In this pandemic summer, who doesn’t want to eat and cook outdoors? And if you’re firing up the grill, don’t forget dessert.
I am bananas for grilled bananas. Fast and easy, they become instant favorites and remind you of classic desserts. And there are so many variations: You can make grilled banana s’mores, grilled bananas splits, grilled bananas with peanut butter and jelly, grilled banana pudding, etc.
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One of my favorite desserts used to be Bananas Foster — vanilla ice cream topped with rich brown sugar, buttery, boozy warm sautéed bananas and toasted pecans. But I never eat it anymore. When I discovered that I could grill bananas and get nearly the same flavors without a sticky pan to wash — and I could save about a thousand calories as well — I never looked back.
The key to grilling bananas is leaving them in their protective skins. Slice a banana once lengthwise and once crosswise, so each banana is in four pieces. Because I like a bourbon-flavored Bananas Foster as opposed to rum, I sprinkle the cut side of the bananas with a bourbon that has predominant notes of vanilla and caramel.
Next, I make a simple “dessert rub” of white sugar, cinnamon and a pinch of fine-grain sea salt. You can use this sweet rub to good effect on any fruit you are grilling. I toss a dusting of the rub over the cut side of the bananas and let them sit for 5 minutes. This is enough time to allow the natural sugars and the bourbon to absorb and dissolve the rub. Then it’s time for the grill.
I generally grill the banana cut-side down for a minute or two to get grill marks, but that is not necessary. What is necessary is to let the banana cook skin-side down until it is slightly cooked all the way through, and the fruit begins to recede from the skin. The skin will be black, but the banana inside will be warm, slightly caramelized, soft and fragrant.
Grilling the banana transforms the fruit from something that can sometimes be starchy and lacking in taste into a tropical flavor bomb. You peel the banana before serving, so it doesn’t matter how black the skin gets as long as it still protects the banana.
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When I am short on time but want to serve an unexpected crowd-pleaser, this Grilled Banana Sundae with Dulce de Leche and Shredded Halva is my quick and easy version of a grilled banana ice cream sundae.
Once the bananas are grilled, it’s time to build the dessert. In this case, a sundae.
I often make homemade dulce de leche by carefully boiling a can of sweetened condensed milk until the sugars in the milk cook and become a candy-like deep-tan caramelized sauce. But these days, you can buy excellent dulce de leche sauce and dulce de leche ice cream at the grocery store.
I unpeel the grilled bananas and serve them warm on top of two scoops of my favorite dulce de leche ice cream. That alone is pretty darn good, but I don’t stop there. I drizzle a little more bourbon on top and, if I am feeling indulgent, an extra spoonful of dulce de leche. And then my secret ingredient: A generous layer of shredded halva on top. You can eliminate the extra bourbon and the extra dulce de leche, but do not eliminate the shredded halva.
Halva is a Middle Eastern confection made with tahini (sesame paste) and sugar. It is my new “nut” topping for ice cream; I’ve put my beloved pecans and walnuts back in the cupboard.
I have eaten halva in chunk form for years, and am partial to the handmade variety from Hebel & Co. It has crispy shards of nutty sugar mixed into the creamy texture of the halva. And that is what led me to the shredded halva. It is all crispy caramelized shards, and for a lover of texture like me, a whole other level of greatness. It is like a more toothsome, nutty, sweet and slightly savory version of cotton candy. The sesame flavor is delicate, and softly compliments the honeyed bananas and dulce de leche ice cream. But the best part is that the crunchy crisp texture makes you want to take another bite and another bite!
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GRILLED BANANAS WITH DULCE DE LECHE AND SHREDDED HALVA
2 bananas (not too ripe)
2 tablespoons bourbon, divided
2 tablespoons granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of fine-grain sea salt
1 pint best-quality dulce de leche vanilla ice cream
Dulce de leche sauce, optional
2 tablespoons shredded halva (easy to order online)
Do not peel bananas. Slice them, in their skin, in half lengthwise and crosswise, so each banana yields four pieces. Set aside.
Sprinkle the cut sides with half the bourbon. Combine sugar cinnamon and salt and mix well. Cover the cut sides of bananas with the rub by carefully spooning it on or by using your hands. Let the bananas sit for 5 minutes.
Place bananas cut-side-down on the center of a clean cooking grate, and place the lid on the grill. Cook for 1 minute or until grill marks appear. Using long-handled tongs, carefully turn over and let cook 4-5 minutes or until the skin pulls away from the flesh of the banana.
Remove bananas from grill and serve immediately on top of the dulce de leche ice cream. Top with a generous amount of shredded halva. Drizzle with extra bourbon and extra dulce de leche sauce, if desired.
The Associated Press contributed to this article