Friday, June 20, 2008

Torch Ginger Flower (Etlinger Elatior)

I love flowers whether is just for decoration or edible flowers but there's one flower that needs to be included in certain Southeast Asian dishes; in fact without this flower there's no 'ooomphh' and no 'marriage' in the dish. Even if you can find dried version of this flower, it simply won't do compared to fresh flower. Sometimes, because I can't find this 'special' flower, I won't cook the dish that have this ingredient in it, no matter how much I crave for that dish :-( 

I'm referring to... the edible Torch Ginger Flower (Zingibier Etlinger Elatior) or Bunga Kantan (Malay), Ang Hua/Red Flower (Hokkien), Kaalaa (Thai), Awapuhi-ko `oko` o (Hawaiian), Bunga Kecombrang/ Bongkot (Indonesian), Asam Cekala (Karonese) to name a few but mostly known as Laksa Flower. There're other names for it as well such as Sceptre of the Emperor, Rose de porcelaine, Torch Lily and Philippine Waxflower. Don't be confused with Heliconia... The stalks may looked the same but the flowers are totally different. The Torch Ginger came in several colours as well; Pink, Red, White. The one I had and most commonly available in Southeast Asian fresh market is Pink Torch Ginger.

The Pink Torch Ginger buds on its stems...

Inside the bud: very colourful pink shades petals with yellow corolla in the centre.

The taste is unique... it has sourness (tangy), astringent, aromatic with a hint of galangal (will discuss about that in future entry) and colourful to be use as decoration in the garden as well as in ikebana which I had seen been used by some Japanese ikebana specialists.

There's only one thing that caught my attention about this flower. The very young bud looks like myoga and since both were from same family, that made me wonder if I can use the tender young buds like myoga... :-D

Usage of this flower mostly as condiment in seafood-based dishes of Nyonya/Peranakan and Malay, Thai cuisines; like Assam Laksa, Fish Curry, Noodles or Salads to impart that unique aroma and taste to cooked dish besides colouring the dish with its pink petals... The seeds are used in soups for its sourness to replace tamarind rinds and tamarind pulp. I may try to add it to rasam next time... :-D Some local remedies include drinking the filtered juice of finely pounded seeds with warm water to fight fatigue and increase appetite. Besides the buds as food, fresh long stems (after cutting of the flower buds) are use to get rid of body odor; chop the long stem into shorter lengths, pound into pulp and boil in water. After the mixture is cool, filter the mixture and use the water for bathing (that I need to try out :-P ) 

The best and faster way propagates this plant is from cuttings compared to seedlings which may took several years before the plant starts producing flowers.

PS. Southeast asians - mostly women, love to eat raw herbs and vegetables with sambals and dips in their daily food supplement. It's believed that eating raw herbs and vegetables preserves the youthfulness of individuals. The knowledge is passed down from great-grandmothers to grand-daughters... That's why, we look younger than our age...Hahahahaa... ;-) Well, as long as we can sustain the supply of such produce, we will keep up with the tradition. That's why I planted such herbs in my little terrace 'garden' as much as possible. The natural resource for such herbal remedies is fast depleting. Concrete jungle is growing faster than the plants themselves... :-( I always advice my friends to eat raw herbs and plant them in their homes.


Sunday, June 8, 2008

Banana-A Multi-Purpose Plant

What is abundant, biodegradable, versatile, economical, cheap (if you're in living in the producing region), multi-purpose usage, important in cultures and beliefs, etc, etc ,etc???

It's Banana - just saying its' name conjures up many finger licking thoughts... Fried, grill, raw, steam, flambé, bake, sauce, chips, curry, salads, you name it... it's possible with this multi-purpose plant, we all love since our childhood years! Banana has fancy names too; Manzano, Baby/Nino Banana, Burro, Plantain, Cavendish (well known in US and as Chiquita in EU countries.) This fruit is so famous that even we, humans are named after it as well. Example: Banana Joe and movies or shows were made about it like Banana in Pyjamas that has kids all over the world going bananas!

