Pascal Médeville takes us today on a culinary and ethnobotanical journey with an article on the edible flowers of Cambodia.
When you take a little interest in Khmer gastronomy, you cannot fail to be struck by the incredible diversity of plants consumed. In addition to fruits and vegetables imported to Cambodia from France or other countries (chili pepper, pepper, tomato, potato, zucchini, avocado, etc.), the Khmer country offers its inhabitants a multitude of rather “exotic” fruits and vegetables. and often unknown to Westerners. Among these plants which are the covetousness of knowledgeable gourmets, several species of flowers, which we briefly review below. (Note: The phonetic transcription of Khmer names offered here is only approximate.)
Cassia of Siam (អង្កាញ់ [âng-kagn])
Siamese cassia, or partridge wood ( Senna siamea , syn. Cassia siamea ), is a species native to Southeast Asia, widely distributed in Africa. In its original area, the tree, which grows naturally in light forests, is planted around homes to serve as a shade tree. Its wood is also sought after: it is used as construction and cabinetmaking wood. Young leaves, fruits and young flowers can be eaten. The leaves are used, for example, in the composition of a thick soup, rich in vegetables, famous in Cambodia, called “sâm-lâ kâ-kô” (សម្លកកូរ). The flowers can be used in curries. However, the consumption of this flower is not very common.
Banana inflorescence (ត្រយូងចេក [trâ-yông chék])
There are many varieties of banana trees in Cambodia. The fruits are of course eaten; The so-called “chicken egg” variety (ចេកពងមាន់ [chék pông-moan]) is particularly appreciated, which produces small bananas about ten centimeters long, with very thin skin, which are pleasantly sweet. Banana leaves are often used to wrap food, and the heart, white in color and very crunchy, is sometimes eaten in salads. The banana inflorescence is used in many dishes. Cut into fairly large pieces, husks are frequently found in poultry soups; the husks and male and female flowers are also used in the composition of various fish soups.
Pumpkin flower (ផ្កាល្ពៅ [p’ka lpov)
Pumpkin (Cucurbita maxima), native to tropical America, is well known in Cambodia. The flesh of its fruit is eaten in sweet dishes or in curries. With small pumpkins, stripped of their seeds, we prepare a very popular steamed flan. The seeds, roasted, serve as treats. The flowers are consumed in many ways: they can be used in soup with ground pork; stuffed with pork, they are fried; they are also sometimes pan-fried, garnished with oyster sauce or ground pork.
Tamarind flower (ផ្កាអំពិល [p’ka âm-pel]
The tamarind tree ( Tamarindus indica ), of Indian or African origin, is a species of prime importance for Cambodian cuisine. The pulp of its fresh fruit is used in the composition of many culinary preparations to which it provides acidity. There is also a sweet variety, rarer, whose candied fruits are very popular. The young leaves are also used in soups. These young leaves are sometimes accompanied by flowers, pale yellow or pinkish in color, which appear in the form of inflorescences in terminal clusters.
Water hyacinth (កំប្លោក [kâm-plaok])
Water hyacinth, or camalote ( Eichhornia crassipes ), is a herb that can reach a height of around fifty centimeters. It is native to South America and has been established as an ornamental in many countries. In Cambodia, its flower is eaten raw, like many other vegetables grouped under the generic term “ân-luk” (អន្លក់), as an accompaniment to various dipping sauces or dishes of fresh rice vermicelli on which different soups are poured. thick and curries.
Fagot flower (អង្គាដី [âng-kie dey])
The fagotier, or plant hummingbird, or even large-flowered agati ( Sesbania grandiflora ), is probably native to South or Southeast Asia. Its flowers are used in Khmer countries as vegetables. Before consuming them, they must be removed from their pistil and stamens which give them a bitter taste. These flowers are, like the previous species, eaten raw as “ân-luk”, and can also be prepared into fritters.
Javanese Sesbania (ស្នោ [snao])
The Java sesbania, or marsh sesbania ( Sesbania javanica ), is a shrub 2 to 4 meters high, common in marshy places in Eastern Asia. Its flowers are frequently found in Cambodian markets. Like the two previous species, they are used as “ân-lûk” and can also be eaten in fritters. They can still be preserved in vinegar.
After having been blanched in boiling water so as to remove their bitter taste, beaten eggs are added to make an omelette seasoned with “fish stock” (ទឹកត្រី [teuk-trey], better known in the West under its name Vietnamese: nước mắm). In times of scarcity, young leaves can also be included in the Khmer diet, but in ordinary times, they are used as fodder for livestock.
Tonkin Jasmine (ស្រឡិត [srâ-let])
Tonkin jasmine ( Telosma cordata ) is a vine believed to be native to China or Southeast Asia. Its small flowers give off a powerful scent. In China, it is called “which lavishes its perfume at night” (夜来香 [yèláixiāng]), because it is especially at night that the scent of these flowers is perceptible. The Chinese name was partially transcribed into Khmer in the form of “lai-hieng” (ឡៃហៀង), another Cambodian name by which this species is known. From Tonkin jasmine, we eat the young leaves and flowers. The flowers alone can be used in soups, or stir-fried with pork or garlic.
For those interested in the flora and ethnobotany of Cambodia, two works are recommended:
Pauline Dy Phon, Dictionary of plants used in Cambodia, Phnom Penh, January 2000 (probably out of print, no ISBN number)
Mathieu Leti, et al., Photographic flora of Cambodia, Éditions Privat, 2013, ISBN: 9782708959194
Text and photographs by Pascal Médeville.
This article was first published in Tela Botanica under the -ShareAlike 4.0 International license (CC BY-SA 4.0).