After making a project of frequenting Southeast Asian markets over these many years, we're still making discoveries.
The other morning we stopped by a Malay stall at our local market to pick up bamboo shoots for a Burmese curry and there, nestled amongst the bunches of various green leafy vegetables we've seen a million times, were these gorgeous turmeric flowers. I can't recall having seen these before at any market - perhaps it's a seasonal item?
At any rate, the friendly guy running the stall advised us to pick the leaves off of the stalk and eat them as we would any other ulam (the fresh and blanched veggies that accompany a Malay meal, to dip in sambal or not).
These babies don't keep well in the fridge, so we had at them as soon as we got home. The leaves have a delicate butter lettuce-like texture and taste bright and 'green'. Not surprisingly, there's a hint of turmeric flavor and the root's characteristic astringency.
I can think of a few other uses for them - mixed with grated coconut, chopped dried chili, and a bit of fish sauce for a 'salad', or stirred into Indian-style 'congee' flavored with the root (or turmeric powder) and fried curry leaves. This morning I made a sort of Indian yogurt rice - leftover rice softened in the steamer, stirred into lots of yogurt seasoned with popped mustard seeds, a bit of turmeric powder-enhanced mustard oil, salt, and chopped cilantro - and as I ate it I couldn't help but think what a nice addition this flower would have made.
One aspect of Southeast Asia's culinary culture that continues to fascinate me is how, in many cases, every bit of the plant is used. Here we have the turmeric flower, which is eaten as a vegetable. The leaves and root are used too, as flavoring agents. (And the whole plant is fantastically good for you.) Nothing is wasted.
Sounds like a prescription for frugal eating that long predates current economic woes.
Coming up soon - cooking a part of the banana plant that you might never have thought of as food.