Paku Ikan /Paku Pakis/Pucuk paku (Diplazium esculentum)
To Sarawakians abroad,memories of some of the jungle produce never fade despite of their long distance away from their homeland,Sarawak.Very often you can hear them whinning for miding,paku and terung asam.In this post is a wild fern called Paku Pakis ,Pucuk Paku or simply Paku Ikan.This is grade A Paku Ikan with a lot of frond curls and a few leaves.We stir fry it with vegetarian belacan and chillies or cook in ulam.It can be cooked in curry with potatoes too.
This wild fern called Paku pakis can be found in abundance at the road side,along the streams and drains and at the open spaces in Kuching City.Hence the price is much lower than that of the miding.
This Grade B Paku pakis shown in the picture below has less frond curls and is more leafy.Actually paku pakis can be found in Indonesia,Singapore,Taiwan,Philippines,Japan,China and West Malaysia.In Chinese it is called 过山猫。
Like midin,they grow well on peat soil area and they are naturally free of pests.Nobody cares to cultivate them because they grow practically everywhere in this part of the world.It is much cheaper than Paku midin but is no less popular than Paku midin.
Best way to cook Paku pakis is stir fry it with vegetarian belacan.
Stir-fried Paku pakis in sambal belacan
300 g Paku pakis
20 g vegetarian belacan
3 dry chilies (minced)
5 stalks of lemon grass (crushed)
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 cup of sweetened grated coconut – made from 1/2 cup of grated coconut and 1/4 cup of brown sugar.Roast the grated coconut in the wok till it turns slightly brown.Add brown sugar and cook till the mixture thickens.
Blanch the Paku Pakis and drain.
Fry the belacan,chilies,curry powder and lemon grass together.
Stir-fry the fern with the belacan.
Add 1/4 cup of water.
Cook till the ferns become soft but not overcooked.
Season with 1 tsp of light soya source.
Top with sweetened grated coconut.
Paku pakis tastes great in vegetarian curry too.Recipe will beincluded in another post.
Bundles of Paku Pakis for sale by the natives is a usual sight all over the markets in Kuching city.They look fresh and display a lustre of green on their leaves and fronds.
Quite often people,even some locals,get confused with Paku midin,Paku pakis and Paku kubuk.Get familiar with our edible ferns by eating them.That is the only way to learn about our gems from our forests.
Woo……..,hoolahoolahoola…lala…..la……Look, what is in here? It is the Queen of the jungle Ferns in Sarawak,Midin.You won’t miss midin when you come to Kuching.During our younger days, Midin grew in abundance in Kuching but nowadays they are shying away from the city heavy traffic and hiding their cute little fronds in the villages and farmhouses.Price of midin has shot up rocket high ever since(光叶藤蕨 ).
Picking wild edible ferns like Paku midin and Paku pakis in the bush was one of our childhood past time activities.We even competed for picking the ferns.Whoever had the biggest bundle of midin would be awarded with more bundles of midin from other participants.I was never the champion.There were always somebody who had better motor skills than me.
Paku midin is well-loved by Sarawakians and I believe students studying aboard do miss this Paku midin from our homeland.I remembered when I studiedin Kuala Lumpur 35 years ago,I had my good share of sobs,partly due to homesick and partly because I missed midin so much.
The five grades of Paku Midin are displayed here:
Grade 1 Paku Midin
– With fiddleheads,straight fleshy stems and very few leaves.Best for stir-fry and is the most sought after midin by restaurants and sea food centers.It tastes good and has crispy texture even after the cooking process.
Grade 2 midin
– With some loosen fiddleheads,thinner stems and more leaves.Personally this writer prefers Grade 2 Midin because it is cheaper and less slimy than the Grade 1 midin.May be its stem is not as crispy and fleshy as the Grade 1 Midin after cooking but it is still very popular among the locals.
Grade 3 Midin
– With loosen fiddleheads,thinner stems and are more leafy.It is quite troublesome to pick the leaves of this grade 3 midin but picking leaves of grade 4 midin is really a nightmare.
Grade 4 Midin
– No fiddleheads , harder stems and are leafy with some big mature leaves.Best for cooking soup with Cangkok manis or Sabong(melinjou) leaves.
It is very troublesome to pick leaves of Grade 4 Midin because of those minute leaves so we mothers are just too happy to go for the ready – picked midin in baskets.
Grade 5 Paku Midin
– is a mixture of fleshy stems,some shoots and some young fronds of Paku Midin.Some people do not go for midin shoots but I am very fond of this Grade 5 midin with crispy and fleshy shoots and stems.To me,this is in fact the top grade midin.
Grade 1 Paku Midin stir- fried with slices of ginger and fresh mushrooms.
200 g Grade 1 midin (use only the fiddleheads and cut about 2 ” length)
100 g fresh oyster mushroom (tear into strips)
2 ” long ginger (sliced thinly)
1 chilli (sliced thinly)
1 tsp miso
1/2 tsp light soya source
Wash and drain the fiddleheads.
Fry the mushrooms and ginger together.
When the ginger slices are slightly brown,add in midin and chilli.
Sprinkle some water if necessary.
The crunchy ferns are ready with miso and light soya source being added.
