I am super picky about bananas. Always have been. I like my bananas firm but not so firm that they taste bland or worse, sour. I select only bananas with perfect, smooth, yellow skins—no blemishes. Above all, I refuse to eat ripe, sweet, mushy bananas. Better off for banana bread or smoothies.
Perfect bananas straight from the market once home only last for a day, maybe two. In those precious few days, there’s only two choices: Peel and eat or make soup.
Wait, soup? Bananas in soup sounds like a bad idea. It sounds downright nasty. It sounds like both wasting the banana and ruining the soup. At least, that’s what I thought at first when my mother made ‘That Soup With the Bananas in It’.
Banana Soup: Yucky
I was eating like a foodie long before such a thing was fashionable for most kids. I routinely shook up the somewhat bland, boring, predictable Midwestern American palate. I have no idea where exactly she got the initial recipe for That Soup, a flavor bomb of butternut squash, curry powder and, of course, banana, but it made an appearance on a regular basis.
Of course, I obliged what felt like taste torture. I couldn’t turn down my mother’s cooking—that’s like rejecting her love. But I slurped my bowl of That Soup with a wrinkled nose and stink face when she wasn’t watching. I hated That Soup. Knowing there was banana in it made me taste the banana even more. Yuck. But my mother loved That Soup in all its banana glory. So, she kept cooking it. So, I kept trying it. So, That Soup became a family classic.
Personally, That Soup strikes me as hailing from somewhere in the Caribbean. I suspect the banana might substitute for plantains, which were harder to find when and where I grew up. Whatever the case may be, I am quite sure my mother made the recipe her own over the years—with my reluctant taste testing. She altered this and tweaked that.“Eat this, you need potassium,” she said.
Banana Soup: Fall Standard
That Soup was simple: squash, broth, seasonings. Of course, the cursed banana, blemishes be damned. The squash was peeled, diced, cooked for dear life, mashed. Somehow, other stuff got in there in no particular order each time…the curry, the broth, some other seasonings. Last, a good whirl with an immersion blender. It was an hours-long process, only to be undertaken when she really had time. She tasted as she went, and, wanting my okey doke, made me taste it.
Every fall, my mother bought the biggest butternut squash imaginable. Each one seemed bigger than the last. She smiled at me. Her eyes looked hopeful. I rolled my eyes at her. “I’m making That Soup,” she said. I groaned.
With its orange skin and crooked neck, butternut squash could sit on the counter for a while. Once a bunch of bananas joined it, I knew it meant That Soup for days on end. She tried sometimes, but ultimately she really didn’t care about me and my pickiness with bananas. Dear g-d, no.
But I have to admit: Over the years, with discerning rigor, That Soup tasted better. She, or shall I say, we, managed to make it palatable with less of the aggressive banana taste. No matter. I still hated That Soup.
No matter if I hated it or not, as a dietician, my mother knows her stuff about nutrition. Plus school, evangelized food pyramids. Five servings of fruits and veg within three balanced meals were expected every day—even if all five servings came in one go in something like a soup.
If I hadn’t eaten well enough during the day by dinner time, my mother made sure there was no escaping my quota. Besides the vitamins set free from the squash, the banana added a bump of potassium and other nutrients.
Even though she is an ambitious home cook, she was also a busy working mother. At the time, home cooking had to meet specific time and budget requirements. Her meals had to be on the table quickly. There had to be enough for leftovers or new spins on dishes. To meet both these objectives, she cooked in large vessels like a gigantic stock pot or a pressure cooker. I have made peace with the fact that my mother had no time to please my palate. Sort of. Sure, I hated That Soup. But I ate it. I had to. It’s healthy.
Banana Soup: My Take on a Family Recipe
Even so, as an adult, I’m shocked that without my mother leaning on me, I’ve kept That Soup alive. Somehow, my palate is tricked into craving a version of That Soup every fall. And no wonder—apparently, my mother was on to something. Studies have shown if kids don’t eat a variety of fruit and veg early, they won’t choose to later on in life.
As such, That Soup became my go-to all winter long—tweaking this, trying that, using whatever I’ve got on hand. I can be picky about many vegetables. Say carrots, for example. Dislike them cooked, bored with them raw all the time. Sautéed is mostly fine. But tossed into That Soup either way? Transformatively delicious.
