Apart from those hidden Asian treasures in the micro shady boondocks of my backyard, summer warmth has spurred the growth of aromatic foliage which I need, for home style cooking, dishes which I grew up with, taught by my mother and grandmother, food that makes a house smell like home.
Walking around in the morning, at times with coffee mug in hand, pinching or breaking a leaf or two, inhaling the aroma, makes me appreciate what a little bit of each plant can do to enhance our chemical sensing system of smell and taste.
The very easy-to-propagate Lemongrass, nothing to do with lemons, has a citrus flavor which can make a not-so-appetizing dish smell heavenly. In Asia, it is used in soups, spicy stews, sweet tea, curries, as a basting brush for barbecues, as an air freshener in cars, fragrance for soaps and hair oil, heck! it’s supposed to even attract Honey Bees (which is why Lemongrass essence is placed in swarm boxes).
It looks like scrawny weeds but has very sharp-edged blades and hibernates to a brown clump in winter. It’s also supposed to repel mosquitoes but that aspect is one I can’t vouch for.
The Curry Leaf Plant (Murraya koenigii) to me is what makes a Curry taste and smell like real Curry! It is a plant native to India and Sri Lanka … the land of Curries, of course! I grew up with this in my backyard ~ yes, déjà vu.
Can this be found in all Asia grocery stores? No, only Indian run stores, unfortunately, which is why I need to grow my own. I harvest and dry some when it produces its leaves abundantly, just in case there is a bout of winter frost, that’s when it gets bald.
But … there is so much more that can be concocted with this herb, not just curry,
and in case you are curious (and brave) enough, you might even like to try making Indian Shepherd’s Pie. 😀
Pandan (Pandanus Amaryllifolius), so commonly sold in S.E. Asian markets but in ever shortage amongst Asians who grew up with it and are now living in the US, is somewhat surprising. Propagating Pandan is easy, it just takes patience. I use the Developing Roots in Water method.
After Florida’s coldest and longest winter in 2010, the Pandanus Amaryllifollius was literally wiped out in the whole state. Mine died too and for 3 years, I searched Asian stores, nurseries, gardening groups, etc. in vain. When I finally did acquire 2 teeny-weeny plants I decided to cultivate, grow them all over our little land plot (and in pots too) so that shortage will be (almost) unthinkable!
I use these fragrant leaves (tied in a knot) in my car and bathrooms as air freshener and cockroach repellent. (Read a Study by the University of Singapore, or just the conclusion on page 4, if interested.)
For food preparation, its usage is endless.
Laksa Leaf or Daun Kesum (Persicaria Odorata) is a herb I thought would be unavailable when I began gardening in Florida, then I saw a small bunch in a Vietnamese family run store and discovered that it is also known as Rau Ram and is common in Vietnamese cuisine.
This is a must-have topping to be stirred/mixed in when serving Laksa, a noodle dish with spicy coconut gravy. I also use it to accompany the thinly shredded leaves of the Sand Ginger (mentioned in earlier Asian Treasure Trove) when making Kerabu, a Malay rice-based salad.
My most recently acquired addition, which will be closely monitored, is the Fingerroot Ginger (Boesenbergia Rotunda). Ginger hobby gardeners in Florida, I discovered, grow this as an ornamental ginger.
This is a common ingredient used in Thai, Vietnamese and Indonesian cuisine.
It can be use grated or ground into a paste and mixed in toward the end of cooking (that’s my preference) fish and seafood moderately spicy dishes.
Its flowers are also very beautiful.
I will update with a Category of its own and a photo of a dish when the rhizomes have multiplied and are matured enough for harvest.
I hope one day, the world will just have common dishes with different people calling it different names ~ I don’t care whether it’s pasta or noodles, paella or clay-pot rice ~ and all herbs/spices be more readily available for everyone to try, taste and enjoy.