When I first arrived in Malaysia as a British expat, I was both excited and slightly overwhelmed by all the new dishes I tried. And even though I’ve learnt a lot (yes, I did try durian!), there are still some Malaysian vegetables in the supermarket that utterly perplex me.
Recently however, I’ve been volunteering at a farm and my local friends have been telling me how to pick, cook and eat these delicious discoveries. I’m sure there are many more edible plants for me to explore, but here’s a few for those of you, like me, who need to expand your knowledge.
Back in the UK we were big fans of runner beans, but these need cooler climates in order to grow properly, so they are almost impossible to get in Malaysia. When I first saw Wing Beans I admit, I was a bit put off by their distinctive looking ‘wings’, but after harvesting baskets full from the farm I’ve seen how fast these grow and how easy they are to cook. They are just as good as runner beans and taste incredible freshly picked and stir-fried – even my kids were impressed. I can’t believe I was so scared of them at first! Check out this super simple stir fry recipe as well.
I’d always seen these in the supermarket and thought they looked really pretty, but eating flower buds…? I was clueless. A friend came to the rescue and showed me how to chop the top part of the bud into fine strips (it’s no good if it has become a flower already), and after that you can simply sprinkle it onto a salad. It has a really delicate lemony, gingery, peppery kind of flavour that adds something special to your food. I found this sorbet recipe which looks intriguing and it wil be something I’ll be trying in the future.
We love spinach in our family. We add it to all sorts of dishes or even use it in salads, and it is easy enough to find in the UK. But, it doesn’t grow so well in hot weather. Cue Malabar Spinach (or Emperor Leaf as my friend calls it), which is grown all over Asia. It was growing in abundance down at the farm and my friends showed me how to pinch off the young tender leaves, leaving the older, more bitter ones.
I tried this as a substitute for our usual spinach and it was almost identical. I can’t believe it took me so long to try it! How about using it in a curry like in this recipe I found online?
Blue Pea plant
Also known as Butterfly Pea plant – this is what creates blue pea tea which is popular in Thailand. Anything that creates such a beautiful colour is OK in my book. If you are lucky enough to have one of these plants with their deep purple flowers, then you can simply make your own by adding them to boiling water. It’s something I had never tried before and really enjoyed the delicate flavour. I used this recipe here.
Or how about making a blue cake?! Have a look at this recipe for example.
Ok, now this one is a little more recognisable since it is similar to bok choy, but did you know that you can also eat the stalks and even the yellow flowers of this plant? It’s also known as Chinese flowering cabbage and it is another excellent green vegetable to add to your stir fry. It grows very quickly down on the farm and within a couple of weeks you can be harvesting the young tender shoots and flower buds. Check out this simple way to cook them.
It’s great to find out about all the wonderful edible plants that grow in Malaysia, and I’m sure there are many more that I have yet to discover!
Would you like to start your own edible garden? It’s easy and great fun to do with the kids! Have a look at our article here.