Category Archives: Tubers in the Soil

My Tropical Asian Treasure Trove – Part 1

It looks like some overgrown wasteland, neglected, in disarray … well, Ma Nature never created forest growth in straight rows. If they can grow in harmony as companions, and they have for over 3 years, why should I try to ‘straighten things out’ and spoil their habitat?

My shade loving Asian bed

It’s summer. Both plants and human beings in this household can feel the heat, which results in the planting and monitoring frenzy of spices, herbs and rhizomes I use in the kitchen. I try to grow as much as I can, to harvest and preserve (dry or freeze) as I know when the weather gets cooler, they die off or hibernate. They make way for their cool weather comrades.

You may ask “why not just get Asian stuff from an Asian grocery store?” Well, it’s over 35 miles to the closest well-stocked Asian produce store so it would be crazy frequently heading there just to get herbs & spices I need. More important, many of the items that I use, are not sold there … oh yes, not all Asian culinary spices are created equal.
(Click on the sub-titled links for more info & photos.)

Turmeric ~ a much-needed spice in my kitchen. It has grown in my backyard for over 3 years so it simply feels at home and will start re-growing in Spring but will show its leaves in Summer. I use these leaves in tea, curries and as wraps when roasting; and the roots in curries, pickles, sambal, etc.

Fresh green Turmeric leaves.

Galangal (Alpinia officinarum) 南姜 ~ which I simply call Lengkuas is another crucial item needed when preparing S.E. Asian dishes like those Mum taught me.

Galangal – just “normal” looking rhizome growth.

Can you get these in Chinese, Vietnamese or Filipino owned stores? No, but you might find it in Thai & Indian stores … frozen ones, yes but fresh ones, maybe.

Sand Ginger (Kaempferia galanga) or Cekur/沙姜 ~ the mysterious ornamental ginger which I began growing when a ginger-growing enthusiast sent me a rhizome.

Cekur, it makes a beautiful groundcover

Leaves and rhizomes are edible. Lovely as ground cover, even lovelier as an organic backyard grown food aroma enhancer. Can one find this in Asian stores in Florida? Unfortunately I have to say 99.9% it’s “No”. So I simply grow it!

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Growing (Edible) Greens on No One’s Land

During a casual stroll around a friend’s neighbourhood in Penang, Malaysia, from a distance I spotted someone kneeling amongst weeds, in absolute concentration of sort. Plain curiosity got the better of me so I walked up and said hello. Then I realised the green growth were not invasive weeds but actually edible plants which I grow in my backyard!

The kind lady told me “No land is wasted here. All neighbours seed sow or plant cuttings where empty land is ignored by government and we all simply pick what is available and just what we need for a meal-dish”.  Then she insisted that I take a bag of young sweet potato leaves so that my friend can taste what is freely available and join in the anonymous food growing group in the area.

Should I also start planting edibles in/on vacant lots in my neighbourhood? Food for thought ~ pun intended. 😀

My Root Awakening

It’s slightly over 2 months now, since Hurricane Matthew’s visit but I have taken my time unearthing my fallen edible “debris”. Why rush when Ma Nature is keeping them alive although no longer their usual vertical self.

Bit by bit my Cassava/Tapioca/Ubi Kayu is getting unearthed and used in the kitchen so yes, I have to keep thinking of “new” dishes. In the past I have usually grated these chunky roots to make sweet cakes but this time I’ve decided to use it in savory dishes too since there’s ample. So Mission Cassava begins with cleaning and parboiling.

Rinsed in the backyard and ready for peeling.

Rinsed in the backyard and ready for peeling.

Once peeled I soak them for 4 hours.

Once peeled I soak them for 4 hours.

... then cut them in chunks add pressure cook them for 20 minutes, yes, they're tough.

… then cut them in chunks and pressure cook them for 20 minutes, yes, they’re tough.

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How & Why did the Sweet Potato plant cross the path?

sweetpotatopath

With my help of course … no, actually at my insistence. I usually propagate Sweet Potato plants in summer and to give them a good chance of survival (in our still very poor ground soil) I usually perform what I call the Sweet Potato Spa treatment.

In this corner/stretch, I have decided to let Ma Nature help me.  My “Sweetie” shares playground with my carefully controlled Water Convolvulvus (蕹菜) and is the secondary recipient of water from the air-conditioning unit.

Sweet Potato plants love the air-conditioner created micro climate.

Sweet Potato plants love the micro climate created by the air-conditioning unit.

So let it stay connected to mama-plant while it happily strays (with my guidance) to lay down roots on ground soil.

Straying on new ground.

Straying on new ground.

When established, I will cut their “umbilical” link and allow them to be my groundcover on the other side of the path. Then, for sure, I will not run out of Sweet Potato leaves (hopefully roots too) for my kitchen use.

 

 

 

Sweet Potato ~ an All Rounder

Many readers will be familiar with Sweet Potatoes from the shelves of the supermarkets & produce stores, but did you know the leaves are edible too? It’s commonly sold and eaten in Asia but I have yet to find it for sale in the US. So what do I do? Grow it myself of course!

The root (tuber) and the leaves.

The root (tuber) and the leaves.

