Okinawa Spinach, Salad Or Flower?
I am a spinach lover. Although no relative of Popeye, spinach is what turns me on. Any kind will do – red, green, or any other colour. This
delicious vegetable comes with fancy names as well depending on geographical location. Regardless, they are all tasty and nutritious. More
importantly, to some of us at least, spinach is somewhat easy to cook –
just boil, stir-fry, steam or even taken raw, spinach tastes just as good.
Several weeks ago, I stumbled upon Okinawa spinach. Lured by the name, I was delighted to find it here. Amazingly, this is not a true spinach. The plant actually belongs to the chrysanthemum family, a classic floral herb with well-known healing properties. Okinawa spinach or Gynura bicolor has a huge following around the world. The Chinese call it Red Phoenix Vegetable or hongfeng cai 紅鳳菜. its popularity may be attested by the attractive herb’s presence in cuisines from Japan and China where it originated, to the Americas, across Asia to Europe and elsewhere. This plant is prized for delicious taste as well as a wealth of nutrients including protein, iron, potassium, calcium, and vitamin A. You may find Okinawa spinach flourishing in a nursery or growing proudly in someone’s garden. Large specimens may also thrive in flower beds or along footpaths in botanical gardens. If you are lucky, you may find it unexpectedly at a greengrocer’s
“I am guilty of having grown this as an ornamental in my garden without realizing it is delightfully edible.”
At first glance, the slightly serrated leaves look green and fresh. Turn one over and marvel at the difference. You will realize, as I did, the significance of its common name. This plant hides the loveliest shade of electric bluish-purple under its leaves. The underside has a magical quality, glowing with grace and elegance. In the strong breeze, Okinawa spinach teases with shimmering shades of green and purple. There are many ways to enjoy its exquisite taste. Try taking it raw in a salad, stir-fry with garlic Chinese style or savour a gorgeous soup with chicken, ginger and garlic. Any way you prepare it, Okinawa spinach does not disappoint. When cooked, the richly coloured leaves impart a unique tinge of blue and purple. Boiled leaves are slightly sweet and crunchy, akin to seaweed but minus any fishy after taste. Do note that the firm but hollow and therefore not woody
stems are usually discarded
Where to get Okinawa spinach in the Klang Valley?
You may have heard of Urban E Farm in Cheras. This Aquaponic farm is the brain child of a gifted student and his classmates. It goes to show that extended months of staying home ( due to the MCO ) may have a positive effect on some. These enterprising individuals must count among those who prefer to light the proverbial candle. Instead of cursing the darkness, they attend online lectures, and spend time at home seeking avenues for self improvement.
As a first step, they succeeded in building a Aquaponic farm themselves, based on their own business plan. From perseverence, vision and hard work, Sean Lee and his mates now earn enough to self finance their studies. Their year old farm in Cheras produces almost a hundred varieties of fresh fruit and vegetables, all organically grown. The farm uses just water, Aquaponic pellets, Tilapia fish and a self filtering pond. Their success suggests that business acumen and self reliance are not alien to our youth. Sean and his friends are an inspiration to us all.
July 1, 2021