Saturday, January 14, 2012

Mahkota Dewa, a herbal tea

Mahkota dewa translates roughly as Gods Crown, its scientific name is Phaleria macrocarpa and it originates on the island of Papua, to the east of Indonesia.

Makhota Dewi is cauliflorous, this refers to it flowering and fruiting directly from the trunk and main branches. This creates a beautiful garden effect and "4 season beauty", a japanese garden design concept ensuring all year around beauty and interest through constant change.
It is a well sized tree for inner city gardens that wont overgrow or interfere with infrastructure.
The green fruit follow the masses of flowers.
Phaleria macrocarpa always appears fresh and green and free of pests and diseases, another feature of a superior ammenity plant for city gardens

Nasi uduk

Nasi uduk betawi
Very common
Buy anywhere
Make at home bday

Lemon grass 2 stems bruised
Daun Salam 4
Jeruk 4 kaffir
Clove 5
Coconut milk

Juice 1/3 lime jeruk limon

Spice mix
Red shallot 2
Garlic 1
Kemiri 1

Ground to paste and quick fried
Added to rice and folded through after rice absorbed

Let sit

Poh Pohan an unusual salad green

Mei and her family take a strange delight in my enthusiasm for what is for them the normal parts of life
Not that its any problem, Bule are strange anyway ;)
And there's many laughs to be had as i eat different foods for the first time. I think the difference with your regular foodie, if such a thing exists, is that im also approaching this as gardener, Permaculture designer, ethnobotanist and publisher.
So while I was in Australia,during our many long distance online chats, Mei starts rattling off names if vegetables I hadn't yet seen or tried
Genjer, poh pohan, etc *
I used google images to track them down and a few I knew. Genjer for example is Limnocharis flava, a plant I know from researching the wild vegetables of Vietnam, and because it's a class 1 declared weed in Queensland with a 50 000 aud fine for cultivation, more of my opinion on that craziness another time!
But a picture online of Poh pohan really sparked my interest.
See the reason I'm so interested in collecting vegetables, especially wild or semi-cultivated types,and information on them is because I think they offer an opportunity to improve and stabilize not only our diet but also the ecology and economy of human habitat.

This plant Poh pohan I found was most likely Pilea melastomoides, a cousin to the nettle family which in European derived traditions is an extremely nutritious wild vegetables. I was excited by the photo online which showed it growing as a low herbaceous layer in what might be an orchard. The reason this pleased me is that across the world we are just about out of ideal arable land, the kind that is well watered, fertile and sunny, and crops that tolerate being grown as understorey in agroforestry settings are of great value.
They allow us to develop Agroecologies that are multilayered and mimic stable woodland settings where the soil remains covered by a living mulch. This Most obviously reduces soil erosion and provides an organic layer that feeds soil organisms. The roots also keep soil open and friable allowing rainfall infiltration that slows movement of water through the landscape and recharges streams and wells.
Another more technical benefit of this layer is in nutrient cycling. When it rains the water is essentially distilled water and as it washes over the leaves and bark of a forest it leaches, through osmosis, the mineral and nitrogen salts out. This leaf flow and stem flow reaches the forest floor and the race is on to recapture it before it washes away. By maintaining a dynamic herbaceous root web we can make Agroecologies more sustainable because they help capture these nutrients before they wash away.

Now, back to Poh pohan..

Fast forward to January 2012 and I'm in Jakarta when mama brings home lalap, a mix of fresh raw salad vegetables usually consumed alongside rice and fried things with a spicy sambal condiment - It's a delicious textural and taste combination.
In this mix was cucumber, lettuce, lemon basil (kemangi) and Poh pohan.

Finally I get my hands on this! And immediately I can see just why it deserves the species name melastomoides, in reference to it's similar appearance to the genus Melastoma.

I query my hosts, where is it from?
They tell me West Java, not Jakarta, it's a plant that likes cooler growing conditions. I can see why when examining it closely as it's a very succulent and delicate looking herb, juicy and crisp, not at all like the much tougher leaves of jakartas footpath and vacant lot weeds that bathe in the humid heat and tropical sun.
It's a popular vegetable, at least enough to be worth importing from outside the Jakarta region. I'm told it's available all year around.
I can see the resemblance also to stinging nettles as the specimens I examine are flowering. I admit to a little terror of the Urticaceae ;) as I've been stung by the giant stinging tree before in North Qld. It's a tree sized nettle covered in silica hairs containing an unidentified neurotoxin, and has been attributed with killing dogs and horses in the past. It got me on the ear and hand and the pain was excruciating like a marine sting. The silica needles lodge in the skin and burst every so often in response to cold or a hot shower on and off for about 2 months. Once bitten twice shy!
After being assured this experience would not repeat I tasted the herb.
It's cool and crisp, tender with little fibre. The taste slightly tart, I'd guess by taste from oxalic acid
The taste is slightly numbing and aromatic, quite similar to another salad green in Vietnam peperomia pellucida.
It is definitely enjoyable.

