When I examined this one plant growing in mid-summer I thought I might know what it was. It was definitely a type of hibiscus, but which one? The Burmese gardeners were harvesting the leaves. I nibbled on the raw leaves and discovered it reminded me of the tea Flor de Jamaica that is common in Mexico and South Texas. The Burmese told me that they did not use the flowers. Recently the plants began to flower. I knew then that it was definitely the same plant. In fact, it is said to be the main ingredient in Red Zinger Tea. This is Hibiscus sabdariffa, roselle, rosella, Chaye-Torosh in Iran, karkade in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan , Florida cranberry, Jamaica sorrel. and chin baung in Burma. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roselle_%28plant%29)
I decided that I had to first look at the recipes that utilized the leaves. Chin baung kyaw is Burmese for Fried Roselle Leaves utilizing 2 bunches roselle leaves
shredded bamboo shoots (not raw), red chilli powder, turmeric powder, red onion, garlic cloves, green chilies and dried shrimp. Sounds delicious. (http://moulmeinkitchen.blogspot.com/2009/08/fried-roselle-leaves-chin-baung-kyaw.html) Another recipe called for making a sour soup with garlic, chicken stock, and roselle. (http://cooking-varieties.blogspot.com/2011/12/hibiscus-roselle-and-calamansi-tea.html, http://rakhinefood.blogspot.com/2012/04/roselle-leaves-soup-chaing-pong-hunn.html)
Finally the roselle plants started to flower, with a pale yellow flower and a red calyx. The red calyx is what is used to make tea in Mexico. The calyx is steeped or boil (depending on the recipe) and sugar is added. Ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg are used in some areas to flavor the tea or agua fresca. The aqua fresca can be served hot or cold.
In Australia jam and jelly is made from the red calyxes. The seed pods contain pectin so one does not even have to add pectin. Lemon juice is also added.
Linga Linga is what I was told when I asked for an id of this leafy vegetable. Yes, but I don’t speak Swaheli. What is it in English? Linga linga. Ok. What does it remind me of then? Well, it reminds me of quelite, which is bledo, amaranth or pigweed. Sure enough we seem to have at least 4 varieties of amaranth growing here in the African’s gardens. At least two of them appear to be grain amaranth, though no one has mentioned that they grow it for the seeds. (http://www.new-ag.info/en/picture/feature.php?a=1684) Amaranth appears to do great in our Texas heat. I am curious to see if they become rampant throughout the garden where the seed has escaped.
Amaranth Green Salad With Asian Dressing (http://www.appalachianfeet.com/2010/05/10/how-to-grow-and-use-amaranth-greens-wrecipes-sources/)
- A big bowl full of washed, trimmed, and tossed amaranth greens
- Seasonal veggies (like tomatoes, cucumbers, scallions, carrots, celery, zucchini, green beans, etc.) sliced into ribbons or bite-size pieces
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup soy sauce (can be soy diluted with water if it is strong)
- 3 or more tablespoons of fresh sesame seeds
- 1 – 3 tablespoons toasted sesame seed oil
- 1 – 3 cloves crushed and finely minced raw fresh garlic
- 1 tablespoon (or more) fresh grated ginger
- black pepper to taste
- (optional) 1 – 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil (unusual basil varieties such as Thai, holy, lemon, and licorice are very good in this recipe)
- Mix the greens with the other salad veggies (or simply sprinkle the non-leafy veggies on top).
- Mix the oils, soy sauce, sesame seeds, garlic, ginger, black pepper, and optional basil in a bowl and whisk until emulsified.
- Just before serving pour the dressing over the salad and use clean hands to lightly toss the vegetables until they are thinly coated.
Cooked Amaranth Greens (http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2010/07/seriously-asian-amaranth-greens-stir-fried-with-garlic-recipe.html)
Stir fry and add garlic.
The first thing I did when I first started helping at C.I.EL.O. Refugee gardens was to examine carefully the plants that the refugees were growing. I was looking to see what vegetables they were growing that might be unfamiliar to me or at the very least might be different from the average Texas garden. The majority of the plants were plants and seeds from the local nurseries. Not so surprising nor unusual, or so it seemed. More on that later in another post. I did find one that immediately piqued my interest. One of the gardeners had planted green sticks in his family’s garden. I inquired what the sticks were. Unfortunately they did not know the translation from Burmese. They did tell me that they had gotten the sticks from a local Asian market. After a week most of the sticks had survived the heat and had sprouted narrow dark green leaves. I still did not know what they were. I inquired again this time asking how the plant was used. They told me that they ate it raw and stir fried it. So I decided that it must be similar to spinach. They also revealed that it often grew in water or near water. I googled “Burmese spinach-like water plant”. After looking at thousands of pictures, many unrelated to plants, I spotted a plant picture that resembled the mystery plant. “Water spinach” (What an original name, right? Why hadn’t I thought of that? :) ) or “ga zun ywet” in Burmese. Ipomoea aquatica is the botanical name. One young Burmese girl proudly told me that it was her favorite food in the whole world. She said that she ate it everyday. Wow! How many children do you know will tell you that a spinach-like plant (or any vegetable for that matter) is their favorite food in the world? I decided that I had to grow this water spinach! Popeye must have been smiling down on me. I persuaded the gardener to let me have three cuttings from his plant. I then made 4 cuttings of each. I had no idea how these cuttings would do so I started 4 in water, 4 in soil in a pot, and 4 in perlite under mist. The ones in water showed roots by the end of 24 hours! Within a week all of the plants had grown double or triple in size. There seemed to be no difference in which type of cutting had done better. At that point I took 4 more cuttings from each of my 12 plants. These cuttings I put directly into gallon sized pots with standard greenhouse soil mix. I now had 60 plants in the greenhouse! After two more weeks I transferred some of them to the refugees’ garden but I did not put them into soil. I put them in large tubs half filled with water. Boy did those plants soak up that water. I had to replenish the water every couple of days. As fast as they grew I cut the stems to give away to the gardeners. The gardeners could not understand that I was wanting to grow them in the tubs for harvest. They kept wanting to plant the pots in their gardens. Since we were due to get additional soil I did not want them to plant them quite yet. Finally when planting time came there were enough plants for everyone who wanted some to have several water spinach plants. When they were handed the water spinach their eyes really lit up. Here was a plant they recognized and appreciated. By the way, those of you who use botanical names might have noticed that water spinach is in the morning glory or sweet potato families. No wonder it develops quickly into a long vine. Had I seen the flower I would have known it was in the morning glory family because the flower is identical to morning glory and sweet potato flowers. Interestingly enough, Texas and Florida consider the water spinach a noxious weed since it can grow so quickly in rivers and lakes. When I visited a Vietnamese market I found water spinach for sale. If you are interested in this plant you will find more about it at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_spinach .
The fall gardening season, the second season for this refugee garden, has just begun here at the gardens. New soil was added to the gardens, since much settling had occurred. The following Saturday we planted. Tomatoes, peppers, water spinach (more about that in a later post), broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, lemon grass, beans, radishes, and carrots were planted. Not everybody had empty gardens so many of these plants were planted alongside their okra, sweet potatoes, and roselle hibiscus plants. A local tree service was contacted and willingly donated mulch to our gardens. We created paths with the mulch. We have also used the mulch inside the gardens to keep moisture at a premium and keep the weeds at bay. Several examples of gardens planted.