Just about this time last year (a year, already?) I wrote of my abiding love for fiddleheads and my bitter disappointment at not being able to source them at any of Kuala Lumpur's wet markets. Tender, delicate paku - fern tips - yes. Fiddleheads, no.
Well, seek and ye shall receive, or something like that. In all actuality I wasn't seeking; I gave up on stumbling fiddleheads here in Kuala Lumpur long ago. But on Sunday evening, as Dave and I were shopping for dinner ingredients at the TTDI night market, I suddenly spied a bunch - one single bunch - of admirably fat fern stalks tipped with tightly coiled whorls even larger than the ones in the photo above (snapped at a village market on Sumatra).
They were sold by a whisp of an elderly lady perched on a stool behind a rickety square card table. We've become regulars at this particular Sunday pasar malam, but I'd never seen her there before. Her offerings were limited - besides the fiddleheads, just a few small plastic saucers of chiles and several bunches of fern tips and perhaps other greens (I was too busy ogling the fiddleheads to observe closely).
Needless to say I lost no time snatching up the bunch. When I asked the price, she slowly raised one finger (1 ringgit, well less than 30 American cents!). I could kick myself for forgetting to ask her where they'd come from and if she'd be back this Sunday.
That night we savored my prize stir-fried as part of a meal of Indian dishes. For the fiddleheads, I adapted a recipe for stir-fried asparagus in Alford and Duguid's Mangoes and Curry Leaves (I lacked some ingredients and added one, fresh ginger), with excellent results.
Kind Of Indian-Style Stir-Fried Fiddleheads
I do believe it's fiddlehead season somewhere in the US right about now. And I've heard that some lucky folks can find them frozen. This recipe would also work well with paku, cooking time adjusted down to account for their more delicate nature. I'm thinking the addition of a couple of handfuls of wild or oyster mushrooms (increase spice amounts) would prove very tasty indeed.
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
heaping tablespoon each chopped ginger and garlic
heaping tsp each ground turmeric (substitute 2 tsp fresh turmeric, chopped) and fenugreek seeds
2 cups fiddleheads OR fern stalks, whorls separated and stalks cut into 1-inch lengths OR roughly chopped paku (fern tips)
chopped coriander (optional)
1. Place a frying pan or wok over high heat, add the oil and swirl to coat the surface of the pan. Toss in garlic and ginger (and fresh turmeric, if using) and stir-fry about 1 minutes.
2. Add fenugreek seeds and ground turmeric, if using, and stir-fry another minute. Add fiddleheads and salt to taste and stir-fry a minute or two. Add a couple of tablespoons of water, lower the heat to medum-low, and cook until just done (if water evaporates add another tablespoon) - not mushy, the vegetables should still have a wee bit of crunch.
3. Serve sprinkled with coriander, if you like.