Chinese white pomegranate - Buah Delima putih

Buah Delima, pomegranate fruit

Jeruk wani, a peculiar citron

A little up the forest path from my house is an elderly lady with a very peculiar citrus tree, a type of citron that I have never heard of before.
Jeruk wani Is named after another peculiar indigenous fruit tree, Wani (mangifera caesia), which is a large brown skinned soft white fleshed extremely aromatic mango.
Similar to the proper the Jeruk Wani, this citron style fruit is used in the popular salad snack rujak, a dish of sliced tart crisp fruit with a salty tamarind chilli dressing.
Now citrus make great juices, great to eat fresh, use as condiments and use the thin oily skin or zest as flavouring.
But this citrus is different.
This is the only citrus I've ever heard of being cultivated for the pith!
The fruit pulp is very small and the remainder of this large citron is solid slabs of a crisp bland pulp perfect for rujak.
The tree is large leaved and sparse ad expected of a citron.
I have never seen this in a market or any other garden yet
I look forward to finding out more about it next time I visit my village home

Friday, January 13, 2012

Ant nest tea

"would you like to try some of this?", Mei asks as i see a quiet smile pass her lips.
"what is it?", I reply as I've learned after the fried lung incident it pays to ask, or not, depending on ones mood for adventure.
As the clear plastic bag passes to my hand Mei says "take a look, what you think it is? My mum uses it"
It only took a second in my hand before I realized this was something to write home about, "Woa ! Myrmecodium!" I startled.
"it's ants nest sayang" Mei says
"yes" I reply,"it looks like ant plant, a plant that grows and as it grows the stem swells and creates a home for the ants"
Later in the kitchen I ask more.
"my Aunt was given it in (West) Papua" Mei says," it's very expensive".
"how much?" I ask
"I'm not sure, it's my aunt from Ciputat"
"what's it used for?" I query
"duh" I laugh smiling
"many kinds of disease, gout, rheumatism, many" she adds
Meis mum says something
"all kinds of disease"
I joke "everything but death huh?", laughing
"do you have it in Australia?" Mei asks, "do they drink it there?"
"No I don't think so, it's a protected plant", i explain
"It only grows near cooktown and north on cape York where we visited, I imagine there's many more kinds in Papua."

The hard dry reddish brown slices show the intricate caverns that and plants create to lure their boarders, ant colonies that take refuge inside and ferociously protect their new home from herbivores and other threats. The ants waste products are absorbed by special tissues inside the nest.
There are many genera that are myrmycophilous (ant loving) across the tropics but the genus that sprung to mind with this specimen was Myrmedcodia, a genus in the Rubiaceae, the same alkaloid rich genus family that gives us coffee, quinine, ipecac syrup, as well as flower like Gardenia.
If the tea is indeed a remedy for inflammatory diseases like rheumatism and gout then it is not surprising as the family is on the hot list for interesting pharmacologically active drugs.
Myrmecodia is difficult in cultivation as without it's ant Helpers it is prone to attack by various insects and pathogens.

Now to taste the tea...
The material is fresh and looks of good quality.

Boutique dates!

In the basement supermarket at lotte next to ratu plaza I came across a peculiar thing. A date stand.

Arranged under glass on platters like fine chocolate truffles were at least 2 dozen types of Saudi date

Ive always loved dates from when I was a child but all I've ever had available to me were imported pitted Iranian dates or in recent years the soft Californian medjool date.

But here in front of me is a range of colours shapes and sizes, like a candy store, for dates
They come in all tones, short and long

One type stood out for it's price, the Ajwa variety, and something about being planted and eaten by the Mohammed the founder of Islam.
This humorous and enjoyable site explores some Islamic medical beliefs

And had this to say of the Ajwa date;

Eating seven dates, specifically of Ajwa variety is supposed to build up immunity for for all sorts of poisons (Arsenic, Strychnine and Cyanide?).
Narrated Sad: Allah's Apostle said, "He who eats seven 'Ajwa dates every morning, will not be affected by poison or magic on the day he eats them."
Sahih Bukhari 7:65:356
Narrated Saud: The Prophet said, "If somebody takes some 'Ajwa dates every morning, he will not be effected by poison or magic on that day till night."
Sahih Bukhari 7:65:66

I didn't try it. Maybe I wasn't in a holy mood, maybe I wanted to avoid offending the eager Muslim salesgirl if i didn't like them!