Even though That Soup originates in fall and lasts through winter, I discovered one year it’s still great on chilly spring days. Winter produce hangs on but spring choices aren’t quite ready yet.
Banana Soup: Yummy
These days, my foodie palate demands a small amount of delicious over a large amount of healthy. I am excited about continuing to discover new ways to transform my mother’s tactical effort to put food on the table—and a lot of it.
Yet, to be reasonable in terms of time and budget, of course I balance my mother’s objective and mine. Quick+ healthy+delicious=my foodie formula. For instance, many, if not most soups start with sautéing garlic and onions. Then, vegetables are added and seasoned with salt. That adds up to a lot of prep and, ultimately, a lot of flavor. Most soup I grew up with started this way.
However, I found out by accident years ago that I save prep time by skipping this sacred step. Instead, I fry spices in oil. This is something I learned from Asian cooking, particularly Indian and Thai cuisines. It’s less common in American or European kitchens. But, it’s definitely worth trying, though. The result? Big flavors in less time.
So, That Soup I make now does not compare to its ancestor I once stomached with a frown. But it’s still a tried and true, time honored classic for me from my mother.
Trust me on this one. At least try a little banana in this soup. I think my mother would be proud of you. And maybe even yours, too.
That Soup with Bananas in It (aka, That Soup Recipe)
1 tablespoon olive oil, butter, a combination or other vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon red pepper chili flakes
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric (optional)
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ginger, fresh grated or ground dried
pinch of black pepper to taste (optional)
salt to taste (optional)
pinch of sugar to taste (optional)
1/2 teaspoon tomato paste
1 clove garlic (optional)
1/4 cup onions or shallots (optional)
1/4 teaspoon powered onion (optional or to taste)
1/4 teaspoon powdered garlic (optional or to taste)
1 cup mashed banana
1 chicken or vegetable bouillon cube (optional)
3 cups cooked and mashed butternut squash, preferably roasted
6 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth, water or a combination
1/2 cup coconut milk (optional)
1/2 cup coconut water, OR unsweetened plant-based milk (cashew or almond) (optional)
1/4 cup white wine (optional)
1 tablespoon Greek yogurt (optional)
1 teaspoon green onions, chopped (optional)
1/2 cup rice, couscous, orzo, any grain or small pasta of choice (optional)
- Preheat your pot a little, just not too hot.
- Add 1 tablespoon of oil.
- Add spices and then tomato paste.
- Add garlic and onions or shallots. If you’re out of fresh ingredients, powdered is fine.
- Add a pinch of sugar, a pinch of salt to taste.
- Cook everything down into a kind of a paste, almost caramelized. It should start smelling pretty good at this point. That takes maybe 5 minutes, not more than 10. Definitely don’t burn the spices.
- Mash in banana. You want to marry everything together. Cook everything down into a kind of a paste, almost caramelized. You want that raw taste out of the tomato paste.
- Add a bouillon cube.
- Taste and adjust to your preference: Add more banana, more spices, etc. Probably not tomato paste because that raw taste won’t caramelize out at this point.
- Add your butternut squash or even pumpkin.
- Add liquid: chicken or veggie, broth, plain water or a combination.
- Stir. Bring up to a boil, reduce down to a simmer. Cook until soft, 20 to 30 minutes. It should be chunky or even silky if you mashed everything really well in the beginning.
- Taste. Now, your choice: Add more liquid or not based on your taste and texture preference.
- Strain or puree it if you want, based on your taste and texture preference.
- Finish with coconut milk or any plant based milk. Or a bit of cream. Add coconut water, white wine, either or both. Heat through, don’t boil when the milk is in. Feel free to adjust the amount and combination of liquid based on your taste and text preferences.
Finish with whatever you like on top to make things extra tasty and pretty. A little Greek yogurt or crème fraiche. Some chopped green onions, a touch of curry, a little olive oil. A grain like rice or small pasta like couscous or orzo makes it more filling. Serve with crusty bread, a sandwich or a salad for a delicious full meal. But That Soup is really good all by itself…even without garnishes. Enjoy!