Three Kinds of Pepper Leaves in Southeast Asia
There are three kinds of pepper leaves in the black pepper (Piperaceae) family. They can be easily confused by the inexperienced. This is how I explain the three types to my students when the lesson comes to the use of wild pepper leaf.
A wild pepper leaf, or Piper Sarmentosum Roxb, is a common name for cha plu in Thai, Kaduk in Malaysian and la lot in Vietnamese. It is a ground cover in my garden in Phuket. Thais use it in Hua Mok, Miang Kam and tidbits. My favorite of all is when it is put in a stink ray curry.
A black pepper plant, Piper Nigrum, is in the same family as chapoo and la lot but it is a climbing plant. Only the fruit is edible. Thais love to cook green peppercorns with hot pungent curry dishes. When the pepper corn matures and is sun dried, it can be used to make black peppercorn.
Last in the family are betel leaves, or Piper Betle. When I was young, I always picked a fresh betel leaf for my grandmother, who enjoyed chewing the leaf when it was painted with pink limestone and wrapped around a sliced betel nut. Afterwards she would enjoy her afternoon siesta. Betel leaves and betel nut are also used for worship and are special symbols in ritual events.
I cook professionally during the week but at home on the weekend I cook like any home cook. Sunday is an iron chef day – I use whatever is in my refrigerator. I had some wild pepper leaf, a leftover from a Miang Kam dish during the week, and some Alaskan scallops in the freezer. I like to cook chapoo leaf in a curry with a strong flavored fish or meat; a hint of black pepper from the leaf gives a very interesting flavor to the dish, and coconut milk sweetens the bitter edge. This recipe is very quick. All you have to do is write down the word “la lot” and go to a Vietnamese market.
Curried Scallop with Wild Pepper Leaf
Gaeng Hoy Shell Bai Chapoo
Serves: 22 tablespoons canola oil 2 tablespoons red curry paste 2/3 cup coconut milk 1/3 cup water 6 large scallops 30 wild pepper leaves, AKA chapoo in Thai and La Lot in Vietnamese 1 teaspoon sugar 1 teaspoon fish sauce 2 teaspoons fried shallots
Heat canola oil in a medium-size pot on medium-high heat. Stir in red curry paste and fried until fragrant. Stir in 1/3 cup coconut milk and let it cook until oil is separated and fragrant; add the rest of the coconut milk and water and bring to a boil. Stir in scallops and wild pepper leaves and cook until scallops are opaque in color, about 5 minutes. Season with sugar and fish sauce and serve hot. Garnish with fried shallots. Serve warm with steamed jasmine rice.© 2010 Pranee Khruasanit Halvorsen I Love Thai cooking Pranee teaches Thai Cooking classes in the Seattle area. Her website is: I Love Thai cooking.com