Wakakakaka……Somebody can’t help drooling as he/she is viewing thispost.
Royal family of edible ferns in Malaysia ? Do they exist ? No, they do not because they are just made up by this writer for the purpose of editing this post on edible ferns in Malaysia.All of these ferns can be found in Asia and Oceania.
This post serves as an introduction to some of the more common edible ferns in Sarawak.Recipes will be included in part 2 , 3 & 4 of this post.
On top of the list is the King fern,a.k.a Giant fern and Oriental Vessel Fern.Its botanical name is Angiopteris evecta.Look at the picture below.Everything about this Giant fern is massive.Their young fronds,for example ,are as big as my palm.
It is a large ground – dwelling fern with fronds up to 5 m long.The leaf blade is two pinnate.They have spore clusters (sori) which are submarginal.The massive starchy rhizome was eaten as a famine food in Papua New Guinea.Young fronds are edible.The Bidayuh people in Sarawak use the pounded rhizome to treat blood in stool.Since it is very laborious to dig out the hard and massive rhizomes,it becomes less popular as food but in Chinese Medicine,it is still being used as cure for internal bleeding.
Since there is a King fern,by right there should be a Queen fern.In this case is Paku midin which is the most popular edible fern served in many food stalls and restaurants in Sarawak.It is also a GI plant of Sarawak,meaning it is very popular and widely found in the state.It is a creeping fern,often climbs up big trees.The young fronds are green but turn light brownish-red as they become more leafy and turns darker green as the leaves become more mature. Paku midin thrives in shady swampy and forest areas and has been shying away from the city area for the past 10 years.It is said that no trip to Kuching is complete without sampling a big plate of stir-fried midin.Midin and other ferns can be found in West Malaysia too.
Paku pakis or Paku ikan is like the Prince of the edible ferns in Sarawak.It grows up to 1-1.5m tall.The leaves are 2- or 3-pinnate and coarsely toothed.Paku ikan is quite popular in Philippines,Indonesia,Taiwan and Japan too.In Chinese is 过山猫。
Paku kubuk or Paku uban is the Princess of the Royal family of the edible ferns in Sarawak.It is also known as creeping sword fern.Paku Kubuk is a one meter tall fern forming colonies in peat swamp forest.It has pinnate leaves and white hairy stems.Sori borne along leaf margins.The young fronds are eaten as vegetables.Though not as popular as Paku midin and Paku ikan,there are people who get addicted to its slightly bitter taste and I am one of them.Iban folks use this fern to stimulate milk production for mothers in confinement.Just boil the fronds to make soup.
This Paku kelindang is a stemless fern grows up to 2 m tall and it has brownish red fronds like the Giant Fern.Usually the venders here would peel the skin and sell in packs.Tastes slimy but good for constipation.The fronds are mashed and applied as a poultice on boils to draw out the pus.
Paku pahit or Paku rusa looks like Paku ikan but grows as individual plant.Due to its bitter taste,it is the least popular among the edible ferns but there are people using it as herbal cure for high blood pressure.
Out of all these ferns,only Paku midin has been cultivated for export purpose to Singapore.It is safe to state that all the edible ferns sold in the local markets are naturally organic therefore should be a tier higher than organic vegetables provided they are not plucked near oil palm plantation area.Almost all edible ferns cannot survive in chemically contaminated areas and they thrive without fertilizers.
Other edible ferns include Paku resam,Paku laut,Paku merak,Paku rawan,Paku sutar(Tongkat langit),Paku ruan(water fern) and Bird’s nest fern.
Most of these unusual ferns are used as medicinal plants.Some of them will be included in my other posts.Nutritional values of these edible ferns can be found in Table 2.
So now we have viewed brief introduction to these more common edible ferns.In my next post you will get to view more pictures and recipes.
See you in my next post !
Remember to check for recipes in my upcoming posts !
I am always facinated by brinjals,especially brinjals grown in Borneo.They come in different sizes,shapes,colors and tastes.
One of these brinjals that stand out as an indigenous plant to Borneo is called Terung Dayak , Terung Asam or Terung hutan in Malay. It is also a GI (geographical indication) plant of Sarawak meaning it is very popular and widely grown in Sarawak.It tastes pleasantly sour and therefore named Terung Asam which means sour eggplant.Its botanical name is Solanum ferox L.Since it is very similar to Terung Bulu,it is actually botanically regarded as a variant of the hairy eggplant which is more common in West Malaysia and other parts of the world.In chinese is 野生茄.
Terung Dayak flowers are white and immature fruits are green in color.The mature fruits can be yellow ,orange,reddish orange,dark purple to black depending on varieties.
They can be propagated by seeds.They seem to thrive in rural area and those grown in cities do not yield much fruits.The stems are thorny.Most Sarawakians cook it with seafood. Here in this post we have two recipes to share.
Before sharing recipes,lets look at various types of brinjals found in Sarawak.In this post,I will omit the long purple brinjals normally seen in the markets.Only the more unusual ones are shown here.
The picture below shows a kind of brinjals called Mini Brinjal. Look cute,aren’t they ? Perfect choice for topping pizza. They can be cooked in dal. They are about the size of a ping pong ball with white and purple color.It has thin skin and tiny seeds.
