This banana flower salad recipe – also called a banana blossom salad recipe – makes the Cambodian banana flower salad called gnoam trayong chek in Khmer. Our banana flower salad includes poached chicken but you could make a vegetarian version. It’s super-easy, just work fast so your banana flower doesn’t brown.
Our Cambodian banana flower salad recipe, or banana blossom salad if you prefer, makes gnoam trayong chek, a fragrant and crunchy salad that is all about the texture and aromas. Most commonly made with shredded chicken, you could also do a vegetarian version.
Like the Cambodian green papaya salad recipe that we recently shared, this banana blossom salad also has cousins in Thailand and Vietnam, which vary slightly. This delicious salad is next is our series on Cambodia’s wonderful salads that we’re recipe testing for our Cambodian cookbook projects.
So far in our series on classic Cambodian salads we’ve posted recipes for a crunchy green papaya salad that is full of texture, a very moreish Cambodian minced pork larb, a fragrant grilled beef salad, and, what has now become one of our favourite Cambodian salads, this light pork and jicama salad. Next up: a green mango and smoked fish salad.
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Classic Banana Flower Salad Recipe with Poached Chicken for Cambodia’s Gnoam Trayong Chek
This Cambodian banana flower salad recipe makes a salad that falls into the category of ‘gnoam’ salads here in Cambodia. A gnoam, which you’ll also see spelt as ‘nhoam’, is a fresh salad that’s prepared with cooked ingredients, such as poached chicken in this case. The other sort of salad you’ll come across in Cambodia is called a p’lear, which features raw ingredients, such as raw fish that’s ‘cooked’ in a citrus-based dressing, like a ceviche is, or with raw beef, served like an Italian carpaccio.
Unlike the papaya salad, which you’ll find sold at markets and street food stalls in Cambodia, you are more likely to find banana flower salad in a local home, if you’re lucky to score an invitation or at a Cambodian restaurant, casual local eatery, a good café, or your hotel. One of our favourite banana flower salads is served at Sugar Palm, one of Siem Reap’s best Cambodian restaurants.
If you do any Cambodian cooking classes in Siem Reap, you’re likely to find that a Cambodian banana flower salad recipe is on the list of Cambodian dishes that you’ll learn to make. It seems to be on almost every Khmer cooking class programme and I’m not sure why, as it’s so difficult for most visitors to Siem Reap to find banana flowers in their countries, unless they live in the tropics or somewhere with a large Southeast Asian community.
So what is a banana flower or banana blossom, you ask, because I used to get this question a lot on the occasional culinary tours that I used to host pre-pandemic. I remember seeing my first banana flower on a plantation tour at The Big Banana at Coffs Harbour on the coast of New South Wales, my home-state in Australia, and although I was just a child I remember being blown away that bananas, indeed big whopping bunches of scores of bananas could grow from these things.
I don’t recall seeing a banana flower again until we moved to Southeast Asia almost a decade ago and then we’d spot them in tropical gardens and in Thai cooking classes in Bangkok, and of course see them everywhere here in Cambodia. While we were hunting for apartments in Siem Reap seven years ago we stayed at a cute little hotel with a lovely tropical garden and a banana tree at the bottom of our stairs.
It was such a delight to watch the banana blossom form, then see the miniature bananas sprout and eventually grow into enormous bunches of bananas. I used to get a little sad seeing the chef pluck the banana blossoms that were left from the tree to make a salad, until I learnt that these were sterile and wouldn’t grow anymore.
If you’re not so lucky to live in a place where you can just pluck a banana flower from a tree, make a beeline for a good Asian market or a fruit and vegetable supplier that specialises in Asian ingredients. When buying banana flowers, look for big firm pink-purple buds. You don’t want to squeeze it and find that it feels soft and hollow. You also want to see a creamy stalk at the end. Leave it behind if it’s black.
Tips for Making this Cambodian Banana Blossom Salad Recipe
Just a few tips for this Cambodian banana flower salad recipe. Do take care when poaching the chicken breasts so they don’t over-do. You want them so they are just-cooked and still white and soft, not brown and hard. Use a thermometer. After the chicken cools down, shred the meat by tearing it into two-bite pieces with your hands – don’t use a knife, you want the rough texture. We much prefer the brown meat of chicken for most dishes, but I love poached chicken breast in this banana flower salad. It’s also fantastic in this Cambodian kuy teav soup.
Do make sure everything is prepped and have your big bowl of water with lemon/lime juice ready before you start working on your banana flower. Some chefs also suggest adding salt. As does David Thompson in Thai Food, where the chef also recommends rubbing the banana flower with lemon or lime and only use a stainless steel knives as others will discolour the flower. Then you need to work fast, peeling the outer petals off quickly and carefully.
