Growing up in two different parts of the world, I’ve always thought of reconfiguring this popular Filipino treat. Turons are made of a particular kind of bananas called saba bananas and lanka or jack fruit, then wrapped around a sheet of spring roll wrapper before fried. A generous coating for sugar or brown sugar is sprinkled soon after the rolls are taken out of the pan. These banana rolls are something you can eat sitting down perhaps with a bowl of ice cream or walking around similar to street food.
Let me just talk about the saba bananas quickly. I’ve tried using regular bananas, plantains, and of course saba bananas for the roll just to change it up a bit. But, there is nothing like sticking to the traditional ingredients. The regular bananas would get too mushy once they’ve been fried despite of being wrapped while the saba bananas are able to hold there shape. Admittedly, the plantains are an okay substitute if you can’t find any saba bananas around (you can purchase them like regular bananas in tropical countries or at a Chinese grocery store in a pack frozen) because they also hold their shape if there aren’t too ripe and are relatively sweet. Although, there is a subtle difference in taste, particularly sweetness between the saba bananas and plantains. The heat brings out the sweetness in both cases but you don’t get a more banana flavour equivalent to the authentic taste of a turon. For me that was important; I didn’t want to take away from that taste because it was something nostalgic and comforting. Living half of my life at the Philippines, the joyous childhood memories I had growing up there is something I can repeatedly duplicate through taste. That’s what makes that subtle taste significant in this dish.
It’s easy to make ingredient substitutions but in the process you may lose something so integral about a dish that it becomes unrecognizable. So instead, I decided to compose a reconfiguration of this dish while upholding its cultural and personal integrity; it may not look like the same dish but the spirit of it is one and the same.
I used the same ingredients that would compose a turon before frying it and added a little bit more decadence to it. First and foremost, it is NOT a roll. I didn’t really like that when you eat turons in a roll the wrapper something doesn’t get crispy enough all the way inside, I thought there should be a textural contrast. So, I took the wrapper laid it flat on a baking sheet and let it crisp up in a 375 F oven for 4-5 mins (depending on your oven; for even crisping place the baking sheet at the bottom rack closest to the heat source). Also, sometimes the banana and jack fruit inside could get a little dry and so I took some butter and sautéd the bananas and jack fruit in it until it starts to soften. Once it has started to soften, I added some brown (2/3 cup) and white (1/3 cup) sugar, cinnamon (1/2 tsp.), pinch of salt and a dash of cocoa powder. Keep sautéing as it caramelizes. When you see that the bananas and jack fruit are caramelized add a splash of some almond milk (or cream or milk; I only had almond milk at the time so I just used it). You’ll see it start to bubble up and develop a caramel as it continues to heat up. Make sure that the bananas and jack fruit pieces are well coated by the caramel. This eliminates having dry banana and jack fruit pieces while the caramel coating adds a little sweetness and lush. Now take those spring roll sheets that crisped up in the oven and break them apart in pieces with your clean hands. Sprinkle them on top of the bananas and jack fruit pieces. I sprinkled some cocoa powder and powdered sugar in top but really that’s just to make it look pretty. You could do without it.
When you’ve finished making the dish, make sure that your first bite has all the components. It delivers that similar crunch (if not more) as you would get having it fried while the banana-jack fruit infused caramel elevates the existing flavours of the banana and jack fruit pieces. But you know what the best part is? Aside from licking your spoon because the caramel is just that good… this dish, among many others I will soon enough share, is a collaboration of the East and West; Eastern ingredients meets Western culinary techniques. It’s my past and present in one bite. It’s a glimpse of myself.