Those shown in the picture below are the egg-shaped eggplants which comes in three colours,namely light green,white and purple.These fleshy eggplants are ideal for pan-fried,steamed or grilled dishes.Cooking them in Chinese way i.e slice thinly and boil with some water,add some oil,stir-fry with chillies and dou shi(fermented black beans).Finally add thick soya source and thai basil.In Chinese is 胆囊茄 which means gall bladder eggplant.
Another eggplant is the Terung India which simply means it is originated from India.These are usually cooked in dal or curry.The skin is quite thick and the flesh takes time to cook.As the name implies,this eggplant is very popular among the Indians and is more commonly found in West Malaysia.
The picture below shows another variant of Terung bulu.It is actually terung dayak but has dark purple,almost black skin on ripening.This black colour may be is due to the fruits being plucked while they are still green and on keeping them for too long,turn dark purple. Nevertheless,the venders insist that this is a different type of terung dayak.It tastes less sour and slightly bitter.
The eggplants shown below are not so commonly found in the markets here.The one on the left is Terung Jepun which means its origin is from Japan.What is special about this eggplant is its sepals and leaves are edible as well.
The one on the left are Terung Java which are small finger- sized eggplants with variegated green and white stripes.It is about 10 cm long and 1.5cm-2 cm wide.Steam and dip in chili source.The skin is not tough and get cooked easily.
Terung Dayak in sambal belacan
Preparing the Terung Dayak
Terung Dayak skin is tough ,so as the flesh. Boil or simmer the fruits for at least half an hour for easy peeling of the skin and also softer texture of the well-cooked terung dayak.
Cut two terung dayak (500 g)in thin wedges.Boil in 1 litre of water for 30 minutes.Keep the soup for later use.Take out the terung and the skin discarded.When the terung is well-cooked ,the skin will come off naturally.
250 g terung dayak ( from the 500 g boiled terung dayak prepared earlier).
50 g tempe
25 g vegetarian belacan
1 tbs brown sugar
pinch of salt
1/4 cup water
3 chillies ( minced )
Chop tempe finely.
Mix the belacan with chilies and 1/4 cup of water.
Stir-fry the chopped tempe till slightly brown.
Add in the belacan and minced chilies mixture.
Continue cooking until the belacan dries up and turns brown.
Add in the boiled Terung Dayak and a few leaves of daun kesum.Simmer till thicken.
Terung Dayak Jam
600 g ripe terung dayak – boiled for 30 minutes and skin picked.
150 – 200 g brown sugar
1/4 cup water
Blend the boiled terung dayak together with the brown sugar.
Simmer with low fire until the mixture thickens.
The jam tastes like orange marmalade.
Serve with mini water biscuits.This local water biscuit is only 3cm in diameter,very crispy and can remain so for about half an hour if left outside the tin.
Here are more dishes of terung dayak :
1)Mock fish fillet with Terung dayak in sambal belacan
As much as I want to avoid using mock meat in my recipe due to its seasoning and unclear fat content,sometimes I have to make do with it because I have to cope with young adults’ palates and their demand for varieties on the dining table.So here I am,presenting a dish with a slice of mock fish fillet,slightly pan-fried, with a scoop of boiled or stir-fried Terung Dayak in sambal belacan on top of it.
2)The picture below shows Terung Dayak Soup with seaweed and bunga kantan.A teaspoon of Tom yam paste can be added to this soup.In addition,a bundle of cooked mee hoon or glass noodle completes the dish.Trust me,this soup is very appetizing.
The picture below shows another two types of brinjals which are Terung Pipit and leunca with botanical names Solanum torvum and Solanum nigrum respectively.The details of these two brinjals will be discussed later in another post.
There are many more brinjals in other parts of the world,so keep your mind open,ready to be exposed to new species of brinjals.
Hey, Sarawakians who are abroad,
Do you miss this Terung Dayak ?
Drool, drool you may but not in your dreams.
Aiyo yo yo,I know…….
Home-cooked meals,especially by mom are always unforgettable !
Towards the end of the fruit season which normally falls on December,a few species of Tampoi/tampui fruits are always on display in various weekends and night markets.One of these is the Ucong(Iban),Belimbing Hutan(Malay),Belimbing Api or simply known as Red angular Tampoi.Its botanical name is Baccaurea angulata Merr.All the tampoi fruits are indegenous to the land of Borneo and all are propagated from seeds.Though taste like mangosteen except they are more sour and the pulp not as fleshy,they belong to different family.Mangsteen belongs to the family of Clusiaceae and Tampoi belongs to the family of Euphorbiaceae(USDA listing).
I wonder why it is called Belimbing hutan which means wild star fruits.It is more like a tampoi than a star fruit.A star fruit has no thick skin or rind for example whilst all tampoi fruits have thick rind with pulp inside.In Chinese it is called 单贝果。
Its tree is medium-sized with a straight trunk of height about 10 m or taller.When the tree is heavily laden with fruits all over its trunk,it is really a spectacular sight to behold.The young maroon-coloured fruits turn bright red when getting ripened,then the whole tree looks like it is on fire.
