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2005.10.03

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RST

Oh my, what gorgeous pictures!

Cassia leaves lose almost all of their color/chlorophyll in the process of brining/bottling. You simply cannot get the same brilliant green you get from fresh leaves. I also suspect that brining toughens the already-quite-leathery ki lek leaves a bit too much. If I remember correctly, the fresh leaves also have a slightly mucilaginous quality-am I right?-and this is definitely also absent in the bottled form. On the other hand, with the brined ki lek, you do not have to bother with the tedious process of removing the bitterness.

I will post here when fresh ki lek leaves are available at Thai Grocery. Bottled (and possibly also frozen?) cassia leaves are almost certainly also available in Chicago at Thai Food Corp (Broadway, just north of Lawrence), Golden Pacific (Broadway at about 5300? N) and so on.

I think that the exact scientific name for Thai ki lek is Cassia siamea or Senna siamea (perhaps also Cassia javanica). Cassia/Senna fistula seems to be a completely different species altogether. In a University of Melbourne botanical website (www.plantnames.unimelb.edu.au/sorting/cassia.html + also see plantnames.unimelb.edu.au/sorting.senna.html), the listed Chinese names are different. Cassia siamea (kasod tree) is called t'ieh (iron) tao (knife) shu (tree) while Cassia fistula is la chang shu (sausage tree) or zhu (pig) chang (intestine/sausage) shu (tree) perhaps bec the pods hang like sausages being dried. Neither of these should be confused with Cinnamomum cassia (in the Laurel family) or so-called "ersatz cinnamon" although its bark (specially those sourced from northern Vietnam) is sometimes preferred to that of "true" cinnamon. For Cinnamomum cassia, see Gernot Katzer's webpage: (www.uni-graz.at/~katzer/engl/generic_frame.html?Cinn_cas.html). To add to the confusion, kwei p'i in Mandarin refers to cassia (cinnamon) bark but kwei (same word) hua refers to something else: osmanthus blossoms.

Great post!


Robyn

Thanks RST. Yes, I had some lingering doubts abt cassia fistula being a match; none of the photos I found on the web gave a clear enough image of the leaves to say a definitive "yay" or "nay". But -- thank you! -- cassia siamea, aka "Thailand Shower", aka Kassod Tree ... this is it! Will update the page accordingly.

Re: mucilaginous quality of fresh leaves ... a bit I suppose, but nothing along the lines of, say, okra or "slippery vegetable" (aka Malabar or Ceylon spinach). It wasn't a quality that jumped out at me as I was eating my gaeng ki lek.

RST

Foodfirst/Robyn was one of the key figures in the great flowering of connoisseurship of Thai cuisine on the old Chowhound Chicago Board during the heroic days. With her pioneering translations of the Spoon Thai and Yum Thai "secret" menus, she was instrumental in cracking the code of "true" Thai eating. All Chicago is forever in her debt for opening up this road to a hitherto mysterious brave new world. She was always available to answer detailed questions both technical and conceptual (the long discussions on the "essence" of Thai cuisine are legendary). Although we conducted this correspondence entirely through emails and although it took her till earlier this year (2005) to make it to visit us in Chicago, she was truly an integral part of the great Chicago food avant-garde of 2002/2003, an avant-garde that totally and definitively transformed the discourse of food in this city.

RST

1.) How about a picture of the tree?

2.) Does Wan use the tender stems as well?

3.) Try to find out the Malay name. I bet you there's a Malay recipe for these leaves as well.

4.) Was at Thai Food Corp. and found another brand of brined ki lek. Bought the cutest thing: a traditonal terra-cotta khanom kroc maker complete with a beautifully formed brazier and individual mini clay lids. Not that I would ever make khanom kroc at home-but now I can put my nose up next time I visit a foodie kitchen and sniff-"yeah sure you might make a Pacojet in your home kitchen, but do you have a khanom kroc maker?" ;0)

Robyn

RST -- way too many pple involved in the development of that Thai food scene in Chicago (namely you all, who live there!) to place so much of it at my feet. I was in the right place at the right time (Bangkok) ... unfortunately much of the knowledge I gained in that year, including the language, has taken flight from my brain in the intervening 3 years!
1) been too lazy to get out with the digital camera. But I'll do it.
2) no -- leaves and buds only
3) you're undoubtedly right. No local friend or acquaintance to date has put a name to these leaves. I haven't yet resorted to accosting total strangers on the street. If there's a Malay prep I would bet it's sth along the lines of fried with coconut and dried prawns, as is done with merengeh.
4) oh, khanom kroc .... mmmmmmm.....

RST

Had gaeng ki lek at Thai Grocery again today. In the small produce section, I saw (in addition to regular items such as bai champloo, different varieties of Ocimum, curry leaves and so on) small packs of beautiful fresh yellow sanoh flowers. These are also Sesbania, related to the dok khae flowers (Sesbania grandiflora, Filipino = katuray flowers) I once wrote about at length on CH. Cambodians steam these flowers shortly and eat them with kapi. Thais make gaeng som with these flowers. Also saw krachet (water mimosa) and malah tips (shoots/tips of bitter melon) which can be simply stirfired with a few dried shrimps or a bit of meat. I asked the owner of Thai Grocery if one could also use the ki lek flowers in the same way for gaeng som and he said no-that only ki lek buds are eaten. He also mentioned that pakood (fiddlehead ferns-see Robyn's previous post on this) is a standard addition to gaeng naw mae.

Richard
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Maukitten

Hi

I thought I saw ki lek at the Village Grocer last Sat. It was labelled "daun turi".

Mau

Tina Dole

I've been looking for tropical plants that I could cook with. I'm into trying new things in the kitchen and I think that sounds like fun. Does anyone have any really good recipes?

Philipkhor

How do I grow kilek successfully? I had failed attempts by trans-planting the stem. Also individual naked branches don't seem to be able to grow by itself. Does it need plenty of water, or alkaline soil?

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