BE­YOND BA­SIC

There is a whole world of herbs out­side the ones you most com­monly use. Here are five lesser known South­east Asian herbs to try

Wine & Dine - - CONTENTS - WORDS MICHELLE YEE

Five un­usual South­east Asian herbs

CU­LANTRO

Not to be mis­taken for ci­lantro, which has small, short, rounded leaves, cu­lantro has long, ser­rated leaves. Both herbs are not closely re­lated, yet cu­lantro, also known as saw­tooth herb, fea­tures a faint smell of ci­lantro along with a more ro­bust flavour.

Hail­ing from the Caribbean, this herb is a won­der­ful flavour booster, and can be used in many ways such as chopped up and added to beans, stews and rice, or blended with gar­lic and onions as a mari­nade for meats. Cu­lantro, which is rich in cal­cium and con­tains iron, ri­boflavin and carotene, can also be pre­pared in tea form as it is said to be able to help com­bat flu, di­a­betes, con­sti­pa­tion and fever.

FISH MINT

Named af­ter the fishy aro­mas the leaves emit, this Viet­namese heart-shaped herb is par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar in Yun­nan, China, where lo­cals use the leaves as a gar­nish in soups and sal­ads, or cook them with meats and vegeta­bles. In Ja­pan and Korea, the leaves are dried and used to brew tea, as lo­cals be­lieve the herb sup­ports detox­i­fi­ca­tion.

Con­trary to what its name sug­gests, the leaves do not taste minty, but rather has a tangy flavour. Apart from the leaves, the plant’s long, white, tan­gled roots—which boast an aro­matic flavour like gin­ger or galan­gal but with­out the heat—are also ed­i­ble. They can be eaten raw or cooked. In north­east­ern In­dia, the roots are of­ten ground into chut­neys along with dried fish, chill­ies and tamarind.

FINGERROOT

Also known as Chi­nese gin­ger, fingerroot is a medic­i­nal (it is be­lieved to be an­timi­cro­bial and anti-in­flam­ma­tory) and culi­nary herb that comes from the same fam­ily as gin­ger, fea­tur­ing bright yel­low rhi­zomes. Na­tive to South­east Asia and China, and cul­ti­vated in In­dia, Cam­bo­dia, In­done­sia and var­i­ous parts of Asia, fingerroot can grow up to 12cm wide and 50cm long. Fingerroot is said to be named af­ter the shape of its rhi­zomes, which re­sem­ble fin­gers grow­ing from a main body. It is com­monly used in Cam­bo­dian curry pastes, par­tic­u­larly fish curry dishes like the fa­mous fish amok—a steamed curry served in banana leaf.

VIET­NAMESE MINT

Al­though this herb is not a mem­ber of the mint fam­ily, its ap­pear­ance and fra­grance are rem­i­nis­cent of them, hence its name. Of­fer­ing a slightly pep­pery or hot minty taste, this herb, fea­tur­ing nar­row, pointed leaves, is widely used in Viet­namese, Thai and Lao­tian cui­sine such as rice pa­per rolls, soups like bun thang, and sal­ads like larb. Lo­cally, it is shred­ded and added to dishes like laksa and some ren­di­tions of asam pedas—a spicy fish stew soured with a good hit of tamarind juice.

PEN­NY­WORT

A mem­ber of the car­rot and dill fam­ily, pen­ny­wort, also known as gotu kola, fea­tures shovel shaped leaves, and can be eaten raw or cooked. Na­tive to South­east Asia, Sri Lanka and Aus­tralia, this herb is used dif­fer­ently in var­i­ous coun­tries. For in­stance, it is com­monly eaten as a leafy green in Sri Lankan cui­sine, but is used to brew teas and blended into re­fresh­ing drinks in Viet­nam. This herb is also prized for its medic­i­nal value—pen­ny­wort is said to be able to help im­prove ail­ing me­mory, arthri­tis, and many other con­di­tions.

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