Once you get to the cream coloured petals, cut the banana flower in half lengthwise, putting one half in the water. Some chefs recommend cutting the flower in quarters. Definitely do this the first time. Remove the core and shake the rest of the baby bananas out and discard, then work quickly to slice the creamy petals thinly, discarding any baby banana remnants and getting the slices in the acidulated water before they begin to discolour. Nobody wants to eat black banana flower. Don’t worry if some of the baby bananas or stamen get in the water. They tend to float to the top and you can scoop them off later or drain and rinse the slices before you’re ready to combine all your ingredients.
A banana flower salad is all about the crunchy texture (which is one reason why I add carrot), the contrast with the chicken, and the fragrance of the herbs, so you really just want the dressing to cover the ingredients. This salad should not be swimming in a pool of dressing and definitely shouldn’t be wet. Use half the dressing initially, combine all your ingredients, and add more dressing if needed. If you don’t use it all, pop the rest is a container and put it in the fridge. It’s fantastic with rice or noodles.
And don’t forget to taste the dressing after you make it and adjust it to your taste. It should be balanced. If you find it too sour or fishy, add some sugar. If it’s too sweet, add more lime juice. Don’t over-do the chillies, even if you like hot food. The Cambodian banana flower salad is not spicy, it’s about flavour, texture and fragrance.
Anything goes with the herbs too. When it comes to adding herbs to salads in Cambodia, a lot of recipes will just say ‘chi’ (herbs) and you use whatever is fresh, seasonal and available. But if you can get hold of basil, mint and coriander, they are perfect for this banana flower salad recipe.
To crush peanuts, we use our granite mortar and pestle, which every good Southeast Asian kitchen should have, for making Cambodian kroeungs and curry pastes. But you could also use a wooden mortar and pestles, which is generally used for pounded salads, dips and relishes. If you’ve never used a mortar and pestle before, we have some tips.
While you could eat this banana flower salad on its own for lunch, it’s a fantastic salad to serve as part of a Cambodian family-style meal or a Southeast Asian style picnic or barbecue, and we have lots of Cambodian barbecue recipes to go with it.
Cambodian Banana Flower Salad Recipe
- 2 chicken breasts poached
- 1 clove garlic finely chopped
- 1-2 bird’s eye chillis finely chopped
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 tbsp lime juice
- 1 tsp liquid palm sugar – or dissolve palm sugar in a little hot water first
- 1 small carrot julienned
- 1 small shallot finely sliced
- 100 g bean sprouts blanched
- 2 lemons or limes juice only
- 1 banana flower or banana blossom
- ½ cup fresh aromatic herbs – basil mint, coriander (cilantro)
- ¼ cup peanuts roasted, peeled
- Poach the chicken breasts until they are cooked through, being careful not to over-cook them (use a thermometer), then set them aside to cool down.
- Combine the finely chopped garlic, chillies, fish sauce, lime juice and palm sugar in a bowl to make the salad dressing. It should be balanced, so taste it and adjust if necessary. The chillies should give it a little bite but not dominate, so go easy even if you like your food spicy. Set aside.
- Shred the chicken with your hands into two-bite sized pieces.
- Julienne your carrots, slice the shallots, blanch the bean sprouts, and wash and dry your herbs and pluck the leaves from stems, and set aside.
- Fill a large bowl, big enough to hold the banana flower with drinking quality water and add the juice of lime/lemon.
- Pull off and discard the thick purple outer layers of the banana flower, keeping 2-4 of the prettiest petals to serve the salad in, as pictured above. Discard the tiny undeveloped bananas between the petals. Don’t attempt to taste these; they are very unpleasant. Once you reach the cream coloured petals, cut the banana flower in half lengthways, place one half in the water immediately, ensuring it’s fully submerged, before it starts to discolour. You need to work fast as it will go brown and then black quite quickly. Remove and discard the hard core then quickly slice the creamy leaves thinly, adding them to the water as you go, ensuring they’re submerged. Then do the same with the other half of the banana flower.
- Gently combine everything together with gloved hands in a salad bowl, including half of the fresh herbs and half of the peanuts, adding the banana flower last. Add half of your dressing initially – you just want enough dressing to cover everything – then combine again, adding more dressing if needed. This should not be a wet salad.
- Arrange your salad in the banana flower petals, garnish with the rest of the peanuts and fresh herbs, and then serve immediately.
Do let us know if you make this classic Banana Flower Salad Recipe for Cambodia’s Gnoam Trayong Chek as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.