Each angular fruit is about 6 cm long and 3 cm wide with angular and attractive bright red skin with a tapering end.Its fleshy skin can be squeezed open by hands to reveal a white pearly pulp with three segments looking very much like rambai fruit pulp.Each segment is covered with a thin membrane.
Comparing to rambai which tastes plain sour,the red angular tampoi fruit is more popular because of its sourish-sweet to total sweet taste.It is also very juicy and after being chilled,is an excellent thirst quencher.The juice which can be made into a cordial has great commercial potential.
The thick and fleshy skin is also edible.Its sour taste makes it a great choice for pickles and jam making.The fruits and cut skin can be kept in freezer.
Another tampoi is tampoi paya which is equally attractive as the red angular tampoi.Tampoi Paya fruits are brown in colour and on ripening become reddish brown.The thick rind when is pressed open reveals a corn yellow pulp which is soft,sweet and fragrant.It is not as juicy as tampoi Merah but the pulp exhibit a pleasant fruity fragrance which makes it as attractive as the Belimbing hutan.Height of the tree is about 15 m.The round fruit is 3-5 cm wide,more or less.
The picture below shows fruits of Tampoi paya(Malay) a.k.a Puak Burung(Iban) Latin name is Baccaurea Bracteata Mull.
The picture below shows the fruits of Tampoi Nasi(Malay)or Puak(Iban) . Its Latin name is Baccaureamacrocarpa Muell.The fruit is 3-6 cm wide,almost same size as tampoi paya.However,it is different from Tampoi paya in that it has pearly white,soft,sweet and juicy pulp with a fruity fragrance.
Equally interesting fruit is the mini tampoi a.k.a Kejirak/kejira which by its skin looks exactly like Buah Puak except that it is about half of its size which is the size of a ping pong ball and its pulp exhibit an attractive blood red colour.It has the highest Vitamin C content among all the tampoi fruits.Its botanical name is Baccaureapubera(Miq.) Mull.Arg.
Notice the blood red pulp of the Kejirak fruit in the picture below.The pulp looks like strawberry so as the taste.
Look at the buah Kejira tree as shown in the picture below.They look exactly like buah Puak,don’t they ? In actual fact,the kejirak tastes better than the Puak.
The trees of all these tampoi trees grows up to 25 m high with abundant branches.All have flower spikes,except that of buah Kejirak, growing from the trunks and branches.
Their fruits appear in bundles on the trunk and branches.All four species have soft and juicy fresh that sticks to the seed.The pulp has three segments.The taste of the fruits is similar,sweet and tangy in flavour.Wine can be made from the juice and is called tuak tampoi.
For the nutritional value,please click table 1 for more information.
Oh yi oh…….yi oh yi oh yi oh…………
Tampoi is coming to town,
Let’s get ready to enjoy the fruits like orang utan , Yeah !
Cangkuk manis a.k.a Cekor manis which means sweet shrub is the most palatable and therefore by right is the most popular leafy vegetable in Malaysia.Its botanical name is Sauropus androgynus.What has been eaten by us Malaysians is actually a cultivar meaning it was once a small shrub found growing wild in the rainforest.In Chinese it is called Shu Cai (树菜，树仔菜）which means ‘ tree vegetable’.In English it is called Star gooseberry and Malay Cheera in Indian.
Cangkuk manis plant grows to 1.5 m tall with dark green stems and light or dark green leaves.The shoots and young leaves taste great in soup and stir-fry dishes.Before cooking,leaves must be squeezed and crushed by hands .
Basically there are two varieties,one is the thin leaf type and another one is the thick leaf variety.The thicker leaf type has smaller and darker green leaves.
The picture shown above is the thin leaf type of cangkuk manis.Usually only the shoots are eaten because the older leaves are too tough for cooking,even after crushing with hands.
The picture shown above is the thick leaf variety of cangkuk manis which is considered as the best among all the varieties.Its dark green leaves are thick and crispy.All the leaves,young or old,can be stripped for cooking purpose.This is not possible with the thin leaf type with old leaves too tough for cooking.This variety is great for stir-fry or frying with mee or any noodles because it can be crushed easily by hands and can be cooked in a few minutes.Usually we keep this variety for frying purpose and the other type of cangkuk manis for cooking soup.
Cangkuk manis flowers and fruits borne below the leaves.The dark maroon coloured flowers will fade away after the fruits are formed.Both flowers and fruits are edible.The plant can be propagated by vegetative cuttings.
This vegetable is rich in vitamin A and C.But be aware that it contains the alkaloid papaverine which is bad for lungs.Asthmatic people should avoid taking too much of it.Under any circumstances,one should not consume raw cangkuk manis.There were cases reported in Taiwan a few years back that those who drank its juice raw for weight loss purpose had suffered lung impairment.
Its potassium content is high which is 2620 mg.Check Table 7 for its nutrients content.
The picture below shows basic ingredients for the fried mee recipe.
200 g crushed cangkuk manis( the thick leaf type)
200 g salted long life mee – 1 packet
3 cloves garlic(optional)
1/2 tsp white pepper powder
1/2 tsp mushroom powder
2 tbs roasted soya cubes – soaked in water for 15 minute.Drained and baked in oven at low temperature for 60 minutes or until dry.
