The Sesbania bispinosa is a small tree that produces a beautiful, edible, yellow flower used to prepare several Vietnamese and Thai dishes. In India this flower is called ‘dhaincha’ and though commonly cultivated on farms as a nitrogen fixer, is not often used in Indian cooking. In Thailand the flower is called ‘dok son’. This salad is delicious with ‘nuoc chum’, a sweet and spicy Vietnamese dressing. If you are unable to find dhaincha you can also use banana flowers.
Like most flowers these tend to bruise and blacken easily, so eat the salad as soon as possible.
For the salad:
2 banana pods (about 2 cups of flowers)
Bowl of ice-cold water
Juice of 1 lime
½ cup finely chopped shallots (or green onion bulbs)
½ tsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup shredded raw mango
For the dressing:
¼ cup toasted sesame oil
1½ tsp toasted white sesame seeds
Juice and zest of one lime
2 teaspoons palm sugar or brown sugar and salt to taste
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tsp light soy sauce
1.5 tsp fish sauce or light soya sauce for vegetarians
1–2 red Thai chillies, finally chopped
1/4 cup of finely sliced white onions
For the garnish:
4 tbsp roasted and crushed peanuts
2 tbsp chopped fresh spearmint leaves
2 tbsp chopped Vietnamese coriander also called red mont, praew (in the absence of this use regular coriander)
¼ cup crispy fried garlic bits
Optional 1/2 cup sautéed shrimp or tofu or shredded chicken
Combine the ingredients for the dressing in a bowl, whisk until sugar has dissolved and set aside.
Add lime juice to the ice water. Peel the banana pods and working quickly, remove the reed-like stamen from each flower. Soak the flowers in the lime water immediately. The pods have several layers so keep going until there are no blossoms left. If any blossom look discoloured, discard them. Fresh edible blossoms have a light golden colour.
Saute the shallots in oil and add to the dressing with the oil. Stir well.
Drain the banana blossoms and dry them on a clean cloth. Slice each blossom into 2 pieces lengthwise. You can also leave them whole if you prefer. Place in a salad bowl with the raw mango.
Taste the dressing for seasoning and adjust salt and sugar accordingly. Pour the dressing over the blossoms and mango, cover and refrigerate 30 minutes. Remove from fridge. Top with the garnishes, add tofu, chicken or shrimp if you like and toss just before you serve.