The old ways…

Life certainly is a lot easier these days with all kinds of appliances and gadgets that one can use but of course, easier does not necessarily mean better. Many will attest to the fact that more often than not, things are much better if done the old-fashioned way but unfortunately, not many are willing to go through the chore and would rather take the easy way out and settle for less.

In the case of cooking, for instance, everyone will admit that it is so much easier and faster just to use a blender compared to pounding everything half dead using a lesung batu (mortar and pestle) even though they know that it will not taste as great. I guess I am old and I am old-fashioned so I would go pounding everything manually as and when the need arises.

The other day, my missus came home with some tapioca (casava) leaves…

Daun Bandong

…that she had plucked in some piece of vacant land behind her mother’s house. These are very easy to grow – sometimes, people, after harvesting the tubers, will just throw the rest of the plants somewhere and lo and behold! After some time, you will see them growing all by themselves like nobody’s business. Yes, these leaves are edible but they must not be eaten raw owing to the cyanide content. This is stated very clearly in this website but they also say that you may derive a number of health benefits from eating the leaves.

We call them daun bandong here and that is probably in the local Malay dialect or in Melanau for the Ibans would call them differently. The latter refer to them as daun jabang but those around Kanowit call them daun empasa but they’re all the one and the same thing. You can buy these leaves very easily at the jungle produce section of the Sibu Central Market at only RM1.00 for one big bundle. I do wish they would sell them in smaller bundles, maybe half that much at 50 sen each for usually, I would not cook all of it and would just throw the rest away. The ladies selling these leaves would sometimes pound them for you – they would do that while sitting there, waiting for someone to buy their stuff. Then, they would display what they have pounded in plates for sale. My missus would never buy those as she insists they’re not very clean – I would not think that is a problem as we could take it home and soak in water and rinse thoroughly before cooking but I have never bought the pounded leaves from them as there did not seem to be a lot in one plate and I would need to buy at least two or three and that might cost quite a bit.

My missus would use a blender but it would be a bit too fine and would not be as nice. I, on the other hand, would pound them, paying extra attention to this part of the leaves…

Pounding daun bandong 1

– the “veins” joining the leaves to the stalks. These are rather hard and would be difficult to chew and that would spoil your eating pleasure. That is why there are places where they cook this and sell but they do not pound (nor blend) the leaves and instead, they would just rub them (like how one would scrub one’s laundry, they say) and I do not really like eating them that way.

You will have to pound the leaves till they are quite crushed…

Pounding daun bandong 2

…but there is no need to do it as fine as when using a blender and that would ensure that you will have something to chew when eating them.

Once the leaves were done that day…

Pounding daun bandong 3

…I pounded the ginger (one whole chunk of it – if you want it to have a stronger ginger taste, then you can pound more) and I also got ready the other ingredients needed – a handful of ikan bilis (dried anchovies) and some chilies, sliced…

Ingredients

…plus one-third of an ikan bilis stock cube.

First, I fried the ikan bilis till golden brown and then pushed them aside to fry the pounded ginger…

Ikan bilis & ginger

…till brown as well. As you can see, I used quite a lot of oil – that would be necessary as the ginger and the leaves would absorb the oil but still, I would not use too much and would rather resort to using water instead. More about this later.

Oops!!! I had forgotten all about the serai (lemon grass)! Actually, I grow my own in my garden but it completely slipped my mind. When I shared the photograph of this dish on Facebook, somebody also suggested adding bunga kantan (torch ginger flower) petals. Of course, adding these, the fragrance would help enhance the taste and you can also add baby corn or sweet potatoes or pumpkin to it as well. There are people who would cook it with pork skin or kasam babi hutan (preserved wild boar) even and the soupy versions of the leaves are very nice too like what I did here. In fact, if you cook it with chicken and a lot of ginger, it would come across a bit like kacang ma, minus the wine.

Anyway, to get back to my cooking that day,  in went the chilies…

Chilies

…and the pounded leaves next…

Pounded leaves

…and after mixing everything together thoroughly…

Almost done

…I added water, a little at a time, just enough to let it sizzle once in contact the hot wok, and kept repeating that till the leaves were sufficiently cooked. In the absence of a lot of oil, stir-frying it till cooked may be a bit difficult but too much water would make it soggy and it would not be very nice – neither here not there, not a soup and not fried dry either…so do remember to go slow with the water and use it sparingly. You can add salt and msg at this point but I think there was enough salt already in the ikan bilis so I just added a bit of the ikan bilis stock cube instead…and once it was done, I dished it out and served…

Fried daun bandung with ginger, ikan bilis & chilies 1

Needless to say, it was very nice…even without the serai. This website says that the leaves are bitter…but no, you will not feel it at all eating it cooked this way with the fragrance of the ginger and the saltiness and taste of the ikan bilis. Somebody asked me if it was like cangkuk manis/mani cai – well, the answer is no. The taste and texture are different, it does not have the sweetness…but it is nice in its own right. Comparing the two would be something like comparing say, kangkong and sweet potato leaves…or paku and midin. They are just…not the same, end of story.

This is the simplest version of the dish, cooked with minimal ingredients and except for the pounding part, it is very easy to come out with your own plus other than the fact that it tastes great,  it is VERY cheap too…

Fried daun bandong with ginger, ikan bilis & chilies 2

One thing’s for sure, you will not be able to find it at a lot of eating places, even here in Sarawak, except perhaps at the ethnic stalls like the ones here or here…or those special restaurants here or here.