Indian Lettuce as wraps for tofu,a Hakka traditional dish

Indian Lettuce a.k.a Lactuca Indica is known as ‘Goose vegetable’ among the local.Hakka name is Ku mak a.k.a Yao mak in Cantonese.In Mandarine  it is Ku mak cai (苦荬菜), daun panjang in Malay and sawi rana in Java.To the Hakka people,the Indian Lettuce is  relished as wraps for tofu.

Deep-fried tofu wrapped in Indian Lettuce.
Deep-fried tofu wrapped in Indian Lettuce leaves.

Indian lettuce is not native to Malaysia.It must have been brought in by the immigrants from China,most probably by the Hakka people based on their eating habit like Ku mak as wraps for tofu and as side dishes for lei cha.

The Indian lettuce is a herbaceous plant which grows upright to a height of 2 m when reaches its full maturity.Leaves are harvested to be eaten raw only when it grows taller.Pluck the leaves below the shoot at the top leaving the plant to grow taller again.

 

Indian Lettuce.Notice the  leaves lower down the shoot .
Indian lettuce in my garden.Notice the leaves lower down the stem.They are gone,gone into somewhere and you know where.

When the plant is mature,branched inflorescence with daisy-like flowers will emerge at the top of the plant.The tiny,black seeds which form later have fluffy white hair attached and this simply means the seeds can be dispersed by wind.

 

Indian lettuce bought from the market
Indian lettuce bought from the market.Notice the simple,oblonged and undivided leaves.

There are different varieties of this plant as shown by the different shapes and sizes  of the leaves.The leaves of Indian lettuce can range from simple oblong shape to lobed and pinnated leaves,like the salad rocket(arugula).The patterns of the lobed leaves of these two plants are almost identical.

In terms of shape and taste,the rocket resembles Indian lettuce in many ways.Both are best eaten raw.The salad rocket has a pungent,slightly bitter flavour which is very similar to the Indian Lettuce.The scientific name of the salad rocket is Eruca Sativa.

 

Rocket bought from supermarket.
Salad rocket bought from supermarket.

According to Wikipedia,it is rich in vitamin c and potassium.In fact,most lettuce contain as high as 3545 mg of potassium per 100 g edible portion.The salad rocket,as an imported vegetable from Italy,is an expensive green sold at the supermarket.

The leaves of Indian lettuce are light greyish green in color.The faint bitterness of the leaves is very pleasant  to taste.In fact,that is what makes it so unique.The leaf is crunchy.Munching  the leaves is a good experience of eating vegetable raw.It is a pity that most people would cook it as a dish without realizing it can be eaten raw and what is more,it actually tastes better when eaten raw.Cooked leaves taste more bitter than the raw leaves and become much less crunchy.

Indian lettuce leaf and the rocket
Indian lettuce leaf and the rocket.Notice the similarity in their lobed and pinnated leaves.

I grew up thinking everybody eats tofu this way.I was quite surprised  to find out only Hakka people eat tofu in Indian lettuce wraps.Even to this day,I have found that in my area,not many people know tofu can be eaten in Indian lettuce wraps but  please bear in mind that unnoticed dish does not mean it is not palatable.

I think the main reason it remains unnoticed is due to difficulty in supplying Indian lettuce in big quantity and most of us only use Indian lettuce as wraps from our own gardens.Those bought from the markets are for cooking fish ball soup or as side dishes for lei cha.Indian lettuce as wraps for tofu will remain as a home-cooked dish unless it can be packed like the rockets in plastic bags with labels like ‘safe for salad’ or ‘eaten raw’.Certain varieties of Indian lettuce seeds are now available in China markets.

When we were young,we ate a lot of this vegetable as wraps for deep-fried tofu.Most of the time this dish was eaten with rice.My late mom would prepare a source made of preserved soya bean with green chillies,lime juice and a lot of garlic.Old people believe that garlic eaten raw can help to expel parasites and germs from our body system.In this recipe,garlic is optional for Buddhist and Hari krishna vegetarians who do not take garlic, onions,chives,leeks and other related vegetables with pungent flavour.

 Dipping Tofu with kumak wraps in preserved soya bean source
Dipping Tofu with Indian lettuce wraps in preserved soya bean source
Recipe
Ingredients
  • 2 tbs preserved soya bean
  • 2 tbs lime juice
  • 2 green chillies – sliced finely
  • 2 cloves of garlic (optional) – minced
Method
  1. To prepare the source,just mix all the ingredients together.
  2. Wash the leaves thoroughly under the running water from the tap.
  3. Rinse the leaves with vinegar if necessary.
  4. Remove the middle veins from the leaves.
  5. Wrap the tofu with the leaves.
  6. Eat with the dipping source.

Trust me.It is so appetizing.This dipping source may be a bit on the salty side so eating it with a bowl of rice is just so……tasty.Oh yes,oh ya,one mouthful of tofu followed by another mouthful of rice,a heavenly experience.Munch,munch,munch………..Yummy!

dipping in tomato chilly source
Tofu with Indian lettuce wraps in tomato chilly dip.