Prepare the mee by soaking it in 1 litre of ying-yang water with equal portions of boiling water and tap water for 2 minutes or until it is loosen.Never use 100 % boiling water for this purpose or else the mee will become too soft.
Add 1 tbs of oil to the loosen mee .
Fry the soya cubes with garlic and chilli.
Add in the mee and stir fry until slightly brown.
Lastly add the cangkuk manis.Dizzle a few drops of water from time to time so that the vegetable can be cooked.The mee is slightly salty so no salt should be added to this dish.
A popular dish among the natives in Sarawak is stir-fried cangkuk manis with pumpkin.As usual,cangkok manis leaves have to be squeezed by hands and retain the green juice which should be added to the dish.To cook masak lemak , just add coconut milk to this dish.
200 g pumpkin – diced without the skin. Choose the old or ripe pumpkin which is thicker in flavour and sweeter in taste.
200 g cangkuk manis
1 tsp light soya source
Fry pumpkin cubes until slightly brown.
Add 1/4 cup of water and continue cooking until pumpkin cubes turn soft.
Add in cangkuk manis and stir-fry for a while.
The dish is done by adding chilli and light soya source to it.
The dish looks simple enough to cook but you will be surprised by its natural flavour and sweetness which is so appetizing.
Other ways of cooking cangkuk manis include stir-fry it with baby corn,unripe durian,fresh bean curd(Dou Bao) and make vegetable pancakes.It is also the main ingredient for Hakka Ban Mian(客家板麵),the broad mee cooked in Cangkuk manis soup.Not to forget it is also one of the side dishes for lei cha.Here in Sarawak,people likes to fry it with eggs.
Oh yes,once you have tasted this vegetable,you might get addited to it.It just happens.Don’t ask me why……..
Ever popular vegetable in Malaysia
The taste of Cangkuk manis remains in our memories……..
Nasi lemak,the coconut milk rice is a Malay dish well-loved by all the Malaysians from all walks of life.It is known as a national dish of Malaysia.It would be strange if it is not included in the Malaysian Vegetarian recipe.In Chinese it is 马来椰浆饭.My first encounter with this dish was in the university canteen.Back then it was sold at 50 cents for one plate.Now the price has gone up to at least Rm 3.Those were the days when we either ate nasi lemak or roti canai for breakfast or subsequent meals for the day.
The most important part of Nasi Lemak is its source,known as sambal in Malay.In my recipe,I am using the unopened florets of bunga kantan(torch lily).
The picture below shows a mature bunga kantan flower.
The flower is showy with waxy bracts of brightly colours ranging from white to pink,red and maroon depending on the variety.
The picture below shows young flower buds of bunga kantan.
The young flower bud can be cut into halves and used in soup.For the nasi lemak recipe,we have to use the mature flower as shown in the first picture.
The outer bigger bracts of the mature flower are discarded,leaving the tiny bracts and unopened florets for use in cooking.
The tiny,aromatic bracts are used in soup or stir-fry with other vegetables.
The picture below shows the unopened florets whicn can be eaten raw in salad.I use these florets to replace onions in my vegetarian Nasi Lemak recipe.The use of bunga kantan in the sambal gives the dish a kind of aroma which is so unique to taste.
The picture below shows the two ingredients for the sambal i.e. asam jawa paste(seedless tamarind paste) and the vegetarian belacan made from fermented soya beans and salt.
Preparing the source(sambal assam)
1 cup water
1 tsp salt
1 tbs chilli powder
2 tbs asam paste
3/4 cup brown sugar
10 g vegetarian belacan – made from fermented soya bean.
1 cup of unopened florets from 3 stalks of Bunga Kantan(can be replaced by 2 big onions).
Blend all the ingredients together except the florets of bunga kantan.
Boil the blended mixture in the wok till it turns thicker but remains runny.
Add in the florets and simmer for 3 minutes.
Now the sambal is ready.Keep aside and allow to cool.
Preparing the rice
2 cups(400g) long grain rice
1 tsp salt
6 stalks serai(lemon grass) – crushed
6 pandan leaves(screwpine leaves)
6 sawtooth coriander leaves
2 cinnamon sticks
2 slices of ginger
600 g grated coconut without husk- from which extract 4 cups of coconut milk.
Wash the rice and strain.
Add all the ingredients in the rice.
Leave aside for 2 hours.
Cook in rice cooker for 1 hour.
That’s it.It is that simple,isn’t it?
Serve the Nasi lemak with roasted groundnuts,pan-fried tempe,sambal,sliced cucumber and a quarter of boiled banana flower to add more fibre to the dish.
Very often nasi lemak is wrapped in banana leaf or brown paper and sold at Rm2 or Rm3 per packet.Vegetarian rendang cooked with chick peas and potatoes can be added to the rice as one of the side dishes.Pineapple and pumpkin cooked in sambal can be added too.In some vegetarian cafes,nasi lemak is served with additional side dishes like deep-fried vegetarian salted mock fish fillets and stir-fried kangkong.
Cooking and eating lei cha is another truly hakka experience.The picture below shows a complete set of lei cha dish from my kitchen.
