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Adventures in Lactic Fermentation 20110710

I was recently pleased to discover, tangentially, that mustard greens are used in Vietnam as a lactic-fermented pickle, similar to kimchi, but without the ginger, garlic, and piemento. When I was a young teen, I'd see mustard greens all the time, out in the fields in Islamabad. Acres and acres of the stuff, all being grown to be used in various forms of saag. Sweltering in the 140F heat. I'm now aware that I've had pickled mustard greens in several forms, mostly when in the Philippines, but also in Brunei and Singapore as an addition to soup. But I never knew what it was.

So it was surprising to me to learn that there are some very nice varieties of mustard that grow really well here in the True North Strong and Free. With spring spinach cancelled by rain, the mustard greens this year have been very welcome (and productive). One of the organic farmers at the market yesterday had bunches of the stuff. It's apparently hit its peak.

So I bought a few bunches and did some research and came up with a recipe for "Dua Cai Chua" that fits with what I have here and I hope has some authenticity to it. But just a quick note on "authenticity": I can't emphasize enough how thoroughly the vast area around the South China Sea is permeated by Chinese culture and centuries of cultural interchange. It's a method of making preserves that has obviously spread and changed and picked up local variations from Bangladesh to Luzon in a wide swath, including Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. A quick search across the internet will give you at least a dozen recipes, some of which don't resemble each other in any way.

So I went for simplicity, based on a Lao recipe.
First, clean the mustard greens. Here is my beefy little hand for a sense of scale. (Pardon the utilitarian photography.)

The greens are often very sandy, and pick up dirt in the crotches of the leaves. They also have a tendency to form a hard, fibrous stalk when they are starting to flower. These need taking out:

Also take out any leaves that have been attacked by pests, since the plant will have marshalled acrid chemicals to those leaves to discourage them.

The traditional Viet way to do this step is to wilt the leaves in the sun for a day, but as soon as I tried that, some very large black ants started taking an unwelcome interest, so I opted for the alternative form, which is to cut the bunch in 4cm slices and blanch them for 10 seconds or so in boiling water.

Because I have an excess, I chose this recipe because it called for scallions, sliced into small chunks:

And because they are like daikon, but much sweeter and luscious, I added slices of our local white turnip:

Then, I boiled a handful of leftover rice in a couple of cups of water with three teaspoons of salt and one teaspoon of demarra sugar, until the rice had turned the water milky. I strained out the rice and packed it all into my second-largest crock.

We'll see how that went in a week, and hopefully I'll be able to use it in soups next weekend!


Jul. 10th, 2011 09:57 pm (UTC)
Sorry, I thought you knew... I'm a foreign service brat. My dad was a career diplomat, meaning he joined the State Department as a member of the civil service in the late 50s.

Because he was an expert on Byzantium and ancient and modern Greece, he got labelled as a Mediterranean scholar. During my life, however, he was increasingly seen as an arabist (not true), and after five years in Tunisia, we were posted to Islamabad just as the Soviets invaded and there was an insurrection that burned out the American holdings in Pakistan. Because we were essential staff, we returned for the early 1980s, and so most of my formative years were spent in Islamabad, where I met Cara Sposa. So we've been friends for over thirty years.

After Pakistan, my dad was given a choice of three ambassadorships: Chad, Burkina Faso, and Brunei. Needless to say, he chose Brunei, where there were no appropriate schools for me, and while he was being used as a dupe by those traitors, Wolfowitz and North, I was in a boarding school in Baguio, Philippines. Singapore was a halfway stop on most of the airplane routes, but usually, you had to stay overnight. That sour-mustard taste is something I expect to recover soon. assuming these pickles work out.

BTW, the Geisha portrait your hubby identified--that was bought during their first posting in Cairo in 1958. Here's the painful part: the same dealer offered a complete edition of Audubon's Birds for US$100. And in those days, before credit was a standard thing, they could only raise $91 between them. And now, I believe, an edition just sold for over $2 million.

Amazing, the world, isn't it?
Jul. 11th, 2011 07:31 am (UTC)
It *is* an amazing world!

I had to laugh at the choices of Chad, Burkina Faso, and Brunei. I had a friend whose father was a UN geologist, and she got to live in.... Liberia, Burma, and Chile under Pinochet. Woo! But it **is** an adventure! Of course, as a kid you probably only had an inkling of the adventure that it was--and as a kid, you couldn't grab as much adventure out of it as you might have liked to, even if you were so inclined.

You must have interesting insights into Pakistan's politics and social tensions.

And, wow, the Philippines too!

Did you learn any languages?

And ouch about the edition of Audubon's Birds!
Jul. 12th, 2011 02:56 pm (UTC)
At least Chad, Burkina Faso, and Brunei weren't active war zones!

But my folks were wartime generation, so I had pretty broad freedom to go and do whatever I liked in Pakistan. My friends and I would generally wander around the city a lot, which is a park-city, with lots of greenspace, etc. One time we went skinny-dipping with a King Cobra. That was kind of adventurous. But mostly we just toodled around on our bikes.

But yeah, Pakistan is a complex situation. There's a serious cultural disconnect between U.S. and Pakistani culture, and watching the two interact is sort of like watching Galaxies collide: for the most part, they don't touch each other, but where they do... Lots of storm and drama.

But no, I have the curse of mostly living in countries where English is the de-facto lingua franca. One set of friends spoke Persian, Pashto, Punjabi, and Urdu between them, so even on the micro scale, English was used. I know "taxi Urdu", but that's about it. French I got by default, but I rarely use it, even in Canada.