Durian flowers,anyone? This is an eye-opening dish for people outside Sarawak.I am not sure whether Sabahan and Brunei people do cook durian flowers as vegetable but for some people, it is a dish probably unheard of.As for the Kalimantan side,I am quite sure they too,enjoy this wonderful flowers as vegetables as we do .In Chinese is Liu lian hua (榴櫣花)。
Some interesting facts about the durian flowers:
The genus Durio has about 30 species of which 19 are native to Borneo ( known to be original centre of diversity),11 to Peninsular Malaya and 7 to Sumatra.The most common durian sold in the markets is the durio zibethinus.
The durian tree has straight trunk and horizontal upper branches.Durian flowers are borne along big branches.Durian flowers buds appear in clusters of 2 – 45 flowers over a period of 3 -4 weeks during dry season.The flowers are mostly greenish white or yellowish in color.Flowers of the wild durian ukak (durio kutejenis) are bright crimson in color.Its fruits are bright orange in color.
The flowers blossom in the evening and at night, all flower parts fall to the ground except the pistil.We do not pluck the flowers but wait for them to fall on its own.The flowers are pollinated by fruit bats(Eonycteris Spelea).I was asked by my friend to collect flowers in the morning,as early as 6pm,and went back in the afternoon at 5 pm to take pictures with my silly point and shoot.Luckily there were some lower branches with lots of flowers dangling,otherwise I would end up with blur pictures for this post.
Notice the mats placed under the tree in the picture above.They are not for dating.
Just imagine one romantic scenario in a Malaysian movie plot,Namewee’s style i.e., two lovers decide to spend a romantic night underneath a blooming durian tree and wake up in the morning with creamy yellow durian flowers as blankets on their bodies.How romantic! But the reality is ,they will be bitten all over by the ants,mosquitoes and probably snakes !
Usually people in Sarawak collect durian flowers very early in the morning,as early as 5 am because the flowers will turn yellow and appear less fresh under the hot sun.
The durian flower buds are enveloped by the pale green ,leaf-like epicalyx which cover all the flower parts before the flowers blossom.When the flowers blossom,the flower parts revealed are the yellowish calyx,the five creamy yellow petals ,five bundles of stamens and a pistil.The calyx are crown-like,having 5 yellowish green sepals fused at their bases.
The edible stamen bundles consists of many fused and branched filaments having numerous anthers.Each filament within bundles is fused at its base.The pistil consists of an orange stigma at the end and an ovary at its base.At night ,all flower parts fall to the ground except the pistil with an orange stigma.
Harvesting durian flowers is fun but have to be careful with all the insect bites.I had sweet memory of harvesting durian flowers with my late aunt.We stayed overnight in a small tilted hut(3′ X 6′) called langkou in Iban and waited for durian flowers to fall.By the time I woke up,not much left for me.Actually the langkou was meant for durian season but collecting durians was too risky for kids so I was grateful to her for giving me the chance to spend one night under the giant homegrown durian tree.
Durian flowers season falls on the month of August or September.They appear suddenly in the markets and disappear within one week.For those who seldom go to markets, they might miss the durian flower season and have to wait for the next season to come.They come and go in a hurry and not easy to catch them in time.Three months after the durian flower season will be the durian fruit season.Durian flowers do not taste and smell like durian fruits.They are crunchy with a tinge of fragrance and sweetness.
Most of the durian trees in Kuching area are homegrown.Collecting durian flowers from big orchards is not a wise move,especially those which are near oil palm plantations,unless they are labeled as organic farms.
Picking durian flowers is a tedious job.A heap of flowers may take hours to finish picking.That is why they are not served in restaurants here in Sarawak.During peak seasons of durian flowers,some fast food cafes,including the vegetarian cafes,do sell durian flowers in curry or sambal belacan.
Preparing the durian flowers
Durian flowers cannot be cooked right away.There is a tedious process to be done before cleaning the flowers.Do not wash the flowers immediately after collecting from the gardens.First task to complete is to remove the anthers from the stamens.Just wipe off the anthers from the stamens with finger tips.Discard all the flower parts except the stamens and the creamy yellow petals.
Usually we need extra hands to help otherwise we will end up spending at least 1 hour just to pick the flowers.Most people would pick only the stamens and do not bother to pick the tiny,curly petals.Failure to wipe off the anthers completely from the filaments will end up a slimy dish instead of a crunchy one.
Next step is to blanch the durian flowers,then rinse thoroughly,drain them and keep in the fridge.It can last for about 3-5 days in the fridge.Can we keep it in the freezer ? No, unless you want the flowers to turn rubbery and tasteless.It tastes best on the same day of the harvest.
Durian flowers in sambal balacan
- 20-30 g vegetarian belacan – made from fermented soya beans (can be replaced by 2-3 tsp of miso)
- 3 dried chilies – minced(OR 1 tsp of chili powder)
- 2 tsp curry powder
- 3 shallots – sliced(optional for Buddhist and Hari Krishna vegetarians)
- 3 stalks of lemon grass( serai) – crushed
- 300 g picked durian flowers – blanched and rinsed under the tap
- 1/2 tsp mushroom powder
- 3 tbs of oil(more or less)
- Blend the shallots,belacan,chilies and curry powder together.Add water to form a paste.
- Fry the belacan paste until fragrant.
- Add in the durian flowers and serai.
- Stir fry for a while and add some water.
- The last step is to add the mushroom powder and salt to taste.
Quick stir-fry this way will ensure you a super dish of crunchy durian flowers.Enjoy its unique texture and exotic flavour.
Durian flowers as vegetable,as exotic as ever !
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