Though preparing lei cha is laborious and tedious,it is worth all the trouble because lei cha is fiber-rich and detoxify the liver if taken regularly.It is good for people having persistent cough.Sickly people should eat lei cha everyday without the groundnuts.
To avoid last minute rush,it is better to prepare the groundnuts together with the chai poh one day beforehand and keep all the finely chopped vegetables in the fridge.
The three most important herbs of lei cha:
-The most important herb of lei cha is the Dwarf mugwort (artemisia vulgaris L.).In Chinese is Aicao.Dry mugwort is used in Chinese Medicinal treatment as herbs for moxibustion.Hakka Remedy for headache – boil and drink the soup or make tea.Another one is fry the herbs and eggs together without oil.Mugwort is easiest to grow among all the herbs for lei cha.
– Sawtooth coriander（eryngium foetidium) is a very popular herb here in Malaysia and is a good replacement for cilantro.Despite of their different look and texture,they are very similar in taste,both display that distinctive fragrance and pungent taste of coriander.It can be used to replace curry leaf and Chinese celery for cooking curry or soup.This herb grows well under shade and needs a lot of water.This herb is a must-have item in my Nasi Briyani Recipe.
– Thai basil(ocimum basilicium L.) is an important herb for Hakka people.Hakka clan is the ancient immigrants from the Yellow River plateau.They include a lot of basil leaves in their dishes.One of this is stir-fry brinjal with fermented black beans and thai basil.
Another three herbs of lei cha:
These are not optional but if cannot be found anywhere nearby,then just skip one or two herbs.Out of these three herbs above,the first two are not easy to grow here in Malaysia.Nevertheless,there are some farmers who grow lei cha herbs and supply them to the lei cha hawkers in Kuching.
–Spearmint a.k.a pudina(mentha spicata) is known to display a fresh,sweet and tangy flavour,with a cool after-taste.All varieties of mints are good for cough and clearing lungs.For lactating mothers,limit the use of this herb as it reduces milk secretion.
–Perilla(perilla frutescens) is a common herb found in Asia.It is a well-known remedy for food poisoning from fish and crab.Just boil about 60 gm of the leaves and drink.There are a few Chinese patent medicine containing perilla like Huo Xiang Zheng Qi Pian.
–Elephant foot grass aka tutup bumi(elephantopus scaber L.) is a very versatile herb.Unofficial reports from some Chinese Herbal magazines show that it can cure leukemia.It can grow easily in Malaysia.It has a slightly bitter but pleasant taste.Hakka people cook this herb as vegetable by boiling soup with the fresh or dry leaves.
Tutup Bumi is a good remedy for heat stroke.Wash the leaves thoroughly,mash and extract the juice – that is the Hakka remedy passed down from wise ancestors ages ago. Brew tea with the dried leaves or boil the fresh leaves with dates is another option for this remedy.
The three bitter herbs of lei cha:
These three herbs shown above are bitter and should be prepared separately to form a bitter paste.
–Kulixin is the three-leaved acanthopanax(Acanthopanax trifoliatus L. Merr.)As the name implies,it has clusters of three leaves in one and the middle one is the biggest leaf.It has thorns all over the stems so it is better to use scissors for cutting the leaves.Dried Kulixin leaves taste like tea leaves but much more bitter and astringent.
–Daun Capa(Blumea balsamifera) is an aromatic herb which grows wild in the bush.Hakka people boil the dry plant of the herb and use them for bathing the mothers in confinement.It is believed that daun capa bath can help to get rid of bad ‘winds’ from the loosen bones of the mothers who have just given birth.They are unlikely to get postpartum bone pain after the bath.Daun capa,as you can see,is a herbal remedy for rheumatism.
–Pennywort a.k.a pegaga(Centella asiatica) is also used by Malays.Do not add too much of this to lei cha soup as its strong herbal taste may overshadow other flavour in the soup.Lei cha soup can go without it.In Chinese medicine,pegaga is a remedy herb for tonsillitis.After thorough washing,mash and squeeze the fresh leaves to extract juice,mix with vinegar and swallow slowly.No harm trying if the pegaga plants are homegrown and safe for eaten raw.
Use a pair of sharp scissors,snip off the young leaves of the following herbs:
50 g Mugwort
20 g Sawtooth coriander(cut into 1 ” Strips,using scissors)
20 g Thai Basil
5 g Perilla
5 g Elephant foot grass( cut into 1″ strips,using scissors
1 tbs of green tea leaves(dry toasted) or Japanese green tea powder
1/2 tsp mushroom powder(optional)
Notice the total weight of the picked herbs is 100 g.
Do not cut or chop the herbs using knife as action like this will result in bruises on the leaves.
Wash the herbs thoroughly and proceed to the next step immediately.
Prepare 1 cup of boiling water in the wok.
Plunge the herbs into the boiling water and bring to boil for 2 minutes.This is to prevent the leaves from turning black due to oxidation when the cut surface gets in contact with the oxygen in the air.
Add another 1/2 – 1 cup of bottled water and allow it to cool.
Blend the herbs with 1/4 cup of groundnuts and 1/2 tbs of toasted green tea leaves.Do not add too much tea leaves which will make the soup looks black.
