Cardamom lends fragrant twist to banana bread

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Banana bread is a time-tested American classic, perfect for making in advance for picnics, gifts and for using up ripe bananas.

Here's a variation with an Indian twist — cardamom, which often grows next to bananas in Kerala. In small amounts, cardamom has delicate floral and eucalyptus notes, which brings out the best in more traditional ingredients in banana bread and makes for a fragrant treat.

Like many Indians, I add jaggery for sweetness. It is an unrefined sugar made from the sap of date palms or sugarcane. It has a deep caramel flavor to it, a cross between molasses and fudge that adds a richness and great color to the bread. Jaggery can be found in cakes or cones at Asian food stores or online, but if you can't find it, it can be substituted for Muscovado sugar.

This recipe makes for a moist bread with lots of flavor. The only thing you'll need to remember is to leave a little room for dessert.

Banana bread with cardamom and jaggery

The best bananas to use are ripe bananas that have black speckles on them and are soft to the touch. They'll be sweeter and more flavorful. This banana bread can be eaten as is, or served with butter, yogurt or whipped cream.

Start to finish: 1 hour 20 minutes (20 minutes active time)

Servings: 10

Ingredients:

1 stick butter, unsalted

1 cup jaggery, grated (or substitute Muscovedo sugar)

2 cups white flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons ground cardamom

A pinch of salt

2 tablespoons milk

2 large eggs

1 cup mashed ripe bananas, plus 1 banana for decoration

Directions:

Butter a loaf tin (approximately 9x5 inches). Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Put the butter and grated jaggery into a pan and melt over a very low heat. Stir until well mixed with the consistency of melted chocolate, then remove from the heat and leave to cool to one side.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, cardamom and salt and leave to one side.

In another bowl, add the mashed banana and milk, and whisk in the eggs one by one. Add the jaggery and butter mixture. Whisk again until properly mixed.

Gently fold the wet ingredients to the flour mixture until mixed together then pour the batter into the tin. To decorate, slice the remaining banana lengthways into ¼ inch slices and place over the top of the batter. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool before slicing.

Nutrition information per serving: 310 calories; 92 calories from fat; 10 g fat (6 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 68 mg cholesterol; 165 mg sodium; 53 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 29 g sugar; 4 g protein.

Meera Sodha is an Indian foods expert and author of "Made in India: Recipes from an Indian family kitchen." She lives in London, blogs at www.meerasodha.com and tweets at @meerasodha


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