Monday, August 20, 2007

Let it leaf

19 Aug 2007, ST

Q Laksa does not taste like laksa without laksa leaves. What other dishes need these leaves for flavouring? What is its botanical name?

Teo Lay Bee

A Laksa leaves or daun kesum (polygonum minus) are often confused or lumped together with other fragrant and edible members of the same family such as Vietnamese mint, rau ram (polygonum odoratum). Their flavour combines elements of citrus, coriander, pine and a faint sharpness reminiscent of white pepper or Japanese sansho.

Daun kesum is one of the many herbs that make up a Malay ulam (fresh herbs and greens) platter. In many Malay and Peranakan dishes, for example Penang laksa, nasi ulam and udang masak nenas, it is used to complement seafood.

Its refreshing, citrusy lilt blends well with fruity tamarind and helps to make rich, coconut-laden dishes less jelak (heavy). In fact, traditional Malay herbal medicine uses daun kesum to treat indigestion.

Add shredded laksa leaves to otak paste before grilling, or substitute them for basil in seafood pasta dishes. Finely chop them and mix with mayonnaise and lemon juice to make a dip for deep-fried calamari or grilled fish fillets.

Laksa leaves wilt quickly, so use them as soon as possible after purchase. If you must store them, wrap the stalks in paper towels, put them in resealable bags, gently press out as much air as you can, then refrigerate. They will keep for a few hours like this. Don't cut them too far in advance and don't overcook them or they will lose their fresh fragrance.

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