A jade green herbal paste is now ready for the lei cha soup.
To prepare the lei cha soup,just add 3 tbs of jade green lei cha paste to 1 cup of hot tea.The concentration of the tea is up to individual.
Preparing the bitter paste
10 g Kulixin
5 g Daun Capa(optional)
5 g Pegaga(Optional)
Steps for preparing bitter paste is the same as above except water to be added is 1/4 cup of water.
Do not add groundnuts to this bitter paste.
Add the bitter paste according to personal favour.
Preparing the side dishes
2 pieces tofu – cut into tiny cubes and stir-fry.
200 g groundnuts (smaller type) – Do not wash.Dry toasted right away and skinned or buy packed groundnuts.
Almond flakes,sunflower seeds or cashew nuts can be used to replace the groundnuts.
1 tbs dry toasted sesame seeds(optional)
200 g grated chai poh(preserved raddish)- stir-fry till slightly brown.
Prepare 200 g of each of the following :
Long Bean or winged bean
Leeks( optional for Buddhist and Hari krishna vegetarians).
All the vegetables listed above are to be chopped.Stir fry the vegetables one by one.
Serve with a bowl of rice or puffed rice topped with all the side dishes.Add salt to taste.
Yeah,cooking lei cha is fun.
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Letup,the wild passion flower plant can be found easily in the bush around suburban and rural areas of tropical countries.Not many people know it is the ancestor of the ever popular passion fruit(passiflora edulis) growing in our garden.Its latin name is passiflora foetida L. a.k.a hairy passiflora.Hakka call the fruits Popop Zi or Da Pop Zi.Letup or letop is the Iban name.It is also called stinking passion flower,pop-pop bush and wild water lemon in English.In Chinese is 龙珠果,毛西番莲果。
Most gardeners would treat them as an invasive weed,not knowing that the fruits and young leaves are edible.It is a protocarnivorous plant meaning it can trap insects on its bracts but shows no ability to digest them.
Its flower is about 2 cm in diameter, much smaller than that of the passion fruit flower with a diameter of more or less 5cm.Both flowers are showy and white in color with purplish streaks.Both flowers have ten white petals and a central crown of pinkish-purple filaments.
Look carefully one can see that a letup flower has three hairy bracts underneath it.
Strangely enough,their leaves are almost of the same size except the shapes are different. Both leaves are three-lobed except that the passion fruit leaves are thicker and more deeply lobed.
Both are woody climbers for older plants but letup leaves and stems are covered in soft hair.The mini fruits are enclosed in hairy net .Green letup fruit is a bit sour while the ripe one with orange skin is sweet.I recall memories of my primary school years – standing alone in the bush,eating those ripe fruits of letup,unaware of the danger of snake bites.The juicy pulp of the fruits are very sweet,good for quenching thirst in the hot afternoon.
The unripe fruits enclosed in hairy net are dark green in color.The seeds inside are not mature yet and there is no juicy pulp inside.The white and undeveloped seeds in the green fruits taste slightly sour.Birds love the ripe letup fruits.Very often,these fruits are finished by the birds before they are ready for harvest.
Letup fruit with a diameter of 1-1.5 cm, is much smaller than the passion fruit.Green letup fruit is a bit sour and the ripe one with orange skin is sweet as compared to the passion fruits,the pulp of which is juicy but tastes sour .Both pulp and seeds are edible.
The passion fruit juice is a common drink and the pulp is used as topping on ice cream and cakes whilst the letup juicy pulp ,though sweet ,is not suitable for commercial purpose due to its small fruit size.
The letup shoots are edible.All parts of the plant are covered in soft hair,stems and leaves likewise,hence the name,Hairy passiflora.Notice the tendrils for climbing.Letup shoots contain a lot of potassium,660 gm per unit.Click Table 2 to find out.
In Vietnamese folk medicine,dry letup leaves are used in tea to relieve sleeping problem.In Chinese medicine,it is used to treat skin disease.Boil the whole plant in water and wash the affected area or mash the leaves and apply on the affected area.It is a good remedy for leg ulcer.
How to prepare letup?
The picture above shows that letup shoots produce bubbles in the water.Continuous rinsing is necessary until there is no bubbles left.Failure to do this rinsing step will result in very bitter dish.We learn this from our native friends and one of my facebook friend,Polly Steven who is an Iban herself , did describe this rinsing step in detail.The bubbles are due to its high level of saponins.
“Saponins are glycosides with a distinctive foaming characteristic.They are found in many plants.Saponins are bitter and therefore reduce the palatability of livestock feeds.The ability of a saponin to foam is caused by the combination of the nonpolar sapogenin and the water soluble side chain.” – source from the net.
Drain the shoots after thorough rinsing.Crush the shoots with hands followed by chopping finely the shoots.Do not thrown away the green juice which is full of chlorophyll.
Stir-fry letup shoots
300 g letup shoots
1 telur tebu(sugar cane flower) – chopped finely
200g baby corn( chopped finely)
Prepare the shoots as described above.
Stir fry the shoots with chopped telur tebu.
