Long before wheatgrass juice became a health and juice bar trend, the Vietnamese have been drinking nuoc rau ma (Vietnamese pennywort juice). Pennywort (centella asiatica) is a member of the carrot and dill family. It is also known as gotu kola in the Sri Lankan Sinhalese language.
There are numerous health benefits, according to Wikipedia and Asia Food, which include maintaining youthfulness, purifying the blood, curing nervous conditions, improving eyesight and memory, and relieving arthritis pain. Tai chi chuan master Li Ching-Yuen apparently lived to 256 years old, in part because of pennywort. And 10th century Sri Lankan king Aruna credits pennywort for giving him enough stamina to satisfy his harem of 50 women.
I couldn't find any Vietnamese tales of pennywort's greatness. I just know it's healthy and I've enjoyed drinking nuoc rau ma for as long as I can remember. But how does it taste you ask? A little grassy. Maybe a bit like cucumber water. Not quite minty, but with an underlying herbal freshness flavor. I can't quite describe it because it doesn't taste like anything else. I think, like cilantro, pennywort is a love or hate it herb.
My preferred method of ingesting pennywort is as a fresh drink. I've also sometimes made it into a light soup. There's also a recipe for Sri Lankan pennywort salad so I may have to try that some day. Anyone know of any other pennywort dishes?
Rau ma is readily available at almost any Vietnamese restaurant. I first mentioned it on this blog about a year ago when I met up with some OC Food Blog folks for dim sum at Dragon Phoenix Palace Chinese Seafood Restaurant in Westminster. I tend to order it a lot when I dine out during the dog days of summer like at Brodard Restaurant in Garden Grove, Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa in Alhambra, and Com Tam Thuan Kieu in San Gabriel.
Although you can find it available in cans at the grocery store, it tastes worlds better fresh. And it's super easy to make at home. It's a swamp herb that likes moisture, so if you grow watercress, you can grow pennywort. Otherwise, look in your local Asian grocery store, preferably Vietnamese since I'm not sure how popular this is with other Asians, to see if they have it in stock.
Pennywort leaves go bad fast so make the drink within a day or so of buying them. The recipe is so simple that you can easily make a big pitcher to leave in the fridge. I'm not sure how long it lasts because frankly, it doesn't last very long in my house. And now that I know its reported health benefits, maybe I should drink even more. :)
Nuoc Rau Ma (Vietnamese Pennywort Juice)
As much pennywort leaves as you'd like, washed,
As much sugar, or sugar substitute, as you'd like
When picking through pennywort leaves, just pluck off the bottom part of the stems where dirt may linger. Triple wash.
A little bit goes a long way so make this drink as light or as concentrated as you'd like. Add pennywort leaves to blender with at least enough water to cover the leaves. Try a 2:1 ratio of water to leaves and adjust from there. Add a spoonful or so of sugar, adjust according to your sweet tooth. Puree until leaves are completely obliterated.
Then using a fine-mesh colander, strain out the leafy sludge. Taste and add sugar or water if necessary.
Serve poured over ice. Store the remainder in the fridge.
I'm submitting this recipe to Weekend Herb Blogging, a world-wide food blogging event created by Kalyn's Kitchen celebrating herbs, vegetables, or flowers. If you'd like to participate, see who's hosting this week. WHB is hosted this week by Claudia of Fool for Food.
1 year ago today, some of my favorite restaurant and business names.