Another  to be shared here is the tomato chilly dip.

Ingredients
  • 6 local tomatoes – soaked in boiling water for 5 minutes then peel the skin.
  • 3 chillies
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tbs lime juice
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
Preparing the dipping source

Just blend all the ingredients to make the chilly source.

No rice is needed for tofu dipped in this source.

 Enjoy this truly hakka dish,simple and yet unique!

 

How to prepare banana flower ?

For some,cooking banana flower can be messy if you slice the flower before it is steamed or boiled.My recipes save you from all the messy steps.Before touching on the recipes,just a few things we need to know about the banana flower.

The banana flower is the blossom hanging at the end of the stem or inflorescence.It consists of layers of crimson colour bracts with rows of yellow florets lying in between the bracts.Each floret has a plastic-like stamen with a black and hard stigma at the end.The banana flower is the male part hanging at the end of the clusters of bananas.

It is called Jantung Pisang in Malay.

 

Wild banana flower
Flower of wild banana a.k.a pisang hutan

Only flowers of pisang keling,pisang otel,pisang kipas,pisang kapok and pisang hutan are used.Flowers cut from other type of bananas are too bitter.Ornamental banana flowers are small and not edible.Notice that their flowers pointing upward so as the wild banana flowers.The wild banana flowers are big and edible.Both are beautiful flowers.Banana flower is rich in potassium as shown in the table at the end of this page.

Pisang bunga,the ornamental banana.Notice the upward pointing flower same as the wild banana.
Pisang bunga,the ornamental banana.Notice the upward pointing flower same as the wild banana.

In some recipes,you are required to peel the outer mini petals and the stigmas from the florets one by one,a preparation process not practised in Sarawak for that matter.

 

Left -  Steamed banana flower. Right - Fibrous bracts,mature florets with plastic-like stamens and stigmas are discarded.
Left – Steamed banana flower.
Right – Fibrous bracts and mature florets with plastic-like stamens and stigmas are discarded.

What our natives do is just peel off the outer bracts and cook the tender bracts and undeveloped florets nearer the heart of the flower.They slice or cut the flower into halves or quarters just before boiling and cook immediately for at least 20 minutes.

Shown here is another way of preparing banana flower.Steam the banana flower for 30 minutes prior to cooking.This is to avoid the bracts from being oxidized and turn black due to contact with air after cutting.Slice the flower only after it is steamed.

Left  - Sliced banana flower Right - Kerabu bunga pisang served in bababa flower bracts
Left – Sliced banana flower
Right –  Banana flower served in banana flower bracts
Preparing the banana flower for the recipe.
  1. Peel off some outer bracts to be used as ‘plates’ for serving the dish.Wash the bracts carefully and dip dry.
  2. Steam the whole blossom for at least 30 minutes or grill the flower for 20 minutes until the outer bracts are nicely charcoaled.
  3. Let cool and peel off fibrous bracts and mature florets.
  4. Keep only the tender bracts,undeveloped florets and the heart of the flower.At this stage,the flower looks like artichoke.

Steamed banana flower is to be sliced for cooking.

Here are two recipes simplified here to share with our viewers.

 

Banana flower stir-fried with potatoes
Banana flower stir-fried with potatoes
Banana flower stir-fried with potatoes
Recipe
Ingredients
  • 1  banana flower
  • 2  potatoes-diced
  • 2  dry chillies – seeded and sliced thinly
  • 2 tbs thick soya source
  • 1 tbs brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp pepper powder
Cooking the banana flower
  1. Fry the diced potatoes until slightly brown.
  2. Add  1 cup of water and dry chillies.Simmer till the potatoes are well done.
  3. Add the sliced banana flower and 2 tbs of  thick soya source.
  4. Finally,add 1 tsp of brown sugar and pepper powder.
  5. Serve in banana bracts.

    Kerabu bunga pisang served in banana bract
    Banana flower in thick soya source

 Banana flower in thick soya source

Ingredients
  • 1 banana flower
  • 2 tbs lime juice
  • 4 tbs thick soya source
  • 3 tbs brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup roasted groundnut – coarsely ground
  • 1 chilli padi – seeded and thinly sliced
Method
  1. Steam the banana flower for 30 minutes.
  2. Peel off more fibrous bracts and discard florets with plastic-like stamens and stigmas.
  3. Slice the banana flower thinly.
  4. Prepare the source by mixing all the ingredients together.
  5. Serve the dish in the selected bracts.
  6. Sprinkle groundnuts on top.

 This dish is similar to the local kerabu,a simplified one,that is.Sliced mangoes,cucumbers and half ripen papaya can be added to the dish.

Bunga pisang kirin with crimson colour bracts and rows of florets.
Bunga pisang keling with crimson colour bracts and rows of florets.

There are Indian recipes for banana flower fritters and Thai recipe for banana flower salad.Most malays would cook Kerabu bunga pisang.Kerabu is local salad in which lime juice,coconut milk,kerisik,spices and herbs are added to the main ingredients.

