Indian Lettuce a.k.a Lactuca Indica is known as ‘Goose vegetable’ among the local. Hakka name is Ku mak a.k.a Yao mak in Cantonese. In Mandarin it is Ku mak cai (苦荬菜), daun panjang in Malay and sawi rana in Java. To the Hakka people, the Indian Lettuce is relished as wraps for tofu.
Indian lettuce is not native to Malaysia. It must have been brought in by the immigrants from China, most probably by the Hakka people based on their eating habit like Ku mak as wraps for tofu and as side dishes for lei cha.
The Indian lettuce is a herbaceous plant which grows upright to a height of 2 m when reaches its full maturity. Leaves are harvested to be eaten raw only when it grows taller. Pluck the leaves below the shoot at the top leaving the plant to grow taller again.
When the plant is mature, branched inflorescence with daisy-like flowers will emerge at the top of the plant. The tiny, black seeds which form later have fluffy white hair attached and this simply means the seeds can be dispersed by wind.
There are different varieties of this plant as shown by the different shapes and sizes of the leaves. The leaves of Indian lettuce can range from simple oblong shape to lobed and pinnated leaves, like the salad rocket(arugula). The patterns of the lobed leaves of these two plants are almost identical.
In terms of shape and taste, the rocket resembles Indian lettuce in many ways. Both are best eaten raw. The salad rocket has a pungent, slightly bitter flavour which is very similar to the Indian Lettuce. The scientific name of the salad rocket is Eruca Sativa.
According to Wikipedia, it is rich in vitamin c and potassium. In fact, most lettuce contain as high as 3545 mg of potassium per 100 g edible portion. The salad rocket, as an imported vegetable from Italy, is an expensive green sold at the supermarket.
The leaves of Indian lettuce are light greyish green in color. The faint bitterness of the leaves is very pleasant to taste. In fact, that is what makes it so unique. The leaf is crunchy. Munching the leaves is a good experience of eating vegetable raw. It is a pity that most people would cook it as a dish without realizing it can be eaten raw and what is more, it actually tastes better when eaten raw. Cooked leaves taste more bitter than the raw leaves and become much less crunchy.
I grew up thinking everybody eats tofu this way. I was quite surprised to find out only Hakka people eat tofu in Indian lettuce wraps. Even to this day, I have found that in my area, not many people know tofu can be eaten in Indian lettuce wraps but please bear in mind that unnoticed dish does not mean it is not palatable.
I think the main reason it remains unnoticed is due to difficulty in supplying Indian lettuce in big quantity and most of us only use Indian lettuce as wraps from our own gardens. Those bought from the markets are for cooking fish ball soup or as side dishes for lei cha. Indian lettuce as wraps for tofu will remain as a home-cooked dish unless it can be packed like the rockets in plastic bags with labels like ‘safe for salad’ or ‘eaten raw’. Certain varieties of Indian lettuce seeds are now available in China markets.
When we were young, we ate a lot of this vegetable as wraps for deep-fried tofu. Most of the time this dish was eaten with rice. My late mom would prepare a sauce made of preserved soya bean with green chillies, lime juice and a lot of garlic. Old people believe that garlic eaten raw can help to expel parasites and germs from our body system. In this recipe, garlic is optional for Buddhist and Hari Krishna vegetarians who do not take garlic, onions, chives, leeks and other related vegetables with pungent flavor.
- 2 tbs preserved soy bean
- 2 tbs lime juice
- 2 green chillies – sliced finely
- 2 cloves of garlic (optional) – minced
- To prepare the sauce, just mix all the ingredients together.
- Wash the leaves thoroughly under the running water from the tap.
- Rinse the leaves with bottle water if necessary.
- Remove the middle veins from the leaves.
- Wrap the tofu with the leaves.
- Serve with the dipping sauce.
Trust me, it is so appetizing. This dipping sauce may be a bit on the salty side so eating it with a bowl of rice is just so……tasty. Oh yes, oh ya, one mouthful of tofu followed by another mouthful of rice, a heavenly experience. Munch, munch, munch………..Yummy!
Another to be shared here is the tomato chilli dip.
- 6 local tomatoes – soaked in boiling water for 5 minutes then peel the skin.
- 3 chillies
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tbs lime juice
- 1 tsp brown sugar
Preparing the dipping source
– Just blend all the ingredients to make the chilli sauce.
No rice is needed for tofu dipped in this source.
Enjoy this truly hakka dish, simple and yet unique !
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