Thai Fish Baked in Banana Leaf and Coconut Rice

Before there was foil…there were banana leaves! Banana leaves are commonly used in a lot of Asian/Southwest Asian and Latin American countries to wrap savory and sweet foods, sealing moisture and giving a fragrant flavor.

They’re cheap in Asian markets and I keep them frozen indefinitely until I decide to use them. I had only used them for decoration once, so I was excited to actually cook with them for the first time (adapted from this Fish recipe)

The key to this tilapia dish is the sauce…I marinated mine overnight for maximum flavor. You can make a huge batch of sauce in the blender and freeze it too so it’s ready whenever you want.

Wrapping can be a little tricky without toothpicks; I folded the leaves under the fish to keep it wrapped. If you want to be really hardcore, you can make the leaves into boats. Before serving, run the leaves under boiling hot water to get that lovely green color.

Fun fact: Banana leaves contain polyphenols, a chemical also found in green tea. Additionally, they also contain polyphenol oxidase, an enzyme that produces L-DOPA (for you nerds, you can read in this scientific article here) the same drug used in treating for Parkinson’s disease.

Thai Fish Baked in Banana Leaf

4-5 fillets tilapia
1 package banana leaves  (or foil)

Coconut Marinade:
1 shallot
2 cloves garlic
1 thumb-size piece ginger, sliced
ground coriander (or cumin and fennel)
basil leaves
2 Tbsp fish sauce
1/2 can coconut milk
2 kaffir lime leaves or 1 tsp. lime zest
1 fresh red chili, sliced
chili powder
juice of 1/2 lime

Blend all marinade/sauce ingredients in a blender. Place fish fillets in a large bowl and cover with half the marinade (save the other half). Let it marinate in the refrigerator at least 1 hour (I did mine overnight).

When fish is done marinating, spread a banana leaf cut approximately 1 foot square. Place one fillet in the center of the leaf. Fold both sides of the wrapping material over the fish, then fold both ends to create a square “packet.” Turn it seam-side down to keep sides from opening. Do the same for all the fillets.

Place packets in a glass casserole dish or cookie tray (to catch the drippings in case packets leak) and bake for 15-20 min at 350 degrees, until cooked (flesh will be opaque).

To serve, plunge banana leaves for plating in hot water to turn them bright green, and place fish on top. Warm the remaining curry sauce/marinade and spoon over the fish. Garnish with basil.

Coconut Rice
Since I had coconut juice lying around, this rice was the perfect accompaniment. It’s sweet, so of course I’d like it. The toasted coconut gives a nice crunch.

As a note since I use a rice cooker, I don’t really use exact measurements. I put my cup of rice in the rice cooker and I fill to the 1 to 1 1/2 line with a random ratio of coconut milk/juice.

1 cup white rice
1 1/4 cup coconut juice
1/2 cup coconut milk
dry shredded coconut, toasted (I used sweetened)

Stovetop: Put rice, coconut juice, and coconut milk on a pot on medium heat. Stir occasionally to prevent burning.  Cook until done. Garnish with additional toasted coconut.

Rice Cooker: Put rice, coconut juice, and coconut milk on a pot on medium heat and cook until done. Garnish with additional toasted coconut.

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