As the yard was being cleared of brush, I came across a few plants of some value that I spared the parang for. The first is a very common seasoning in Malaysian cooking, Lemongrass or serai, Cymbopogon spp. Not surprisingly, it was planted just outside the kitchen door. From a distance it is hard to distinguish it from other grasses, though it tends to form a dense, rounded outline. Sometimes you can make out a reddish-brown tinge near the base. But just touch it with the weed-whip and the smell is unmistakeable: a very pungent lemon scent. The base of the stalk is what is used in cooking. It is very woody, so it is often blended, or pulverized with a mortar and pestle before adding to the dish. If you’ve eaten at a Thai restaurant you’ve probably tasted some. It can be grown in Michigan, but only as an annual. And the spindly growth I got when I tried hardly made it seem worth it.
The next survivor is the Terung Asam, or sour eggplant. It is a vegetable commonly eaten here in Sarawak. I don’t remember ever having it in West Malaysia, but that doesn’t mean they don’t serve it there. on rare and wild fruits of West Malaysia lists Terung Asam as “Wild” in West Malaysia. From what I can decipher of the report, this would simply mean that it is primarily gathered rather than cultivated. It is listed only as Solanum spp, which does put it in the same genus as Eggplant. Personally, it is not my favorite vegetable. It doesn’t have a very pronounced flavor except for a bitter aftertaste. The Terung Asam in my yard is a very sad specimen, by the way. The fruits are typically bright yellow-orange when sold in the market. I don’t know if mine is overripe or has some affliction.
The last plant was in the back on the edge of the jungle. It is Pandan, Pandanus spp, a common ingredient in kuih, snacks/desserts. It is called Screwpine in English. It is a subtle flavor, but a lot of sweets just don’t taste right without it. If you’re eating a dessert with any kind of green color, it is probably made with pandan. Its leaf is also fashioned into a wrapper for some sweets. It can also be bunched up and thrown in a pot of rice for flavoring.
The plant itself is very wild-looking. It grows on long rootstalks that sometimes trail, sometimes stick upright. It grows into a big tangled mass after a while. My wife reports that snakes are fond of lurking under pandan. My plant is quite overgrown, so I’m fixing to give it a regenerative
thrashing pruning with the parang.