Add 2 tsp of light soya source
Add in the green juice too.It tastes like cangkok manis and longbean shoots mixed.It is slightly bitter,a perfect choice for lei cha side dish.One can easily get addited to it.
Don’t forget its dry leaves can be used in tea and is a remedy for insomnia,but make sure have to wash all the bubbles or saponins away.
Legend has it that during the period full of tribulations of the Three Kingdoms,General Zhang Fei,a great warrior of Zhu Ge Gong Ming’s troop,together with his few hundreds men,fell sick due to an outbreak of plague in the hilly area of Hunan province.Worried and feeling weak,he decided to camp at the foothill of a mountain.An old,white bearded man then came down from the mountain and taught him to grind roasted rice,ginger and tea leaves in a pot,pour boiling water in and that was it, the remedy for the army sickness.
True enough,his army recovered from the plague and until now, people in the Hunan area still drink this rice tea.Hakka people,being the immigrants from the Northern parts of China,also brought with them this traditional dish to Southern China and over the ages had developed into two types of Lei Cha – the sweet and the savory versions.The sweet version is more popular in North China and Taiwan.Most oversea Hakka cook the authentic lei cha of the Hopoh clan which is a savory dish full of herbal flavor.
Check here to have a peep at the heroic warrior Zhang Fei who was the most rugged and dramatic one among the three brothers who were Liu Bei,Guan Yu and Zhang Fei himself.Below is Zhang Fei in a fighting scene with Ma Chao (with English Subtitle).
At present,there are quite a number of stalls selling lei cha in Kuching,almost all are run by Hakka ladies.There is one stall having a few branches in the city.Some sell vegetarian and non-vegetarian lei cha at the same stall.Most of them use blenders to grind their lei cha paste.
Traditionally,Hakka people believe that they must eat seven types of vegetables on the seventh day of the Chinese New Year and that is why lei cha are served on that day.Since it is quite a hassle to prepare lei cha ,most families would prefer to eat outside.It is a common sight to see eateries swarming with city folks during the seventh day of Chinese New Year which is also known as ‘Ren Ri’ or the ‘Mankind’s day’ in Chinese.Very often they have to get numbers and wait in the long queue on that day,just to have a bowl of lei cha !
The picture below shows a nicely arranged lei cha dish sold at one of cafes in Kuching.Notice how the rice is topped with vegetables ? Some vegetarian stalls have garlic,leeks and chives in their side dishes.Look at the colors displayed,a good presentation indeed.
Look at their jade-green soup,isn’t it awesome ? The secret for a jade-green soup lies in the preparation.Check it out in my next post on lei cha recipe,Lei cha(part 2).Olden way of preparing lei cha results in dark and brownish green soup which does not look very appealing even to the most adventurous eaters.
Traditional way of preparing authentic lei cha of Hopoh Clan requires a lot of hard work which involves grinding lei cha herbs,nuts and dry toasted tea leaves together in a big lei cha grinding earthen pot.
The picture below shows a lei cha grinding pot passed down to me by my late mom.Remembering Mom by remembering the food she used to cook for us and also by inheriting her antique lei cha pot.Nowadays,the art of making lei cha pots still remains in our city but the materials they use is very different.Most of the time we use blender to cook lei cha.I avoid using my lei cha pot because it is an antique full of sentimental values.
In the picture below,a guava(jumbu batu) stick or pestle is used to grind the boiled herbs,dry roasted groundnuts and roasted green tea leaves.Notice the lines or rails of grooves in the lei cha pot.These grooves or ‘teeth’ of the pot help to crush the nuts and herbs. A pot of boiling water or hot tea is then poured into the pot.Add salt to taste.
The tea is then served with side dishes as described in details in my next post , Lei Cha(part 2).
A saucer of dry toasted groundnuts is a must together with stir-fried chai poh(preserved reddish)and a generous serving of stir-fried tofu as well.For the other part of the side dishes,different vegetables can be used.The most important vegetables used are changkok manis(sauropus androgynus),long beans or winged beans,kai lan or baby kai lan.
For some,the slightly bitter vegetables like the Indian lettuce(kumak) and local mustard are included.Their bitter and yet pleasant taste do bring lei cha to a different level.
In additional to the usual side dishes,we used to cook long bean and winged bean shoots to add more flavors to the lei cha dish.Cooking lei cha is always a family thing with every female member getting involved.It is a tedious and laborious task to complete.With electric blenders and food processors around in this modern age,time for cooking lei cha can be cut short.It is good to see that Hakka ladies are quick to grab the chance for venturing into business.In the past,lei cha cooking was only restricted to family activities.
The picture shown below is the lei cha cooked by me alone using an ordinary blender.I cut and chopped the vegetables one day beforehand and prepared the roasted groundnuts one day earlier.On the actual day of cooking lei cha,I cooked the rice first and then prepared the jade green paste and the bitter paste separately.This was followed by stir-frying the chai poh and vegetables.Check for the recipe in my next post- click Lei Cha(part 2).
Yes,it looks very alien to people outside Malaysia,parts of China and Taiwan but once you get used to it,you might get addicted and even request for more bitter paste for the soup.
Authentic Hakka Lei Cha of the Hopoh clan,
is forever green and delicious!
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