Connect with us

Thai Life

Phuket Gardening: Take a leaf out of my book

Published

 on 

PHUKET: As anyone who lives here in Phuket can testify, green leaves are as crucial to Thai cuisine as lettuce is to a western salad and mint to English roast lamb.

Indeed, the edible leaves of at least three herbs – coriander, basil and mint – are present in many international dishes, both east and west of the Indian Ocean. However, fresh coriander leaves are more widely employed in Southeast Asian cooking.

The herb grows here more readily than in the temperate climes of Europe where the crushed, dried seeds are a more common ingredient in recipes. Buy some seeds (widely sold as a spice) and unless they have been adulterated, they will sprout easily in pots. Importantly, don’t ignore the root. Crushed with garlic and pepper, it makes the most widely used seasoning in Thai food. Smells odd, but tastes divine.

Similar in appearance, Chinese celery also boasts foliage that resembles European parsley (one of the names for coriander is Chinese parsley). Moreover, because of its strong flavor – not remotely like conventional celery – it is normally added, sparingly, to soups, fried rice and pork dishes. Ken chai is often brought home from the market in this household.

Basil is, next to coriander, the most used leaf herb in Asia. It is also the most widely grown, partly on account of its tendency to germinate like a weed. In our household, we have no need to buy basil; it keeps appearing unannounced in the garden.

Ocimum basilicum (bai horapa in Thai) is the most common variety, similar to the sweet basil so beloved by Italians they venerate it as the ‘royal herb’. In Italy, it is the key ingredient in pesto sauce.

The dark green leaves, borne on reddish stems, often picked and eaten raw, are commonly found on plates of herbs that accompany Thai food, but the leaves are tough; hence they are usually macerated, along with other herbs, and added to curry pastes.

Sometimes used in meat dishes, their distinctive aroma permeates the food. My Thai partner dislikes the smell, and carefully picks out the offending leaves and puts them on my plate. Mai pen rai.

Two other less common varieties are lemon basil and the so-called ‘holy’ basil. Lemon basil also flourishes in my garden, a smaller leaved and sap-green version of sweet basil. Known as bai manglak, it has a lemony scent; its soaked seeds are used in a dessert made with coconut milk. Holy basil, so-named because it is a sacred Hindu herb, has narrow leaves, and is rarely eaten raw, but it is cooked in much the same way as sweet basil.

Spearmint (shades of Wrigley’s chewing gum?) occurs in Thailand but, like its cousins, peppermint and applemint, it needs water and shade, not always readily available in Phuket’s gardens. I have not attempted to grow conventional mint here, but it was one herb that grew like a weed in my London patch.

Seed is available, so it must be worth a stab, especially if sown in a container that gets regular watering. As most farang know, mint sauce, made with chopped mint leaves, vinegar and sugar, is a natural accompaniment to roast lamb, while fresh green sprigs
add a distinctive fragrance to garden peas.

Fennel (foeniculum vul-gare) is another herb more associated with temperate climes – especially the Mediterranean where its attractive leaves, delicately feathery like those of dill, are used to flavor sausages and fish dishes. Italians love the bulbous root of Florentine fennel, using it in pastas and stews.

However, in Southeast Asia, only the seeds, which have a mild, aniseed tang are used as a spice; a key ingredient in Indian garam masala dishes and in some Thai curry pastes. A perennial herb, fennel grows profusely in Europe; a tall, upright plant with distinctive umbels of tiny yellow flowers. A familiar presence, as I recall, on the roadsides of Andalucia.

If in Thailand it is sparingly cultivated, I am tempted to ask why, since the climate in countries such as Syria where it is produced commercially, is much more variable than here. Another herb worth trying?

Finally, a herb that is a familiar presence, the kaffir lime (citrus hystrix). Known in Thailand as bai magrut, it is grown principally not for its fruit, but for its bright green leaves which have a distinctive double-lobed appearance (see photo).

Unlike the readily available lime fruits which are cultivated for their juice, this variety has a darker green, warty skin, but relatively little juice; it is the aromatic leaf which is a staple of Thai cuisine.

