Stinky Leaf Omelet
Last week I found fresh acacia leaf, or cha-om, for the first time in Seattle at the Makong Raineir Market. Without hesitation, I grabbed this rare opportunity to purchase some. Two days later the cha-om was still fresh in my refrigerator. There are many ways to prepare cha-om in rustic Thai cooking (see pictures below), but my heart was set on my favorite cha-om omelet—Khai Jeow Cha-Om—which is dense with a layer of cha-om leaf. It can be cut into 1-inch squares and served as a side dish or as an accompaniment to Shrimp Paste Chili Dip – Nam Prik Kapi (see the video of my sister and I preparing Nam Prik Kapi). I prepared a cha-om omelet last Sunday and packed it in a tiffin (a stainless steel food carrier), along with warmed jasmine rice and shrimp paste chili dip. Then I took it to a Thai community potluck party and I am happy to tell you that it was gone in the blink of an eye. We all love these stinky leaf omelets—a taste of our Thai villages.
Fresh cha-om has a very strong, almost sulphur-like aroma that mellows when it is cooked. A little research led me to a link which mentions that cha-om is rich in Niacin (B-complex), just like most deep green leaf vegetables such as wild pepper leaf (chapoo), spinach and coccinia (tum lueng). One hundred grams of these vegetables yields more than 1.9 mg. of B-complex vitamins. This reminded me of the old Thai saying about bitter vegetables that I mentioned in a previous blog: “The sweet is a faintness and the bitter is a medicine.”
Cha-Om (ชะอม ), or Acacia Pennata, is a shrub that is native to South and Southeast Asia. It can grow up to 5 meters tall, but in Thailand we usually let it grow to about 2 meters, then cut it down to promote young leaves. Most villagers love to grow a few cha-om plants in their backyard. I am glad to share with you photos of my friend Nongnut’s cha-om plants. I took them a few months ago while wandering in my village in Phuket.
Every week Nongnut’s mom would cut off the young leaves and bundle them up to sell in the morning in front of their house. The bundles would lie alongside the many other edible vegetables from their plantation such as bamboo shoots and young banana trunk. This is a very common practice in Thai villages. It keeps her parents active, they share daily dialogs with friends in the village, and they earn some money selling these nutritious, organic vegetables to villagers.
Typically one bunch of cha-om leaves weighs about six ounces; after removing the hard stems, it will yield about two cups of leaves. Frozen cha-om leaf is available in Asian markets in the US all year round.
Cha-Om omelet cut into square chunks adds a delicious layer of flavor to the traditional Thai sour curry Gaeng Som Goong Cha-Om. In Seattle, the only place I know that serves this dish is the Krua Thai Family Restaurant in University Village.
In Northeastern Thailand, cha-om is used in the famous Tom Laos Soup.
Khai Jeow Cha-Om
Simply whisk cha-om leaves, egg, salt and fish sauce together to create an egg mixture for Acacia Omelet, or Khai Jeow Cha-Om, a rustic dish of Thailand.
There is no substitute for acacia or cha-om leaf, but this recipe can be adapted by using baby spinach for a quick, easy and healthy meal.
Serves: 2-42 cups (about 6 ounces ) chopped acacia leaves, stems removed 5 eggs 1/2 teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons fish sauce 6 tablespoons canola oil
Place acacia leaves, eggs, salt and fish sauce in a large bowl and whisk with folk until mixed, about 1 minute.
Heat a large pan on medium-high heat and cover the whole surface with half of the canola oil. Pour in half of the egg mixture and tilt the pan to make an even layer of omelet; let it cook until golden yellow on the bottom, about 3 minutes. Flip it and cook until the other side is also golden yellow, about 2 minutes. Remove with spatula to a serving plate. Repeat the same process with the remaining cooking oil and the rest of egg mixture. Cut the omelet into small squares about 1-inch by 1-inch and place in a serving plate to serve as a side dish with Thai chili dip or any curry.
In the Seattle area you can find cha-om in the freezer section at the Mekong Rainier Market or the Vietwah Market. Please click here to find the addresses for these stores.© 2011 Pranee Khruasanit Halvorsen I Love Thai cooking Pranee teaches Thai Cooking classes in the Seattle area. Her website is: I Love Thai cooking.com .
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