Some of the best, most wonderful, flavorful, fun, and unique food I have ever eaten was in Singapore.

I was a 20 year old military boy when I was in Singapore 38 years ago.  Even the vast quantities of alcohol and drugs I consumed while overseas in Uncle Sam’s Yacht Club can’t dim the memory of one of the best omelettes I have ever eaten – cooked on wood-fired wok on a street corner by an ancient gold-toothed man.  Or the spicy rice dishes and seafood dishes I’d never be able to pronounce, let alone replicate today.  Almost every meal we ate was from a street vendor.  Fast Food – fresh and cooked right in front of us.   Fabulous and cheap.

Fast-forward to today. I received my first-in-many-years issue of Cooking Light magazine and they had an article on Singapore and the fabulous foods that blend so many cultures.  Malay, Indonesian, Chinese, Indian, Thai…   It’s the ultimate melting pot.  It really did bring back some fond memories.

The magazine had lots of recipes, but nothing that was really calling out to me – until I saw a headline that stated  “Cooking food in banana leaves offers diners the joy of opening their own individual packets.”

I was planning salmon for dinner, and I had banana leaves in the freezer.  (Of course!)   The recipe was for a fish quenelle that sounded pretty horrible, but it got the little gray cells working…

Singaporean food is a mixture of cultures and I had a goodly amount of the 26 items listed in their “Ingredient Guide” so I decided to just go for it.  I’ve paid off the Food Police so many times that they don’t even bother to show up any more when I play footloose and fancy-free with the cuisines of the world.  I now have a lifetime pass…

Singaporean Salmon

  • 2 banana leaves
  • 2 salmon fillets
  • 4 scallions, shredded
  • 1 carrot, shredded
  • 1 zucchini, julienned
  • 1/4 small bell pepper, julienned
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • zest from 1 lime, shredded
  • juice from 1 lime
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • splash sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp mirin
  • 1 tbsp Chinese rice wine
  • splash fish sauce
  • 1 tsp sambal oelek
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 6 fresh basil leaves, shredded

Place banana leaves on table.  Top with salmon.  Season salmon with a bit of salt and pepper.

Mix remaining ingredients together.  Top each salmon fillet with half of the mixture.  Wrap in banana leaves, folding ends under package to seal.

Grill with cover closed over indirect heat for about 15 minutes.

I have cooked en papillote for more years than I care to admit to, but this may be the first time I have ever cooked with banana leaves on my own.  I’ve assisted others, but I don’t really recall buying them, before… They are just too much fun!  They impart a very subtle flavor that would work with any number of things.  The fish was perfectly cooked, the crunch of the almonds played off the steamed zucchini.  The honey added the slightest hint of sweet while the sambal oelek did the same for the heat.

The beauty of cooking like this, of course, is there is no added fat.  And as I type that I’m thinking coconut would be really good in there, as well.  Just a little.  Well…  a little shredded coconut and a little thick coconut milk, that is.  It’s also a great way to cook when you’re dealing with people who have different dietary restrictions.  They can be individually tailored to each person.

We’re doing a Chinese 4th of July this year in honor of the Chinese inventing fireworks.  I’m thinking banana leaves are going to have to get worked into the menu!