle as it recrystalizes.  

Peel and blend bananas; add a tiny bit of water if you need to jumpstart the pureeing.  Stop here if you are making baby food; freeze in ice cube trays and store in bags.

To continue making leather: add other fruits, sweetener if desired.  Add extracts or fruit juices if you like, or spices or herbs.  Cinnamon-Banana Leather with a hint of vanilla?  Mmm ...

Pour the puree on to your dehydrator's leather trays, or squares of parchment paper cut to size (not waxed paper!).  The Excalibur dehydrating guide suggests approximately 3/4 to 1 cup of puree per tray, and 1/8" in the center and 1/4" thick at the edges, to avoid brittle edges.

Add any garnishes (chopped or flaked coconut, chocolate, fruit bits, nuts) and dehydrate until it is leathery, flexible, and no longer tacky in the center. Peel and roll up in waxed or parchment paper, or plastic wrap, or cut and layer with waxed paper in freezer containers.  Store in the freezer.

Freezing Bananas
Use frozen bananas in smoothies, milkshakes, pancakes, muffins, cakes, breads, baby foods, oatmeal, banana splits... In short, anywhere you would add regular banana, you may add these (thawed) bananas! 

Peel bananas.  Freeze whole, cut in half or into thirds and lay on a cookie sheet (cutting them is useful if your blender isn't very powerful).  Freeze until solid; transfer to bags or containers.

Short on time: Skip the cookie sheet step and go straight to the bags.  They'll stick together and you'll need to tug them apart, but they won't become a solid brick.

Other Banana Recipes
If you have great ideas for dried or frozen bananas, let us all know!  I am always seeking new ways to use old foods! 

Make a banana milkshake to refresh and satisfy - and get some potassium in for the day!
Delight with banana custard: some like it hot, some like it cold, some like it always (that's me!).
Get fit and fabulous with a banana smoothie meal, stuffed with energy and nutrition!

Paleo Pancake
For a gluten-free, paleo-approved pancake, this simple treat can't be beat. 

2 bananas
1 egg

Mash together.  If desired, stir in blueberries or chocolate chips.  Cook in silver-dollar-pancake sized small rounds on a hot, buttered griddle.  Eat plain out of hand, or serve with syrup.  These are addicting.

If you're in the mood for a taste of Thai, visit one of my favoritest ever blogs, SheSimmers Thai Home Cooking.  This beautiful blog, with every recipe photographed in dazzling color, not only educates you on the history, culture and style of Thai cooking, but breaks down old ideas about cooking by introducing new ingredients, new colors, new flavors, and new ways to use old ingredients that we see all the time!  Let your frozen bananas thaw out, and then try Panko-Crusted Fried Baby Bananas or Pressed Grilled Bananas with Panela-Coconut Sauce.

Have a family classic?  Use your favorite recipe for banana empanadas, banana crepes, or bananas foster.  Try banana frittata, banana trifle, brandied bananas, banana flips (layered banana cake and banana cream!), and banana souffle.

Banana Pops - as fun to make as they are to eat!  Insert a popsicle stick, coat in melted chocolate and then roll in crushed cookies, pretzels, sprinkles, yogurt chips, blueberries, or any one of a thousand variations, to join the latest wave of banana pops or frozen bananas!  Slice the frozen bananas and dip in chocolate, then let them harden for a rich finger-food version.

Monkeying around,

Mrs H

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