It IS possible to eat something for a decade or more in Asia and not quite know exactly what one is eating. I proved that in the last days. Proved that many people don’t know what exactly is on their plate, or what it’s called.
Recycling is far more common in the developing world than most people believe, simply because people strapped for cash (and particularly farmers) need to eke every last drop of value out of what they have, be it food or a crop or something they have purchased.
I did a little happy dance in the market yesterday when one of the old Thai grandmas had my favourite vegetable for sale. It’s not around steadily and only comes in dribs & drabs and small amounts, and for over 15 years I have been buying, cooking and eating it with great pleasure. But I have never really known exactly what it’s called. I have asked often and it’s a question the vendors sidestep. Sometimes they just call if “galum” (cabbage) but clearly it’s a specific subset. Usually I just point and tell the vendor how much I want to buy, and let things be.
Yesterday I again asked the lady selling it what it’s proper name is, and she shyly admitted she did not know. I asked her if it was kale (pak kanna) regrown, and she shrugged. My bad to make her lose face by asking a question she could not answer. I googled unsuccessfully. I asked my Thai daughter, who googled and image searched for me in Thai. Nothing. And finally I asked one of my favourite Thai chefs (Khun Nam from My Kitchen Chiang Mai) who was able to tell me definitively: it’s called แนงกะหล่ำ (Pak Pa Saeng Galum) and it’s the tender regrowth that springs back immediately after the farmers harvest their cabbages.
Think a very tender, non-hearted brussel sprout without any of the bitterness.
Thai people stir fry it with a small mountain of garlic and “oyster sauce”. Haha – vegan friends, do not despair – I’m willing to stake my life on the fact that no living oyster ever was part of making the chemical cocktail of starch, artificial flavours, MSG and artificial colours which is politely called “oyster sauce” here. And no, you won’t find that crap in my Thai kitchen.
I prepare my pa saeng galum with fresh mushrooms, garlic and a little fresh but mild chili.
I firstly soak the pa saeng galum in a basin of cold water and baking soda for about 20 mins, and then rinse. To remove any surface pesticide residues. Given the snail chomp marks and holes usually found in this vegetable, I’m fairly Thai people don’t bother to spray it. Thankfully But I prefer to take that precaution.
I chop the garlic and slice the mushrooms and toss them in to a hot work with a little rice bran oil. After 1-2 mins, in goes the pa saeng galum. Stir and cook until it is a little past wilted but still crisp – stay close cos it only takes a minute. In goes the sliced fresh chili for the final minute before the heat goes off. I sprinkle some plain natural mineral salt over it, but you can sprinkle fish sauce if you prefer at this point.
If I’m really looking for spicy and authentic Thai taste, I toss in a tablespoon of what we, in our house, call “Jang’s Magic Stuff”. Our friend, Jang, a local Thai entrepreneur produces it and sells to restaurants and selected stores. It’s basically deep fried crispy garlic, onion, Thai spices like kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and chili, and the tiny, tiny, weeny little shrimps. I don’t cook it, just stir it through and let it all rest for 5 mins before serving.
Served over some local organic black riceberry rice with small organic Thai cucumbers on the side.#foodismedicine
Fresh, healthy, super yum, natural, spicy and RECYCLED to help the local farmer get those few extra baht back to reward their labour. What more could you want?
Enjoying sharing my natural Thai world with you. And now I’m hungry!!
Who knew recycling could be so pleasurable?