I'm going bananas as well with so many species and hybrids of bananas available today... :-D If you're interested to know more infos go to Believe me, you will go crazy as well! I guessed I just stick to those I knew locally in Malay archipelago (depends on which is the country) like Rastali, Emas, Embun, Lidah Buaya, Raja, Nangka, Tanduk, Berangan, Awak, Nipah, etc,etc etc. ;-)

Besides all that, banana plant has many usage as well... Do you know that Banana plant is NOT a tree but a giant herb in the genus Musa? Due to its tall size and structure, a Banana plant is commonly referred to as Banana tree. Sometimes, a Banana plant bears 2 times the fruit instead of only once. To some cultures this is considered as unique and lucky for the owner of the plant. I guessed it's due to commercial bred bananas that caused such mutation? Most species of bananas we ate today are seedless or have only the vestige of seeds for easy consumption... I ate 'wild' bananas before and the seeds are about 0.50 cm in dark brown/black colour! It's difficult to find such wild fruits now due to heavy development of concrete jungle :-(
Banana Leaves are so famous as food wrapper and as 'plate' in Indian cuisine of Banana Leaf Rice... I'm a huge fan of Banana Leaf Rice! The strong, flexible and waterproof leaves are used in many different ways in regions where the tree is common. Another good example is Central American tamales are often steamed in banana leaves and Hawaiian Kalua cooking has the 'imu' (undrground oven) lined with banana leaves. The leaves imparts a wonderful fragrance in the cooked dishes.

My mom used it to ease the movement of her old charcoal iron on our family clothes (our clothes smell sooooooo good, crispy and fresh!) without using any easy-iron on spray :-D You can do it with our modern day iron too. If you're using a steam iron, turn off the steam; glide your hot iron across the banana leaves (it will sizzles) and strike across your clothes. 

Here are some pictures of the Banana Blossom/Banana Heart. I peeled off some petals apart to show the little florets...

Anyway, that aside... in this entry I want to share a recipe using the Banana blossom/Banana Heart as salad for side dish. It's simple but what's taking the time is the peeling of each of the florets, remove the hard stamens and boiling/steaming part... But the end results, definitely worth it!

Banana Blossom Salad

1 Whole Banana Blossom

To be chopped finely:
1 cup Fully packed Thai Basil
1 cup Fully packed Mint
1 cup Fully packed Coriander leaves

2-3 nos Limes - for juice only (or more if you like sourness)
4 nos Fresh Red Chillies (or 1-2 Tablespoons of Sambal/Chilli paste)
15 nos Shallots or Small Red Onions-slice thinly
50 g Bean Sprouts - blanched
50 g Roasted Pine Nuts/ Peanuts - roughly crushed (I prefer to use Pine Nuts)

Fish Sauce to taste
Sugar to taste


1. Prepare a deep bowl of water; you may add some lemon/lime juice or salt for soaking the banana blossom to avoid discolouration. Meanwhile, boil some water in a deep pot just enough to cover the banana florets and the 'heart'.

2. Peel off the hard outer layers of the banana blossom but reserve the florets until you reach the 'white' part of the blossom. You can keep the petals as serving bowls or 'boats'. For the florets, remove any hard stamens from inside the centre of each florets. Towards the end of that task, I normally didn't remove the softer stamens; it's soft enough to chew... :-P 

Soak all the florets and 'white' part of blossoms in the water.

Note: Some people would throw away the florets. I don't know why but I used them (not wanting to waste the precious plant.) It's edible as well.

3. In the boiled hot water, put in the 'heart' and florets. Boil them until just soft but still maintain the crunchy texture (that's my preference but you can cook them until fully soft.) That would take 20 - 30 minutes or more depends the size of the 'heart' of banana. The little florets are faster to soften. Normally, I would remove the florets first, soak them in cold tap water to stop the cooking process then continue cooking the 'heart'.

You can use pressure cooker to cook them. Follow the manufacturer's instructions and cook them for 15-20 minutes depends on the quantity and hardness of the banana 'heart'.

4. In another small pot; blanch the beansprouts quickly in hot boiling water for few seconds; Remove and cool it in cold water to stop further the cooking process. Set aside.

5. When the florets and 'heart' are cooked, slice them thinly or roughly chop to bite-size if you like. 

6. Now, comes the easy part; In a separate/mixing bowl, mix nicely all the herbs, blanched beansprouts, chopped nuts, sliced chillies or paste, lime juice, sugar and fish sauce to taste. If you are using the reserved larger petals of the banana blossom for serving; spoon the salad mixture into individual petals, decorate and serve in plate or on a large banana leaf (you can cut into shapes you like or cut into several rectangle pieces according to how many guests you're serving.) You can serve in a bowl (like in the picture below) to accompany your other main dishes... 

.: Enjoy :.


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