Like the equally tough bay leaf, it is usually left uneaten after being added whole to provide a distinctive lemony edge to soups, especially tom yam. It is also used as an ingredient, chopped up, in Panang and red curries.

I have two of these thorny plants in my kitchen plot, but they are fastidious about soil conditions and consequently slow-growing. You might find it more convenient to buy a bunch or two in the market and store them in the freezer.

Amazingly, the leaf will not lose its flavor or texture, and as a bonus, both the rind and the leaf can also be grated and used to add zest to cooked food. However, I am reliably informed that kaffir lime will flourish in a container.

So all of these herbs can be cultivated in pots, even if you have only a patio, and surely that is good news for the taste buds.

Phuket Gardening is Phuket Gazette columnist Patrick Campbell’s feature of all things flora.

If you have a garden that you would like featured on this page, please email Patrick by clicking here.

Keep checking our online Phuket Lifestyle pages for regular gardening features and tips.

— Patrick Campbell

 

Get more from The Thaiger

Join the conversation and have your say on Thailand news published on The Thaiger.

Thaiger Talk is our new Thaiger Community where you can join the discussion on everything happening in Thailand right now.

Please note that articles are not posted to the forum instantly and can take up to 20 min before being visible. Click for more information and the Thaiger Talk Guidelines.

Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Follow Thaiger by email:

Thailand12 hours ago

Thailand News Today | Opposition to extending nightlife to 4am

Crime12 hours ago

Police officer who shot noodle vender sentenced to 25 years

Road deaths12 hours ago

Truck overturns in NE Thailand, driver dies, losing 1.5 million baht of beer

Sponsored2 days ago

British International School, Phuket: Reflecting on 25 years of world-class education

Transport12 hours ago

Thailand Transport Ministry seeks foreign loans for new bridges

Central Thailand13 hours ago

Elephant calf stamped to death in central Thailand

Chon Buri13 hours ago

Mountain B Pub’s real owner surrenders while police guard venue

Join the conversation on the Thaiger Talk forums today!
Road deaths13 hours ago

Motorcycle rider killed in multi-vehicle pile-up near Bangkok

Crime14 hours ago

Hong Kong man goes to Thailand to meet ‘lover,’ gets trafficked to Myanmar

Thailand14 hours ago

A monk dies in yet another day of Buddhist shame in Thailand

Economy14 hours ago

Electricity prices soar 18% to 4.72 baht per unit next month

Best of15 hours ago

Top 5 Boarding Schools in Thailand (2022)

Crime15 hours ago

Four national park officials indicted over Karen activist’s murder in western Thailand

Thailand15 hours ago

100 Consecutive Days of food handouts to the homeless of Bangkok

Protests15 hours ago

Nearly 1,000 locals protest over fatal road in central Thailand

Insurgency16 hours ago

Landmines kill 1, injure 10 in Deep South of Thailand

Thailand11 months ago

Morning Top Stories Thailand | Police to end protests, Human Trafficking | September 14

Thailand1 year ago

Thailand News Today | Thai Airways in rehab, All go for Songkran | March 4

Tourism1 year ago

Phuket’s nightlife. Yes, bars and clubs are still open | VIDEO

Phuket1 year ago

Thailand News Today | Covid passport talks, Thai Airways heads to court | March 2

Tourism1 year ago

Phuket Thai food treats you need to try | VIDEO

Thailand1 year ago

Thailand News Today | Bars, pubs and restaurants ‘sort of’ back to normal | Feb 23

Tourism1 year ago

In search of Cat & Dog Cafés in Phuket Town | VIDEO

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Gambling crackdown, Seafood market to reopen, Vlogger challenge | Jan 21

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Covid testing for visas, Business impact, Vaccine approval | January 19

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Weekend Bangkok bombs, Thailand fires, Covid update | January 18

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Stray car on runway, Indonesian quake, 300 baht tourist fee | January 15

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Governor off respirator, sex-trafficking arrest, condo prices falling | January 14

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Chinese vaccine, Thailand ‘drug hub’, Covid update | January 13

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Bangkok may ease restrictions, Phuket bar curfew, Vaccine roll out | January 12

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Covid latest, Cockfights closed down, Bryde’s Whale beached | January 11

Trending