So I tried a couple of others. Quite good. I think I'll be working my way through their selection in the next 2 months and reviewing their dates!

As a gardener I was happy to find the dates contain seeds. I've germinated Californian medjool dates before quite easily and so I imagine ill be sending home quite a few carefully labelled and cleaned bags of date seeds for trial.
I don't believe timescale is a factor in viability as a 2000 year old judaean date seed was germinated 5 years ago and is nearing fruiting age!
I just hope the Saudis haven't messed with the dates to kill the seed!
I'd like to taste a fresh Ajwa one day...maybe make some date wine :)

Fruits, nuts, leaves and crackers

Melinjo (gnetum gnemon) is a remarkable tree that I'm surprised isn't better known yet outside it's homelands.

It's a member of an ancient lineage of plants the gnetales, family gnetaceae with one genus gnetum and 30-35 species found across the tropical regions of the world.


Alang Alang grass

Alang Alang (Imperata cylindrica) is very interesting plant, a real Faustian entity
Its ranges widely over Asia and tropical and subtropical Australia and seems to go hand in hand with human impact on forests.
It's a weed, and a blessing. It chokes out land when forests are cleared and suppresses it's regrowth. The vietnamese are said to call it American grass because it took hold after their ecocidal aerial spraying campaigns to defoliate vietnamese forests.
It is highly flammable and regenerates after fire quickly.frequent burning allows it to outcompete other grasses and tree species.
Yet Blady grass, American grass, Kunai or Alang Alang is also extremely useful.
It does after all stop total soil erosion in damaged landscapes. It Also captures leachable nutrients and holds them in the ecosystem.
It supports whole communities in Papua who live and farm amongst the anthropogenic Kunai grasslands.
Alang Alang is the grass thatch of Asia and it was the primary means of putting a roof over ones head until very recently for millions of people.

This is however the first time ive ever seen it in a culinary situation..
And I don't know for what!! Yet

BANDUNG DAILY PHOTO: "Nyiru" and "Leunca"

There is a Sundanese fruit I've sometimes seen in markets called leunca
So far I'm not entirely sure of it's botanical identity. Web sources claim it as solanum nigrum but there are a few doubts in my mind when examining the fruits.
For a start they are quite large, large for most specimens of solanum nigrum I have ever seen. This species has many common names and a cosmopolitan distribution.
This blog discusses it a little and the comments by readers attest to the fondness some have for it.

BANDUNG DAILY PHOTO: "Nyiru" and "Leunca"

The author mentions American sources claiming solanum nigrum is toxic.Well it is, but it's not too ;) in the same way tomato leaves are toxic, as are green potatoes.
If this Plant is indeed solanum nigrum then it's yet another case of it's use as a vegetable.
In west Africa s nigrum leaves are boiled and eaten as a popular spinach.
Also in Papua new guinea where it's name is karakap. I was shown this by a Papuan lady at the diversity gardens community garden in townsvillle.

So... Is it or isn't it?and what does it taste like and how to use it
All questions to be answered soon!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Jengkol, the controversial food of Java!

Jengkol is a large bean like seed from a Javanese forest tree (Archidendrum pauciflorum)

Its is to culinary tastes what i guess garlic is to the west. Some love it, some hate it, many love it but still avoid it due to its effects on breath and body odour.
Jengkol is the stinky food, the stinky addictive food ;)

The jengkol tree is a forest tree in the legume family, it is cultivated widely on Java and some other islands as well as scattered throughout Asia as far as Burma.
The edible portion is the large seed, like a bean, inside the pod fruits.

Jengkol contains a toxin called jengkolic acid

Ubi Ungu, an Okinawan import

Ubi Ungu

Ubi Ungu, or Purple Sweet Potato (Kumara for our NZ viewers) is a newcomer to bali.
Originally from Okinawa, japan.
The sweet potato itself is a cultigen from Peru that somehow managed to be traded westwards prior to the European exploration of the Pacific ocean. Its presence seems to indicate at least some level of human contact between the polynesian seafarers travelling east and the ancient civilizations of western south america. Apart from its presence from antiquity, the name for the root, Kumara, is identical between the New Zealand Maori and the indigenous farmers of Peru.
Sweet potato also had a significant impact in New guinea. At some point probably in the last several hundred years pieces of this vegetatively propagated crop made their way into the remote Papuan highlands. Prior to this the staple food were indigenous Yams (Dioscorea spp.). The sweet potato is a much more productive crop and allowed the population to explode much as the potato introduction oreland released a population from chronic hunger and cased a population boom.
When western explorers first entered the New guniea highlands they were amazed by the large populations they found living in near isolation from the outside world - and owing in most part to one plant. Today it remains the staple of highland Papua.

