Category Archives: Rhizomes

My Tropical Asian Treasure Trove – Part 2

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).

Lemongrass does not like lemons

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.

Curry Leaves do smell like Curry.

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,

Just a versatile herb.

and in case you are curious (and brave) enough, you might even like to try making Indian Shepherd’s Pie. 😀

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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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My Summer Indicator

Yes, it’s Summer … just passed Summer Solstice … but how do I know it’s just as warm as the Tropics? With Mother Nature’s help.

Admittedly I live with my little vegetable-turf and try to grow all kinds edibles which I can harvest during different seasons. I love Asian Spinach (Bayam/苋菜) which is a perennial but grows better in Fall, nevertheless I simply leave some to bolt and produce new plants whenever they feel conditions are right.

Asian Spinach (Bayam/苋菜)

BUT … amongst this greenery which provides some shade, some sprouts have emerged to indicate that it’s Summer!

See the Sprout?

That is the Cekur or Sand Ginger (Kaempferia galanga) which is a beautiful groundcover… but I grow them more for use in the kitchen.

The warmth loving ginger.

Young leaves capturing water.

Soon, some Sand Ginger leaves will garnish & add flavor to sautéed Asian Spinach and later, both leaves and roots will be used when preparing Kerabu or Malay style salad which is rice based.

Kerabu

Cekur or Sand Ginger or 沙姜

Uncommon where I now live; common where I used to live.
It’s mid-Spring but it feels like Summer! So what better time to begin my Split-&-Spread task.

Cekur/Sand Ginger is actually a beautiful plant which I now use as a seasonal groundcover ~ it just hibernates and hides in late Fall and Winter. Its a tropical plant so its growth is somewhat erratic in the northern hemisphere, but its aromatic rhizomes and leaves which I use as a seasoning and/or marinade is worth the challenge.

Cekur as groundcover

When the leaves show up, I take it as a call to propagate, to make up for my kitchen use in the coming months. This is a very tender rhizome so I use only an old metal teaspoon and my bare hands to retrieve them.

Rinsed to check for active roots

For now, those with active, fat, white roots will go into a “crib” to be covered thinly with rich soil. This will help to develop roots and a couple of green leaves and for 2017 I plan to spread them out to different spots around the garden.

Root development “crib”

My motto: what you like and can’t find in stores, you grow … at least try to grow. :mrgreen:

Roots

“Seek and you will find…” this aim/mission has been half accomplished.

Walking through the markets’ vegetable stalls in Penang, I see so many familiar items which simply reminds me that there is so much more I can add to my backyard in the US.

Sand Ginger and the Finger Root

On the right is the Sand Ginger/Cekur which I found, via a gardening club in Florida, grown by hobbyists as beautiful groundcover. I’m now growing this to be used for cooking!

On the left is a root called Temu Kunci or Finger Root, yes it does look like human fingers 😀 and is commonly used in Southeast Asia when mixing a curry or sambal paste.

So now I have a new item to seek … in case any reader in the US is growing this root or knows a fellow gardener who is, please send me a note. Unfortunately it has to be freshly harvested to be re-growable.

 

Shampoo Ginger

I was given a plant which I was told is “Shampoo Ginger” over 3 years ago at a garden exchange meeting. It bore lots of leaves but nothing else so I decided to transfer it to the back “slope” on the edge of the property.

But … last week a few pink buds of sort suddenly popped out and I began observing if the bud would change, open up or just stay as is.

Shampoo Ginger bud with a pollinating "outlet".

Shampoo Ginger bud with a pollinating “outlet”.

The opening.

The opening.

The pollinato...!?

The pollinator at work.

So, will I get seeds? Is the Shampoo Ginger  used to make shampoo? I’m about to find out.

 

The mysterious Sand Ginger

Cekur or Kencur in Malay, 沙姜 in Chinese, can be found in markets in Singapore and Malaysia but in all the Asian stores I’ve been to in the US, it is a “never to be found” item ~ a mysterious underground substance.

So, via a kind gift from a GardenWeb Ginger Forum member, I got a piece to carefully grow in my backyard, to become my small personal supply.

Edible leaves of the Sand Ginger

Edible leaves of the Sand Ginger

Delicate Blooms of Cekur

Delicate Blooms of Cekur

Cekur Roots

Cekur Roots

They grow well in the Florida summer but not as fast as in the tropics. With that little bit, yes that’s considered a little bit, I will make a sauce (pesto like), some for dipping, at the dining table (sesame oil & calamansi lime juice need to be added to dipping sauce), and some to be used as part of a marinade for chicken, shrimps or firm toufu. Continue reading

2nd Turmeric Harvest

Today I harvested my 2nd batch of Turmeric (Kunyit), enough to use for the next 6 months, if used frugally 😀

Its flowers are beautiful & I will add an update pic when its blooms appear.