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Monday, August 06, 2007

Starting Over Again with Jungle Red Hibiscus, Galangal, and Sugarloaf Pineapple

I'm not sure where the search started since he (Hi Barry!) landed on my recipe for a basic Vietnamese marinade for chicken and pork, but I received a comment asking if I had the "real bac ha."

Bac ha, sometimes translated as taro stem or elephant ears, with the scientific name of alocasia odora. While the other varieties of alocasia may look similar, eating them will cause a very allergic reaction. You can see what bac ha looks like in Gardening Updates.

Vietnamese bac ha is often eaten in canh chua ca (Vietnamese sour fish soup). It has arrow-shaped leaves and a spongy, fibrous stem that soaks up the flavors of whatever it's cooked with. While readily available in Asian markets in SoCal, finding the plant may be a little more difficult unless you know someone who grows it.

Barry said he had been searching for bac ha for a year and a half. He offered to pay me for some plants or trade for something from his tropical garden in Florida. I saw it as the perfect opportunity to start up my garden again, preferably with something that would do well in containers. So I sent off a few bac ha plants and included some stems so he could get cooking right away. In return I got this!

 I wasn't expecting such bounty. The plant on the left is a galangal, often used for Thai curries and soups. The spiky plant in front is a sugarloaf pineapple. Barry says in 14 to 18 months I may actually get pineapples to eat! And the red plant on the right is a Jungle Red hibiscus. He suggested I add the leaves to salads and puree the flowers for a pretty tropical drink. I think I got the better end of this trade, but he seemed pretty happy with just bac ha since he didn't want anything else.

I said I'd make some canh chua ca (Vietnamese sour fish soup) and write it up so he could have a recipe for the bac ha, but his recipe seems pretty awesome to me so I thought I'd share.

From Barry in Florida:
"Thanks so much for the extra Bac Ha veggies. I don't know how to make the traditional soup, so I just made up a cool recipe using some things from the garden and I enjoyed it very much. I loved the texture of the Bac Ha and how it soaks up all the flavor like a sponge.

Here is how I made the soup:
1. Prepare a nice chicken broth made with chicken necks.
2. Pound in the mortar some galanga, rau ram (Vietnamese coriander), lemon grass, kaffir lime leaf, fresh bird pepper, and garlic .
3. Place pounded spices in stock and simmer. Strain infused stock.
4. Sour the stock with Ume Plum Vinegar which is also a salty brine.
5. Throw in some match stick carrots and the prepared bac ha cut on the diagonal.
6. Add some fresh sweet potato vine tips, and some kang kong (water spinach) tips when nearly cooked.
7. Cut up a handful of fresh sweet baby pineapple into small chunks. Add them to the soup.
8. Sprinkle in a few drops of good fish sauce, some black pepper, and sweeten up with a little stevia (or sugar if you rather). I didn't add any meat to the soup so the bac ha was the main feature."
Thanks again Barry!


  1. Very cool plants, WC - I especially like the look of the galangal's leaves. However did Barry ship them to you in such good condition!

  2. Nikki,
    I just suggested we wrap the plants with wet newspapers inside plastic bags and send them priority mail. Seems to work!


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