It sounds a little nuts, but you must give it a try
Early in our courtship my husband made mention of banana salad, which he referred to as the world’s most versatile food. I should note that he was born in Kentucky, the actual son of a preacher man, in a world where salads could be any combination of canned or fresh fruits, marshmallows, sweetened coconut, all possible flavors of Jello, Cool Whip, mayonnaise, nuts, and berries, and could be a side dish or a dessert almost interchangeably. I’m of Russian Jewish lineage and I grew up believing that salads were composed predominantly of vegetables and served mostly as a salad dressing delivery service before meals. There was some explaining to do.
His description was more entertaining than intriguing at first. You make essentially a cooked syrupy sauce of egg, vinegar and sugar in a double boiler. You dunk lengths of fresh raw banana in the sauce, then roll them in chopped Spanish peanuts. Boom: banana salad. You can eat it at any time of day, he said. It can be an appetizer or a side dish or a dessert. Part of your breakfast buffet, or an afternoon snack.
It sounded weird and disgusting to me; vinegar and banana never really paired themselves logically in my head. But it was a cherished family recipe from his youth, and I was in love, so when he offered to make it for me, I of course summoned all my enthusiasm.
It is delicious. Weird, yes, but in a delicious way. It’s a three-bite love affair. First bite and you think, WHOA? WTF? Second bite you’re all, OK, strange but not unpleasant. By the third bite you give in and get it and reach for another piece.
Fresh banana and peanuts are a great combination, the soft yielding fruit, the crunchy nuts, you have to be on board for that. But bizarrely, it is the slick of sticky vinegary sauce holding the party together. In this band the banana is the lead guitar, all handsome and in-your-face, and the nuts are the drummer showing off to be heard from the back. But the sauce is the bass—driving the bus, keeping everyone in line, making sure you get to the bridge. I knew that if this man could convince me that banana salad was a thing worth eating, he was a keeper.
Nora Ephron, legendary for her hostessing prowess, often said that for an amazing party you always had to have one extra unexpected dish. Something that seems even a bit incongruous. It keeps your guests on their toes. I’ve always lived by that motto, often because by doing so I have validation for my desire to always add one more thing to a menu. But when it comes to unexpected, you can’t do better than banana salad. Bonus, it is a fun sticky messy project to do with kids, if you happen to be in possession of some.
In my recipe files on the computer I have a special file of my husband’s family recipes. There are 17 recipes called salad, none of which contain any vegetables, except one which has some shredded carrot, and most of which show a deep respect for crushed pineapple suspended in gelatin. Banana salad is the only one we make. I’m delighted to say, that my husband has given me permission to share the recipe with you.
“It’s the world’s most versatile dish!” He said when I asked. “Everyone should know about it.”
Thurmond Family Banana Salad
1 cup white vinegar
¾ cup sugar
1 tablespoon flour
2 cups toasted Spanish peanuts
1. In your food processor, pulse the peanuts until they are chopped relatively fine, but with some slightly chunkier pieces. Set aside in a shallow pan.
2. Heat the vinegar in a small saucepan over medium high heat until very hot. Set up a double boiler over medium high heat. In the top of the double boiler, off heat, whisk the egg until foamy and add sugar, whisking to combine. Stir in the flour and salt until thoroughly mixed, then pour the hot vinegar in while whisking, placing over double boiler and whisking to desired consistency. It should be like a thin mayonnaise or thick salad dressing consistency, thick enough to coat the back of a spoon and leave a trail if you run your finger through it. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
3. Slice the bananas in half crosswise, then cut each half into four lengthwise, making essentially banana fingers. Dip banana lengths into cooled dressing to coat, and roll in peanuts to cover. Set aside on a platter or sheet pan and when all the bananas have been coated, store in the fridge till ready to serve. Let sit at room temp for about 30 minutes before serving.