Saturday, 2 August 2008

Pako Fern - Lunchtime Salad

Pako fern from Siargao Island, NE Mindanao, Philippines, home of Cloud 9 surfing spotThis is pako fern; it grows naturally in the forests around here, and is gathered by women for sale in the local markets.

It doesn't rank very high on local food-value scales.

But it tastes wonderful, as a fresh salad, with the usual oil and vinegar dressing. It's crispy and tasty.

Here, it's thought of as an occasional delicacy, but otherwise as a famine food, the only thing you can find to eat after a typhoon or earthquake.

Last year, when exceptional rains, floods and landslides cut Lanuza (opposite my island on the 'mainland' of Mindanao) off from the outside world, this was all they had left to eat.

If the local people could somehow find a way to get this salad into Western supermarkets, they'd have a winner.
It's very cultivable.

Incidentally, when I talk about the 'usual oil and vinegar dressing', I'm not referring to all those fancy Mediterranean virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars, that cost a fortune. I'm referring to our very own cold-pressed virgin coconut oil, and the vinegar that results from not drinking all the coconut sap tuba wine in time.

No sooner had I first written the draft of this, than I wanted to find more about this wonderful salad. Here is a photo of pako fern being served in a Vancouver restaurant, from vacationtime at Flickr. It looks as if these are the very top fiddlehead buds, braised lightly.

This is not so good; it's like the French, who braise lettuce, for god's sake. The Frogs don't know nuffink about cooking.

Here is the fern, growing wild, locally.

And, finally, here's a recipe for Kerabu pucuk pakis from a feast, everyday, who seem to come from Malaya, and are obviously interested in food, because they call themselves thedroolteam.

Pakis kerabu
2 cups pakis soft tips, washed and cut into 2" length
1 tablespoon dried prawns, washed and soaked

1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 tablespoon lime juice
1-2 bird's eye chillies, chopped
sugar, to taste

Blanch the pakis in boiling water for 2-3 minutes; rinse in cold water and drain.
Drain the dried prawns and chop or pound coarsely; fry in a dry pan without oil over medium heat until fragrant and golden.
Sprinkle a pinch of sugar on the dried prawn to caramelise and off the heat.
Mix together the dressing, adjust to suit your taste (our palates lean heavily to the sourish side); toss in well with the pakis and chill. Mix in the dried prawns to serve.

Malay foods seem to be a lot more subtle and interesting, than Filipino foods, and that puzzles me. Perhaps the Malays have a longer and more 'civilised' culture history than my neighbours on this small island?

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