Ulam is another choice for bunga pisang.Ulam is a local dish in which the raw or blanched vegetables or fruits are served with a paste of belacan,lime juice and chillies.

2signedImage (7)
Nutritional value of Bunga Pisang gentu (Musa hirta),the wild banana flower

Try your hands on this recipe.It would be fun to mess around with banana flower.

Enjoy cooking!

 p/s A facebook friend wrote a comment about the health benefits of banana flower.Please check the content in my comment.

Teochew clan’s secret to prosperity,the making of rice pudding

Rice pudding,Teochew’s secret to prosperity ? Am I exaggerating? Well,a bit,may be.However, it was partially true because the Teochew people did earn a living by selling chwee kueh during those earlier days in Malaysia.Even today,we still can see Teochew people selling these small bowls of rice pudding, beside shop houses and at the markets near my area.

 

Rice pudding with chai poh topping
Rice pudding with chai poh topping

When the Teochew people first set foot on the land of Malaysia,just like chinese of other dialets,not all of them came with barrels of gold.For many,life overseas had to start from scratch.Many earned a living by selling their traditional food like ‘chwee kueh’ along with other nonya food.Their younger generations thrived and many had succeeded in business and professional field.In a way, chwee kueh represents their fighting spirit to be able to survive in such an adverse condition far away from their ancestors’ homes.

Rice pudding is called ‘chwee kueh’ in Teochew dialect.We used to have this for breakfast.My late mom would grind the rice using the stone mill.Today we can use a good blender to grind the rice.

Here I would like to share one simple recipe that is popular among the Teochew hawkers.

For babies and the sick,use the second recipe.
Left-Rice flour used in the recipe.  Right - rice pudding ready for steaming
Left-Rice flour used in the recipe.
Right – Half-cooked rice pudding ready for steaming.

 

Chwee kueh,the Teochew rice pudding
Recipe
Ingredients

1 cup  rice flour

1 – 2 tsp corn flour

125-150 ml tap water

3 cups boiling water

 

Left-Ready chopped Chai poh bought from market Right - Stir-fried chai poh and mushroom ready for topping
Left-Ready chopped Chai poh bought from market
Right – Stir-fried chai poh and mushroom ready for topping

 

For the topping,we need the following ingredients :

200 g   sweet chai poh,the preserved turnip

50 g  mushroom,soaked overnight and chopped finely

2  dry chillies,seeded and minced

1 tbs  light soya source

3  shallots (optional) – sliced

Method

Prepare the topping prior to cooking the pudding.

  1. Fry the mushroom,sliced shallots and chillies till fragrant.
  2. Add chai poh and continue stir frying until the mixture turns slightly brown.
  3. Season with light soya source and pepper powder.
Cooking the rice pudding
  1. Add corn flour to the rice flour.
  2. Mix the flour with 125 ml of water.Add more water if the mixture is too thick.
  3. Pour in 3 cups of boiling water to the batter.
  4. Keep on stirring until the batter is no more lumpy.
  5. Spoon the half-cooked pudding into the bowls till  3/4 full.
  6. Steam for 15 minutes(10 minutes for smaller bowls).
  7. Serve with chai poh topping and black soya source.

Make 6-7 porcelian bowls of chwee kueh.

 

Inverted Rice pudding served with chai poh and thick soya source.
Inverted rice pudding served with chai poh and thick soya source.

 

For babies and sickly people,it is better to make chwee kueh using rice instead of rice flour.

 

Recipe
Ingredients

1 cup local rice

3 cups of water

Method
  1. Soak the rice in one cup of water overnight.
  2.  Strain the rice.
  3. Blend the rice with 3 cups of water.
  4. Continue blending until the rice batter becomes very fine.
  5. Keep aside and let the rice batter stand for 1 hr or longer.Omit this step if your blender is a good one.
  6. Add 2 tsp of corn flour if it is not for babies and sick people.
  7. Filter if necessary.
  8. Blend again until the batter is very fine.
  9. Cook the batter in the wok until it becomes thick like pudding.
  10. Spoon into small bowls till 3/4 full.
  11. Steam for 10 minutes and the pudding is done.
Children under 1 year old and the sick should be fed without salt and the chai poh topping.Chwee kueh with thick soya source is allowed for the sick.

The rice used in this pudding is the only factor affecting its flavour,so good rice is the keyword.

Rice pudding in Taiwan has minced meat and mushroom as topping.Here in Malaysia and Singapore,the ingredients of the topping are chai poh,dry shrimps,shallots,chillies and pepper powder.

Normally,those we buy from the stalls are mini bowls of chwee kueh.The Teochiew vender would scoop out the rice pudding and add topping on top.In my recipe,I use medium-size bowls(4″ diameter),easier to wash if you want to know why.Also try to use porcelain bowls for steaming because one can easily take out the pudding using a wet plastic knife.

Remember to try your skill on this recipe.Who knows you might earn a business from it? Share your fruit of efforts with us by posting on our page (coming soon).

Chwee kueh in small bowl
Chwee kueh in small bowl

Enjoy the fruit of your labour by cooking chwee kueh!