Bananas develop sweet appeal when they meet the grill

HAPPY EATER

May 25, 1994|By ROB KASPER

Try as I might to live a varied, interesting life, I often end up being a Johnny-one-note. Instead of making a variety of thrilling new foods, I get hooked on one particular item, and ride it until it limps.

Lately I have been on a banana binge. I have been cooking those suckers on the barbecue grill. Why? Well, in part because it had been a long time -- almost two years -- since I had grilled a banana and I wanted to see if I could still do it. Not only was grilling a banana a challenge, it was my kind of challenge. That meant that unlike all sorts of other "challenges" out there, this one did not involve running a great distance, climbing a steep slope, or riding a device with multiple gears.

All this endeavor required was a banana, some olive oil, butter and molasses, a quartet of ingredients that usually leads to pleasure not pain.

The hard part was finding bananas to grill. The kids kept eating them. Like many kids, ours have favorite foods. And when the kids lock onto one of their favored foodstuffs, it is pretty much of a massacre. Boxes of cereal are devastated, gallons of milk drained, legions of hot dogs are history. No amount of restocking the supply line can keep pace with the eaters.

On Sunday afternoon, for instance, my wife came home with 14 bananas from the store. By sundown Monday, only five were still with us.

I quickly snatched two of the survivors. I left their skins on and split them lengthwise. Then I rubbed them with a little olive oil and tossed them on the grill.

First, I cooked them with the fruit side facing the fire, then after three minutes or so when the fruit got mostly brown and a little black, I flipped them over to the skin side.

Flipping a banana on a barbecue grill was an adventure. I was worried that the barbecue demons might reach up from the fire and pull the fruit out of the skin into the gray coals.

But using a pair of tongs and holding my breath, I eased the bananas over. Neither the bananas nor I jumped out of our skins.

In the meantime I had melted 2 tablespoons of butter with 2 tablespoons of molasses. When the bananas were bubbling, I pulled them off the grill and slathered them with the molasses-butter mixture.

The flavor of the grilled bananas surprised me. I expected them to be sweeter than they were. Instead they were "pleasantly pulpy." The kids quickly figured out they could drown out that adult flavor by putting on more of the molasses and butter mixture.

That made grilled bananas a "family favorite," and that meant I served them almost every time I cooked.

I served them with some grilled chicken breasts covered in a fiery West Indies spice rub. I got this recipe and the basic idea of grilling bananas from "The Thrill of the Grill," by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby. The bananas act as fire extinguishers to the peppery chicken.

I didn't stop there. A few nights later I served grilled bananas with a less-incendiary chicken breast, one that had been soaked in lemon juice and tarragon. Here they didn't stomp out any flames, they served as a successful side dish.

And the other night I served them with grilled steak. The steak was a big hit, but the bananas were not as popular as they once were. Their fading popularity was a sign to me. It meant that grilled bananas were winding up their run on the white heat of the barbecue grill. Soon they would fizzle out.

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Grilled lemon chicken

Serves 6

1/2 cup lemon juice

1/2 cup orange juice

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1 tablespoon fresh tarragon (or 1 teaspoon dried)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

6 boned chicken breasts

In a bowl, mix lemon and orange juices, garlic, ginger, tarragon, salt and pepper. Place chicken in shallow glass dish, pour mixture over chicken. Marinate for 2 to 3 hours. Grill over medium fire, brushing with remaining marinade. Cook until chicken is no longer pink in center, 15 to 20 minutes

Serve with grilled bananas.

-- From "Grilling" (Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library, 1992)

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