The Occasional Gardener: Ideas + Aesthetics + Inspiration from the Garden

Tropical Harvest


Doing some clearing up in the garden also means scoring a small bounty of produce. Enough even to share, so I walked over with some to my neighbour and on the way home foraged a couple more things that grow by the side of the road.

Looking at what I had in hand, I realized that this is all really quite different from my previous life as a gardener in the New York area. My tropical harvest is not only of different botanic material, but three years now living back home in the tropics, they are also the ingredients of a different cuisine and lifestyle.

Lets start bottom right where I have some Pandan leaves, Pandanus amaryllifolius, and some Cymbopogon nardus, Citronella grass. The Citronella, I have by accident. I bought what I thought was lemon grass from the farmers market and since some still had roots, I planted them in the garden. I always thought they looked a little different, the stalks have a brown skin that curls away. One day a friend came over, sniffed a leaf and said- that's Citronella.

I trim it when it gets untidy and braid it with the pandan leaves to use as an indoor freshener that also has insect repellant properties. The Pandan leaves are traditionally used for cooking, added for fragrance to coconut rice and also color to some local cakes, but I noticed some locals with a bunch tied into a knot under their car seat for these air freshening and repellant properties.

The Kaffir limes which I thought were not edible, except as marmalade, are in fact quite edible. I read this somewhere which said that left to mature on the tree, they are not as bitter. Indeed, its nomore than grapefruit bitter and there's an interesting perfumed flavor that echoes the leaves which are more commonly used in Tom Yam. Nice squeezed into a glass of cold water.

The other fruit is Averrhoa bilimbi, Blimbing, a cousin of the starfruit that is sharply sour. I've had it pickled with slices of lemon as a side or mixed with a sambal but I also like it sliced thinly as a sour note in a salad. This is one of the foraged items that grows on the trunk of a tree across the street.

The other foraged item is those pods on the top, Leucaena leucocephala, Petai Cina. The tiny seed inside is another great salad item, nutty with a slight pungency reminiscent of a popular vegetable here the much larger Petai, Parkia Speciosa which I don't quite like mainly because of its lingering after effects which you can read about in the link.

The bunch of greens are a mix of an edible weed, Asystasia gangetica or tropical violet, which cooks like spinach, some Thai Basil and Persicaria Capitata, more of a medicinal herb that's boiled to make a tonic drink but I use it as a salad green which has a slightly sour taste.

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