Right around this time each year we write about summer greens (in 2013 here
and 8/15 and 9/5/2012
which you can find here
). In July we stop with kale and collards and get our chlorophyll from species that like it hot – amaranth, sweet potato leaves, Malabar spinach, Egyptian spinach, and Swiss chard, which for being Swiss and all is remarkably heat-tolerant. This week we present a special Malabar Spinach instalment of: Have I Read that Before? Comin’ at ya from the newsletter archives…
What is that green in your share this week? Why, Malabar Spinach (Basella alba), also known as Indian or Ceylon spinach, Lo Kui, and Basella. One farmer here once called Malabar spinach the love child of spinach and jade plant (another said, don’t think about it too much – and don’t try eating your Jade plant). It is a tropical, and we like it both for its love of summer heat and for its beauty in the field.
Malabar spinach is not in the spinach family at all but is used in similar fashion around the world, particularly in Southeast Asia. It is a soft-stemmed vine with succulent leaves; in the tropics it is a perennial and grows thirty feet or more. It loves it here in the summer, and we grow it because one can eat only so much Swiss chard. And it’s good for you: it is high in vitamins A and C, iron and calcium, and is low in calories but high in protein per calorie. It is a good source of soluble fiber, phenols, and anti-oxidants.
I generally let pretty plants win me over as a food, and I like Malabar spinach. It is hard to find good greens this time of year, our bodies crave them, and Malabar spinach is here for us. You may find that it’s a love or hate veggie in your family. You will find that we have left the leaves on the stem: generally, use the leaves, but many traditional recipes call for the tender part of the stem, too. Malabar spinach is good in soups and stir-fries and seems to like garlic and chili peppers. If you don’t just treat it like the leaf it is and put it on a burger or a sandwich, I recommend using it in a mild curry or even in a tomato and roasted red pepper soup: ask your kids to separate the leaves from the stem, and then add mid-way through cooking. The leaves hold up well and are a good thickening agent. If you make curry, use a little coconut water instead of plain water when you make the rice, to sweeten it some.