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(post, Karen Lin)

The huge banana leaf is often as long as its cook is tall.  Plucked from a plant up to sixteen feet tall, this foot wide leaf can be handled whole to encase large servings of food, cut into small circles and pleated to form baskets, woven into packages as squares, rectangles, and cylinders, even formed into little boats!  Because there is so much leaf with which to work, possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

The following recipe is from my Cookbook, COOKING IN LEAVES, proposal edits in process for cookbook Dive, Deborah at Marsal Lyons agency.

Achiote Chicken in Banana Leaves

Serves 4-6

Hailing from the Yucatan Peninsula, this main dish plays sweet against sour and will encourage you to explore cooking with achiote.  The marinade emphasizes its unique flavor, hinted at in Worcestershire Sauce and Enchilada sauce.

Preparation time:  15 minutes    Marinade:  overnight
Assembly:  15 minutes            Baking:  50 minutes

1 banana leaf (approximately 4’) rinsed, drained, cut in half

One 3.5 ounce packet of achiote paste (annatto seed paste)
1 tablespoon cumin
2 tablespoons marjoram
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon chicken bouillon granules
1 tablespoon paprika
8 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup fresh grapefruit juice
1/3 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup orange juice

6 boneless skinless chicken thighs, rinsed
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, thinly sliced
3 tomatoes, rinsed, thinly sliced
3/4 cup chicken broth
2 bay leaves
5 banana (guero) chilis, stems removed, cut lengthwise into julienne strips

	Combine marinade ingredients (achiote paste through orange juice) in blender, until smooth.  Pour over chicken in a large bowl.  Mix to distribute the sauce.  Let marinate overnight.
	The next day, place two 3-foot lengths of twine crosswise in the bottom of a 9” x 13” baking casserole.  Let extra extend beyond both sides of the casserole.

	Lay 2 banana leaves in the bottom of the casserole, shiny sides down, and rub top leaf with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

	Arrange chicken pieces in the dish over the leaves and pour 1/2 the marinade over the top.

	Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

	In a large sauce pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high.  Sauté onions until translucent, about 7 minutes.  Spread them over the chicken.  Sauté tomato slices 2 minutes on each side in 1 tablespoon olive oil, then lay out over onions. 

	Pour chicken broth over tomatoes, crumble bay leaves evenly over all, add banana chilis, then fold leaves over top.  Secure by tying the twine over all.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake on middle rack of oven for 50 minutes.  

Serve with long-grain rice and black beans.