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2005.09.30

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RST

Yai khi lek is cassia leaves. The most probable reason for your never having seen these in markets is their abundance and general availability in the countryside-these are huge (and beautiful) tropical trees that could be found virtually everywhere throughout SEAsia. The leaves used for cooking are from a specific species of Cassia-I will find you the exact scientific name later. Yes, the leaves are exceedingly bitter and if I remember correctly they are usually washed a couple of times (and also par-boiled? let me check on this) to remove the bitterness. Gaeng khilek is a rather down-home dish, not the kind of dish to be found in a restaurant. In Chicago, Thai Grocery on Broadway/Argyle regularly offers it as one of the lunch items on their back-room steam-table, which is as close as we get here to the multiple pots of home-cooked dishes of open-air streetside eateries in Thailand. Thai Grocery uses canned khilek in this case, but the final dish is quite good, and I often ask for it on my choose-2-items-plus-rice combination plate. Hey! It's almost lunchtime, and Thai Grocery is just around the corner from my house: I think I'll head down there and have some gaeng khilek today!

Let me guess what happens in part 2...Wan found a cassia tree in Kuala Lumpur and that transported her back to her beloved Thai countryside. ;0)

RST

Typo on the first letter of the previous post. I meant Bai (leaf) Khilek of course.

Well, I'm back from scarfing down my lunchbox at Thai Grocery. It's actually a 3-item (not 2) combo plate plus rice for USD4.50. Yes, they had gaeng khilek and thinking about it now, I don't remember not seeing it on offer ever. The ladies who do the cooking actually use brined leaves from a bottle marked with the Pantainorasingh brand ("imported by Thai Grocery"). But they confirmed that fresh leaves are available in the vegetable bins now and again throughout the year. (As with malunggay leaves in Filipino groceries or any of the other lesser-known leaves and herbs used in SEAsian cooking that I have written about on the old Chowhound Chicago Board, the fresh cassia leaves are brought in to Chicago from Florida.) My gaeng khilek is also coconut-based, and includes tiny bits of grilled pork. Yes, this is one of my favorite dishes from Thai Grocery! But I need to check the menu of Sticky Rice (a Chicago restaurant specializing in Northern Thai dishes): they might actually list this item there along with the khae mod daeng and the maeng da...

Robyn

What about the flower buds RST, do they use them in the curry as well?
I've really been barking up the wrong tree (ouch- bad pun) -- bec ki lek on the menu in Bangkok is translated as caper leaves. Googling caper has turned up nothing to match (though the buds look like caper buds and the leaves do resemble some caper bush/tree varieties). Will google cassia now.
Errr, yes -- you have guessed part two. I didn't really intend it as a mystery, but I do hope to include a recipe.

Mike

I used to live in a small village south of Hua Hin called Ban Khao Takiab, and one of the curry stalls there had gaeng ki lek every morning. It was my kind of breakfast. I also never knew what plant the leaf came from. Nice to finally get the answer.

Robyn

Hi Mike -- that sounds pretty idyllic. Any other lesser-known Thai dishes you used to enjoy in Ban Khao Takiab that you'd like to describe? I'm a sucker for Thai food esoterica!

David

The species is Senna siamea (it's not in the genus Cassia).

baby gender predictor

I am actually tucking into a bowl of gaeng ki lek right now and was wondering what the english name for this plant is. I'm abroad now, but when in Chiang Mai often go out to collect the leaves from young trees in the neighbourhood. They pick only the youngest soft leaves and boil them a couple of times before adding them to the curry. Very bitter but almost addictive! So is it really Cassia?

Lasse Enevoldsen

Hello. I have a few corrections to the previous comments.

Khi lek is the leaves of the 'Senna siamea' tree. They are also known as Siamese cassia, but scientific research have revealed that it is not related to the cassia plant. It is part of the legume family. And this might explain why one would have to cook and discard the cooking water before they can be eaten safely. This is the same procedure with almost every legume to, as you might know.

You can look it up and find proper references on Wikipedia fx..

They are used for medicinal purposes, but should not be consumed for longer periods, as they might induced liver-damage. the curry you are talking about is 'Gaeng khi lek' or 'Kaeng khi lek'. Thai words are often spelled differently, because they are transcriptions of how the Thai words sound. This might differ from place to place within Thailand.

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