The leaves are loaded with nutrition and I usually pluck some, sauté with olive oil and garlic then put that on a veggie burger. Yummy! I kid you not.

Today is “Tidying & Propagating Sweet Potato Day” for me. I need that aim to remind me not to go astray in the backyard, doing this and that then end up forgetting about Sweet Potatoes. 😳

Nice green sweet potato leaves.

Nice green sweet potato leaves.

Lots of trimming ~ some for the kitchen, some to be planted in new areas & some to just neaten the grow patch. Cuttings to be replanted are now undergoing a spa treatment of sort, in case of shock, to stimulate re-starting life in new soil.

Sweet potato cuttings resting in their 'bathtub' to overcome shock.

Sweet potato cuttings resting in their ‘bathtub’ to overcome shock.

Just like separating co-joined twins to grow & lead happy lives.

Just like separating co-joined twins to grow & lead happy lives.

… and tonight …

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Kuih Bingka (Bingka Cake)

As a child, I had to help my mum and grandma with all kinds of nitty gritty things in the kitchen ~ like peeling potatoes, washing rice grains, pounding spices in a granite mortar using a pestle heavier than little, skinny me (we didn’t have food processors then). In its own way that has taught me to assess when things are going right (or wrong) by smell, texture & consistency, etc.

They were hardcore Nonyas, who cooked superb dishes that has made me somewhat regret giving my work life priority when they were alive. Oh well, better late, learning via the internet, then never, right?

After this recent harvest of Cassava or Ubi Kayu, I decided to check the internet to see if there might be “short cuts” to preparing dishes which I knew how to, but not the old tedious way and “voilà!”.

First thing, and no short cut here …

skin the tuber, notice there is a shell that allows semi-peeling

Skin the tuber, notice there is a shell that allows semi-peeling

Skinned and washed

Skinned and washed

The recipe which I found, with a new method of preparation, is from Guai Shu Shu  (which cheekily means an uncle who is good, in Mandarin) and involves that magical blender. US readers, yes, Custard Powder is very British but! you can find it in a corner of Publix where they place British/English products.

Ingredients in blender

Ingredients in blender

As per the recipe ... the blender is a-working.

As per the recipe … the blender is a-working.

Oh! My mum would have flipped if she had seen me doing this but, hey it’s all part and parcel of progress.  Our ancestors would have flipped if they had seen us in gas-fueled cars, right?

Anyway, I followed the recipe to the letter and the blender came in useful. Anyone interested in Singapore recipes, do check out Guai Shu Shu’s blog, it’s got some superb dishes for you to try.

So out of the blender came a cake mixture that actually tasted and smelled somewhat similar, had I done it manually.  Into my Pyrex loaf dish which I lined with Parchment Paper and a round casserole oiled with butter ~ simply to test which is preferable, for future baking.

Into bakeware

Into bakeware

Nice and Brown ~ smells just like Mama's

Nice and Brown ~ smells just like Mama’s

I wouldn’t put the pic below on a baker’s blog (but I’m a gardener ) ~ I had to hold back last night and wait for it to get to room temperature before cutting ~ and so, this morning’s hunger made me speed things up.

Had Kuih Bingka for breakfast ~ yum yum!

Had Kuih Bingka for breakfast ~ yum yum!

 

 

 

 

Cassava or Ubi Kayu

We have had some rain and the heat in the atmosphere has lessened a little, so I did some “Forest” harvesting.

Ubi Kayu stems which were cut off/trimmed

Ubi Kayu stems which were cut off/trimmed

The 1st crop was Cassava (Yuca in Spanish) but known to me since childhood as Ubi Kayu (ubi means tuber and kayu means wood in Malay, so I guess it’s Woody Tuber).

Cassava, Yuca or Ubi Kayu

Cassava, Yuca or Ubi Kayu

It’s available in US supermarkets but usually comes with the sticker “Product of Mexico”. It grows so easily and provides a green hedge/shade plant, so I just stick cuttings in soil and let Mother Nature decide if it lives or goes to ubi-heaven.

There is so much written about its toxic properties in news articles and I feel that it is unfair. Yes, it contains cyanide and can kill ~ hey! so can Rhubarb, yet everyone eats Rhubarb pies and happily live on.  My caution is: Don’t treat any part of this plant as salad material, like carrots or beets or celery.

The leaves are edible too BUT, they need to be par-boiled for 10 mins and the water discarded. There goes the toxins…

 

Cuttings for planting

Cuttings for planting

So, for the next 48 hours, these stems will be in a jar of water to “refresh” them, then to further cultivate them on the property’s boundary.

The quirky looking tuber in the pic above is about to become  delicious cake.  Will post follow-up when done.

Potato Harvest for Dinner

Many growers harvest their potatoes by the season and then store them in porous bags until needed. I harvest mine when I feel like have having some fresh potatoes for a meal.

Today was warm, it felt almost like summer and while watering a veggie bed, I saw that some potatoes in my grow-bag were screaming to be harvested

Medium sized and ready

Medium sized and ready

Good size ~ medium but matured.

Good size ~ medium but matured.

Different colored young potatoes ~ excellent for roasting.

Different colored young potatoes ~ excellent for roasting.

 

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