Bananas aren’t just for snacking anymore. They aren’t even limited to breakfast and dessert; entrées with bananas provide a whole new dining experience.

On the menu at Brennan’s, for example, you’ll not only find the restaurant’s world-renowned creation of bananas Foster but also savory entrées that partner beef filet and ham with this luscious fruit.

For that reason, the French Quarter restaurant was recently selected by Dole, the world’s largest provider of fresh bananas, to showcase the unexpected use of bananas in a national campaign titled “Go Bananas After Dark.”

Bananas and New Orleans go way back. So many bananas moved up the Mississippi River in the mid-20th century that New Orleans became the major port of entry for the South and Central American fruit. Unfortunately,
some Gulfport businessmen persuaded shippers that the Mississippi Gulf coast offered easier access and stole the business out from under us. But not before Brennan’s chef at the time, Paul Blangé, invented Bananas Foster, named after a frequent customer. We will always thank him for that.

Now Dole is busy inventing new banana recipes, pairing them with chicken and pork, and even grilling them outdoors. I like this idea of expanding my banana intake to include entrées, because bananas are guilt-free powerhouses of nutrition. They invoke family memories for all ages, from baby food to banana splits. Why, my fellow Memphian Elvis Presley invented a banana entrée: banana and peanut butter sandwiches. I also enjoy my version: a banana split down the center and filled with peanut butter. The crunchiness of peanut butter contrasts nicely with the creaminess of bananas.

I must admit that I still consider bananas more of a morning food but have recently experimented with “after dark” recipes. They are a natural match with Caribbean flavors as well as Indian spices. I tried both with great results.

Now I don’t have to use up my surplus of bananas with just my old stand-by: banana nut bread. I have them for dinner, too.

Caribbean Pork and Bananas
4 center-cut pork chops,
       about 1/2-inch thick
Ground cumin
Chili powder
1/2 cup flour
Salt and pepper
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup dark rum
3 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste
2 bananas, cut lengthwise
      and crosswise
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Sprinkle pork chops liberally with cumin and chili powder, rubbing spices into the meat. Mix flour with salt and pepper in a medium bowl.

Heat oil in a large skillet. When hot, dredge pork chops in flour and place in skillet. Brown well on both sides and remove from skillet. Sauté onion until soft, add garlic and sauté another minute. Add water, rum, limejuice, salt and pepper. Return pork chops to skillet. Cover and simmer on low heat for 15 minutes or until pork chops are tender.

Add bananas and simmer another 5 minutes. Stack pork chops if necessary to make sure bananas simmer in the sauce. Serve with sauce poured over pork chops. Sprinkle with cilantro.

Serves 4.

Curry-Coconut Chicken
and Bananas
4 chicken breasts, deboned
       or bone-in
Salt and pepper
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/2 bunch green onions,
       white and green parts
       divided and chopped
1/2 red or green bell pepper,
      cut into thin strips
2 Tablespoons minced
      fresh ginger
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/2 cup white wine
1 Tablespoon curry powder
1 13.5-ounce can coconut
2 bananas, halved lengthwise
Hot cooked rice

Salt and pepper chicken breasts and brown them on both sides in vegetable oil in a large skillet. Remove from skillet and sauté the white onions, bell pepper and ginger until soft. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute, stirring.

Deglaze pan with wine. Put chicken breasts back into skillet and add curry and coconut milk. Cover and simmer over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes for boneless chicken, or 30 minutes for bone-in. Add bananas and green onion tops and cook 10 minutes more.

Serve over rice.

Serves 4.

Brennan’s Filet Stanley
8 beef filets, about 8
      ounces each, halved
Salt and freshly ground
      black pepper to taste
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
8 bananas, sliced in half
16 Holland rusks
1/2 cup horseradish sauce*
2 cups Brennan’s red wine and mushroom sauce**

Preheat a grill or broiler. Sprinkle the halved beef filets on both sides with salt and pepper. Grill or broil the meat until done to preference.

In a large skillet, melt the butter and sauté the sliced bananas until tender and lightly browned – about 4 minutes per side.

To serve, place 2 Holland rusks in the center of 8 heated plates. Arrange 1 slice of banana on either side of the rusks, near the edge of the plate. Spoon horseradish sauce between the bananas and the rusks. Place a piece of cooked filet on each Holland rusk and top with red wine and mushroom sauce.

Serves 8.

*Horseradish sauce: In a saucepan, combine 1 cup heavy cream with 1/8-teaspoon each white pepper and salt. Heat over medium heat but do not boil. Blend 1/8-teaspoon butter with 1 Tablespoon flour to form a small ball. Add the butter ball to the simmering cream and cook until sauce is smooth. Add 1 Tablespoon horseradish and serve warm.

Makes 3/4 cup.

**Red wine and mushroom sauce: In a large saucepan, melt 2 Tablespoons butter. Add 1/4-cup diced onions and sauté until tender. Stir in 2 Tablespoons tomato paste, 1/2-cup sliced mushrooms and 1 teaspoon paprika. Cook until mushrooms are tender and add 1 Tablespoon flour. Stir until well blended. Whisk in 3/4 cup beef stock. When smooth, add 1/2-cup sliced green onions, 1 teaspoon Worcestershire, 1/4-cup Burgundy wine and 1 teaspoon minced garlic. Season with salt and pepper and simmer about 15 minutes. Serve warm. Makes about 2 cups.