The sweet potato sure is a nutritious crop, rich in sugars and starches, minerals and in pigmented strains full of valuable carotenoids (Pro Vitamin A) and betains.
It can be boiled, roasted, fried, turned to snack foods, confectionary, flour,

Indonesia is home to many varieties of this root crop and i will talk about those in future, varieties like Ubi Cilembu...
But what grabbed my attention last time was the amazingly purple Ubi Ungu.
Generaly they seem smaller than the regular sweet potatoes and the skin is a dark purple.
You may first see them in grocers as a potato chip in clear bags, the rich purple looks unnatural!
These are a well made crisp fried in Palm kernel oil.

But the way i preferred it most was simply boiled or steamed and eaten plain. They are a filling food, and sustain energy over a long time.

Pisang - Indonesias many Bananas

Pisang is Bahasa indonesia for Banana, and there are many many kinds.

The banana most like the Cavendish banana that graces the shelves of most Australian supermarkets is pisang Ambon. Long large and yellow.
However I've probably had enough of this kind of banana to last me a lifetime! Here are a few bananas you may encounter to whet your appetite..

Pisang hijau "green banana"

Also know in Balinese as Biu Gedeng.
As the name suggests it remains green when ripe.
This variety is regarded as being good for people with heart disease.

Pisang susu "milk banana"

A small sweet and creamy banana with very soft yellow skin when ripe. A true dessert banana.

Pisang Mas (Gold Banana)

Pisang Uli ( )
This banana is the best for pisang kukus, steamed bananas, although it can also be fried eaten ripe.

Pisang Tanduk (Horn Banana)

A frying banana or fir making Kolak Pisang^

Pisang Rajah

Pisang Ambon

Pisang Batu ( Bal: Biu batu) "Stone Banana"

A diploid banana, that means it is fertile and produces many hard seeds in the flesh. The flavor is nice but the seeds are tooth chippers! So in effect it's inedible.
The Balinese preserve many unusual crops and animals purely because of their ceremonial value, I will endeavour to find out if this banana is one of these.
In Ciputat, Banten Java, locals grow Pisang batu mainly to use the leaves for plates and wrappings for food. They occasionally eat the fruit despite the seeds as the flavour is sweet and delicious.
The plant itself is 3-4m tall with black stems much like the dessert banana variety "goldfinger"

Pisang Kepok/ Burung

Usually for feeding to pet birds but can also be steamed.


Kecombrang - Pink Torch Ginger


Kweni mango

Most of us only know of a few types of Mango and probably all of those are of the one species mangifera indica.
There are however many other species some with excellent tasting fruits and interesting ecological traits.
One of these we first encountered in Depok, Jakarta, is the Kweni mango ( mangifera odorata). A green skinned tart sweet fleshed mango with an aromatic skin.
To taste it's much like any other almost ripe mango so to me it's quite enjoyable as I like both the sweet and the bite of a mango.
But to a mango grower it has a few other benefits. Firstly it flowers intermittently throughout the year and perhaps because of this? Or due to tolerance it is able to withstand higher rainfall areas where Mangifera indica clones thrive but experience excessive fruit drop or total crop failure in wet years.

Near Byron bay, nsw Australia, I met several mango growers who were lamenting the loss of crops and the unpredictability of cropping year to year. The same situation faces growers in the wet tropics area of north Queensland.
I visited Dr. Paul Rechers garden near dorroughby in the Byron hinterlands and saw his thriving kweni tree that the previous season had easily yielded 300+ fruits.
I'd say there is ample need and sufficient anecdotal evidence to support searching for and distributing more widely mango species to expand growing range, test for disease tolerance and introduce new flavours

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Welcome to Bulelicious!
We bring to you our exploration of the Strange, Unusual and delicious Culinary treats of Indonesia

Indonesia is a nation of islands and many cultures each with their own culinary traditions. The Spice isles have always attracted traders and foreign travellers who have brought their own traditions to the melting pot
The Indonesian Archipelago is Biodiversity hotspot with many plants and animals not found anywhere else. A Collision of two Ancient ecological zones, Sundaland and Australasia, meeting in a geological hotspot where new islands continue to be created and plant an animal evolution is in overdrive
The mixing of this richness of people, history and biodiversity has spawned a food culture unlike anywhere else

Come explore with us the history, hospitality and tastes of these magnificent Islands