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Sunday May 17, 2009
Photos by YAP CHEE HONG
THE organic shops have started selling some quite uncommon vegetables. You may have wondered what some of these strange-looking vegetables are.
So here’s a quick guide to – and recipe suggestions for – the lesser known greens that we should all try.
Adding more varieties of vegetables to our diet not only helps us harvest more nutrients from the land – and possibly find a cure for whatever is ailing us – it also helps ensure biodiversity in our environment, a sustainable agricultural practice, and a livelihood for the local organic farmers.
After all, we are all custodians for biodiversity in our environment.
Angelica (Angelica Keiskei Koidzumi) – RM86 per kg
Popularly known as Ashitaba (Japanese for “tomorrow’s leaves”), the hardy and very fibrous, celery-like plant grows quickly. It belongs to the same family of plants as the angelica root (dong guai) that is widely used in Chinese herbal medicine. Its origin is traced to the Hachi Jo Islands in Japan where it is consumed as medicine and is believed to promote longevity. Full of anti-oxidants known as chalcones and chlorophyll, the herb is a potent immune-booster and blood cleanser, and acts as a diuretic to remove toxins, as well as helping to improve blood circulation. Studies have shown Ashitaba to be able to treat hypertension, menstrual cramps and pains, and inhibit skin and lung cancer. When eaten raw, it has a bitter taste but when cooked, the leaves and stem taste sweet. It is usually taken as a tonic in local applications.
Green dragon leaf – RM14 per kg
From the Chinese chives family, this variety has broader, flat leaves and tastes less pungent compared to chives – like a cross between Chinese chives and leek. This great-tasting green certainly has culinary potential; in recipes, it can be used to substitute Chinese chives or the leek. It has the same nutritional values as chives: rich in dietary fibre, protein, carotene, calcium and vitamins B1, B2 and C. It also contains sulphur-rich mustard oil that has antiseptic properties, improves digestion and blood flow, and is low in calories – only 30 calories per 100g.
White radish and leaves – RM10 per kg
Radish is usually sold without leaves, but at the organic shops, the whole plant is available. This small white radish is popular in Japanese cuisine where it is usually eaten raw or pickled. The raw radish has a pungent taste but once cooked, it has a sweet taste. Low in calories, the radish is high in Vitamin C. The leaves have large amounts of beta-carotene, calcium and vitamins A, B1, B2 and C; they contain three times more vitamin A compared to broccoli. The leaves have a slightly bitter taste but are most flavourful.
Red vegetables (Gynura bicolour) – RM13 per kg
A perennial from the chrysanthemum family, the plant has very striking dual-coloured leaves: dark green on one side and purple underneath. Rich in iron, it is said to improve blood circulation. It is also high in Vitamin A. The tender leaves and shoots can be eaten raw or cooked in a soup. It has a rather distinct taste, like a cocktail of spices. Like other Malay herbs such as ulam raja and daun kaduk, it is best eaten with another strong tasting food such as sambal belacan.
Wild ginseng leaf (Talinum Triangulare) – RM9 per kg
The leaves are said to bear a similar structure to ginseng and are high in protein, calcium and vitamins A, B and C. The stem and leaves have cooling properties to reduce body heat. It also contains traces of ginseng to improve energy levels. The Indians use the flowers as a remedy for asthma. The fleshy leaves have a pleasant taste when eaten raw. It is usually cooked in soup, and has a pleasant and mild taste and a very appealing texture – satiny smooth, tender and luscious.
Kohlrabi (Brassica Oleracea) – RM11 per kg
Commonly called “kailan head”, this member of the cabbage family is native to Northern Europe. In German, kohlrabi means “cabbage turnip”. Shaped like a ball with leaves attached to it, the purple and light green varieties are available here. The purple kohlrabi has a more pungent aroma and harder flesh; the light green variety has a crunchy and sweet taste similar to that of yambean (sengkuang) when eaten raw, and can be used as a yambean substitute. An alkalising vegetable, it is high in Vitamin C and potassium, which help enhance the immune and nervous systems.
Mulukkhiya – RM2 for 200g
Well known in Egyptian cuisine, Mulukkhiya means “the vegetable for kings” in Arabic. The herb is rich in vitamins A, B1, B2, C, E, K, calcium, iron, potassium and zinc. When chopped, the leaves ooze a powerful curative slime known as muchin, which is said to be able to help strengthen the veins, and lubricate and repair injured mucus membranes. In Egypt, it is usually cooked finely chopped-up in a soup, and served with a garlic-coriander dip.
Long red lettuce (Lactuca Indica) – RM11 per kg
Known as fu mak choy in Chinese, these coarse, long lettuce leaves have an attractive, distinct red mid-rib. An upright-growing perennial, the plant can grow to four feet high. Usually eaten stir-fried (although it can be eaten raw), it has a slightly bitter taste – adding meat and other sweet-tasting ingredients will help mask the bitter edge. The leaf oozes a milky white sap when cut, and is said to reduce body heat and promote detoxification.
*Information in this article is culled from various sources, including the organic farmers, Justlife nutritionist Tang Sim Yee and the Internet. While all care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information given, we cannot ascertain if they are scientifically proven facts. As such, please seek medical advice if using the vegetables as treatment.
Source: Flavours magazine – May/June 2009 issue
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