Malis & In the kitchen: Everything you need to know about Cambodian mint (ជីរក្រសាំងទំហំ)

This small herbaceous plant with pointed leaves, which has nothing to do with mint despite its name, can be found in many Cambodian recipes, as a side dish or ingredient. While many Thalias outlets use Cambodian mint in certain recipes, those interested in discovering this plant in local recipes should visit Malis restaurants, which have been pioneering the new Khmer cuisine for some time and are truly regarded as experts in the ‘’art of mint’’.

Persicaria odorata or Cambodian mint (ជីរក្រសាំងទំហំ)

Popularity 

Its excellent, slightly spicy, lingering flavour and strong but pleasant aroma greatly enhance the flavour of food. As a result, it’s not surprising to find this plant in many Cambodian dishes, as well as those from other South-East Asian countries.  In Cambodian cuisine, the plant is called chi krasang tomhom (ជីរក្រសាំងទំហំ) and is widely used in soups, stews, salads and Cambodian egg rolls (ណែម). 

Persicaria odorata is also found in a multitude of dishes, salads and soups in Vietnam. If you ask what this ingredient is in a Vietnamese restaurant, you’ll be told without hesitation: “Vietnamese coriander leaf or Vietnamese mint”.  In Vietnam, people often call it rau ram (rau răm). The reason why this plant has so many names referring to the country is that it has become a ubiquitous component of the national cuisine. 

Aksa lemak, a spicy noodle soup

In Singapore and Malaysia, its leaves are an essential ingredient in laksa lemak, a very spicy noodle soup, and in a number of other dishes such as nasi kerabu and asam pedas. In Laos and parts of Thailand, the leaves are eaten with raw beef salads.

Balut companion

In Cambodia, the popular dish originating in the Philippines that goes beautifully with this plant happens to be Balut or Pong Tie Kon (ពងទាកូន, literally ‘baby duck egg’).  This is a fertilised and partially developed egg, either a duck’s or a hen’s egg. In other words, the “Balut” is a chicken or duck embryo. For the record, this dish features in the top 10 strangest culinary delights in the world. Daredevils who want to try it can simply sit down at one of the many small street restaurants in Phnom Penh that serve it. Tokolok (fruit juice mixed with crushed ice and condensed milk) vendors usually offer this delicacy in the early evening. For others who would like to try it at home, simply buy the eggs in the supermarket – they are easy to spot as they are sold covered in a bright pink colour – boil the egg with ginger and serve with salt, pepper and chilli. And of course, don’t forget the Cambodian mint.  

Appearance and characteristics 

Cambodian mint is a small herbaceous plant with pointed leaves. Its leaves grow alternately on the stem. They are light green or purple in colour and sometimes have a unique U-shaped marking. Tiny hairs can be seen on the edges of the leaves. In the best conditions, the plant can grow up to 30 centimetres tall. When mature, it begins to flower. Its pretty flowers grow in clusters at the top of the stem. They are usually white, but some varieties have pink or violet flowers. Persicaria odorata is a perennial that thrives in full sun and a damp climate. However, too much water can kill it. The plant also does not survive when the weather is too cold or too hot.

Medicinal use 

The whole plant contains a pale yellow oil with a fresh, pleasant aroma. The main constituents of the oil include aldehydes, compounds with odoriferous properties. In all, around 50 different substances are available in the plant. Asians have been using this plant to treat various illnesses for several hundred years.  The Vietnamese in particular believe that this herb can reduce sexual desire. This would explain the abundant presence of this plant in some pagodas. However, there are no scientific studies on this unusual effect. But it is said to be common practice to use it to control libido. One of its other health benefits is said to help increase the production of breast milk when applied as a poultice to the breasts.  

Grow your own Cambodian mint 

It’s easy to grow using seeds or cuttings. Cuttings are the most common, as they are simple and inexpensive. It is advisable to choose a location with sufficient light and humidity for excellent results. A key factor is the season: it is best to plant coriander at the start of the warm season. When the time is right, the next step is to prepare the soil by choosing a compost that offers the best conditions for the plant to flourish. It’s important to keep the soil moist by watering at least twice a day.  Pay constant attention to the condition of the soil to ensure that the plant doesn’t run out of water or get over-watered. Cambodian mint usually takes just one month to ripen. It is advisable to pick when the soil is dry. For those who don’t want to use it in cooking, the presence of this plant, especially when in flower, is a pleasant addition to the garden. Persicaria odorata is a perennial that thrives in full sun and a damp climate. 

Simple recipes 

Cambodian mint goes well with a multitude of spices and condiments. It goes very well with chicken, for example. First, marinate some chicken, preferably white, with fish sauce, onion and chilli pepper for half an hour.

Then cook the chicken in coconut milk, reducing the sauce slightly. Add the Cambodian mint, stir and serve. The rich, creamy flavour of the recipe, combined with the exceptional fragrance of the plant, makes this a first-rate dish. 

Cambodian mint chicken

For a fragrant vegetable salad, the ingredients to use are green mango, cucumber, large red chilli, green onion, carrot and, of course, Cambodian mint.  Cut all the ingredients into thin strips. Add the fish sauce and sugar (preferably cane sugar), then mix everything together. It’s a quick and easy way to add a little freshness when you’re feeling peckish during the day.

fragrant vegetable salad

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Author : Christophe Gargiulo
Bibliography: growherbsgarden, Guide to cambodian vegetables, Heavenly Fragrance: Cooking with Aromatic Asian Herbs, A new C-methylated homoisoflavanone and triterpenoid from the rhizomes of Polygonatum odoratum.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

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