The things visual suggestions can do! Last week, I came across this video for Spätzle, a traditional German dish. I was impressed by how the chef made the fresh egg noodles and had me yearning for a bite or two, or even three! How could I in my part of the world? The closest I could come to having Spätzle was to cook pasta with lots of cheese and a meat sauce.
When a friend asked me for the name of this light yet full-bodied soup, I thought long and hard and said it might as well be ‘leftover soup’ but not leftover in the sense it’s the last bowl from the previous day’s meal but because it is from the leftover ingredients of another dish.
It was the previous recipe for fish fillets, tomatoes, squash and basil that gave me the idea the vegetable combination would be good on its own, even without the fish, something along the lines of a steamed or roasted vegetable dish, instead of the usual stir-fry. Then something clicked.
When reading, one of the things that I keep my eyes peeled for are innovations that have a practical everyday application. I am also constantly always watching out for applying old methods in new circumstances. This is something that I have been trained to have an instinct for, since I work in environmental management, a field which has to constantly update itself – with technology, without losing track of the wisdom in more traditional methods.
One might say that I employ the same principles in food and cooking. My grandmother’s traditional implements are still very much in use but I do not shy away from acquiring their modern counterparts. I am at home using the manual stone grinder, as well as the latest in food processors. When scanning through recipes in books and magazines, I am automatically attracted to those that create dishes that use ingredients I am already familiar with. Something new from something old.
Many, many times, I have been frustrated by the lack of ingredients for the dishes that I want to cook. Not expected to have much at the public market, none at the groceries, seldom at supermarkets. In fairness to where I shop, most of the herbs that I need are most probably unheard of or very, very seldom used in our part of the world. We may be the culinary capital of the Philippines but the vast majority of the population is still unabashedly traditional in their food choices.
And so, I resign myself to making do with what we have when I am at home and go food shopping in the metropolis when I go there once or so a week. I feel the terrible ‘drought’ when, for one reason or another, I have to stay in the province for a stretch of time. That is when I start having what my friends call my exotic cravings.
But then, when it rains, it pours! After that adventure at the basil farm, I brought home so much of the herb, much more than I could use up that it was actually overwhelming!
Meet Salé, the ever-reliable herb. In this picture, it’s still a fledgling plant not mature enough for the kitchen. This was taken sometime back and I meant to post it in a few months with a complete discussion and pictures of the fully-grown plant but comments from my previous entry on tanglé made me realise I might have confused several if not a lot of readers.
For this blog’s purpose, the system of nomenclature is usually Capampangan /Tagalog /English (if applicable) /scientific name. Therefore, the herb in the picture is:
Salé / Tanglad / Lemongrass / Cymbopogon citratus syn. Andropogon citratus
Just to compare:
Tanglé / Alagaw / Fragrant premna / Premna odorata Blanco
Request from me to you: If you know the names of these plants in other languages, please write them down in the comments box.
I’ll be back in a day or so! Hopefully, we’ll discover more names.
Tanglé (Premna odorata Blanco syn. Premna vestita Schauer ) or alagaw in Tagalog and fragrant premna in English is indigenous to the Philippines. Its tender leaves are employed in Capampangan cuisine in a variety of ways. In our family, tanglé is indispensable in ningnang bangus (inihaw na bangus – broiled milkfish) and in some vinegared stews.
From childhood, I don’t remember not having a tanglé tree in our backyard. It’s a wonder how the plants just grow, most probably propagated by birds, because they are difficult to plant. Seedlings sprout in the most unlikely places and transplanting them to a better location is a hit and miss affair but not extremely difficult. One of my uncles successfully brought a seedling to the city and reaped its benefits for years.
The tree needs to be pruned every now and then to be manageable, since it grows very tall. It also bears flowers that look like tiny green berries when they’re still buds (picture below). Tanglé is also reputed to have medicinal properties, almost always with leaves boiled as for a tisane. Although I haven’t seen lab results (unlike lagundi, which has been well-researched and is now packaged into capsules), I know it is proven to relieve coughs and colds.
For me however, the most important use of tanglé is as an aromatic herb. I am not sure how to approximate the scent but it has notes of musky lemongrass. Hmmm… not a very accurate description but I thought if scents had voices, this would somehow be a baritone lemongrass but not quite. Hahaha! Sorry, I’ll try to sniff it more and describe it later.