Posts Tagged ‘leaves’

My Southeast Asian Summer: Turmeric

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      Turmeric and its constituent components the curcuminoids, a complex of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, are getting attention and medical research dollars these days. But this blog is not about disease treatment or medical research, it’s about healthy and delicious food, and turmeric is here for its culinary qualities.  Both the roots and the leaves are a common seasoning in many parts of southeast Asia, and the leaves are impossible to buy in this area, which led to my experiments in growing them. It’s a tropical and needs to be brought indoors when the nights start to cool off, and during the summer it needs light shade and plenty of moisture. Initially I bought plants from an herb supplier, but since then have done better with plants I started at home.

       You need some roots from the store to get started. Put them on top of a pot of good organic potting soil and press them into the soil. Put in a warm place (a seed-starting warming mat will really speed things up,) keep moist, and within a month you’ll see small buds growing off the roots. In another month or so, you’ll have turmeric leaves to use.  It will prosper in a sunny window over the winter, but does best if it can go outdoors in the summer. Remember, part shade is important.

     To begin with the root, it can be grown in a pot but you are unlikely to get enough to use it freely. I don’t recommend the dried powder for most applications; to my palate if lacks the fresh vibrancy of the fresh root. I advise buying organic root, and you can often find it among the other fresh vegetables at La Montanita Co-op. Ask the produce manager if you don’t see it. It’s used in a lot of the seasoning pastes that I make for my southeast Asian cooking, so you’ll notice it in several of the recipes on this blog (use the search function to find them). But one of my favorite ways to use it is as a brilliant yellow-orange “juice” concentrate which I keep in a corked bottle in the refrigerator and add to water to make “sun juice.” The color alone is irresistible and cheers me up just to look at it.

     The leaves are large, glossy and handsome, and look attractive when the pot is brought indoors for the winter, but remember that any plant you’re always snipping at for kitchen use won’t look great for long. When cut they smell very like a fresh, sweet carrot, and I love to season carrots with them. Clich the link below the picture for recipes.

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The Greens of Summer: sweet potatoes

This year, for the first time, I learned that there’s more to the sweet potato than its tuber. It came as news to me that throughout Africa and southern Asia the vine that we know as the sweet potato (Ipomea batata) is often grown for its leaves. Mine were started by putting an organic sweet potato in a pot of dirt in a warm place. It needs to be organic, because the grocery-store kind are treated with chemicals to stop them from sprouting.  I planted a few in a pot thinking that they would be lush and green and heat-resistant, and any tubers that they produced would be a bonus. After reading about the use of their leaves in other countries, I cautiously broke off one and nibbled on it. It had a crisp texture and a mild pleasant flavor, and I started adding them to salads. As the vines grew, I had enough to start cooking them. I used them in greens mixtures (see the “recipes” page on my website, and found that they balanced the stronger-flavored greens very well. I especially liked using them to make Hawaiian creamed greens. Here in the high desert, a source of fresh green leaves that takes our summer sun and heat in stride is a valuable commodity, and even after a summer of snipping them to bits, I got some roots in the fall. Not as many as if I’d left them alone, of course, but the total harvest of salads, greens, and tubers over 3 months was considerable, and all from one 19″ pot.

By the way, I couldn’t find any exact assays, but I’ve read that they are unusually high in protein for greens, high in lutein, and full of all the other vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants typically found in leafy greens.

Hawaiian Creamed Sweet Potato Leaves

Pick over and wash well about 6 quarts of sweet potato leaves. This measure is the very loosely packed leaves just as they come off the vine. Chop 2 cloves of garlic and a 1X2″ peeled section of ginger into fine bits. Heat about 2 tablespoons of coconut oil (preferable) or canola oil in a pan and when hot, add the garlic and ginger bits. As soon as the fragrance comes up, but before the bits brown or burn, toss in the leaves, a can of coconut milk, a small green chile (Serrano or similar) chopped up, and a tablespoon of Asian fish sauce. Bring to a boil, simmer about 10 minutes, check whether any salt is needed, and serve. To make a full meal you can serve with a good turmeric rice pilaf, and if you aren’t a vegetarian, some good peeled shrimp simmered with the rest are really delicious. I like a squeeze of fresh lemon juice over the top, too.

If you have the energy to make your own coconut milk, well, more power to you. I used to be that sort of purist but tend to use organic canned these days. Just make sure it’s pure coconut milk (no sugar), and avoid the “lite” low-fat versions, which lack both creaminess and flavor.