Thursday, 26 April 2012

Bananas - Pisang Kapas

One of my favorite bananas to eat raw is pisang kapas.  However, I think many of you may be more familar with it in its "mature green" form as it is often used in cooking dalca or curries.  In this state, it can also be turned into banana chips.  To determine its readiness, look at the end of the fruit - the flower should be dried and falling off the tip.  I do not recommend eating the inflorescence or jantung pisang from this plant as it has a bitter taste.

This banana plant grows tall at the farm, exceeding 8m and produces many baby plants.  Each tandan produces many sikat - at the farm as many as 10.  The outer skin of the fruit is smooth and not as waxy as pisang emas or pisang lemak manis.  As with all bananas, to harvest, the whole plant is cut down.  I chop up the pseudostem and lay it along the base of the cluster of banana plants essentially to improve the quality of the soil as well as serving as a fertilizer.

The shape is more elongated and ripens to a softer yellow.  It is less creamier and less sweet by comparison to pisang emas.  The texture of the fruit is soft and firm.  I also like it in banana splits - lending a softer flavor in contrast to the rich taste of vanilla and chocolate ice cream.  When it is extremely ripe, I find that it also makes a great cucur kodok as well as banana bread, cake or muffin.

Bananas - Pisang Emas

In my continuing saga with the varieties of bananas at the farm, this blog is dedicated to pisang emas.  As with the other varieties, the initial plant takes about 1 year to fruiting and baby plants start growing as the inital plant matures.  The plant is shorter by comparison to the other banana plants,  Per plant, it produces less sikat compared to the other varieties.  However, quality of soil, fertilizer as well as water makes a difference.

To determine when the fruit is ready for harvesting, check the end of the fruit.  If the flower has dried off and all that is left is the black ends, then the fruit is mature.  In my war with the birds, this is when I will harvest it and let it continue to ripen indoors.  I enjoy watching the change in the outer skin color from green to yellow to golden yellow. 

This banana is more commonly eaten raw and with its smaller size, is ideal as an after-meal dessert. It will also help with the digestion with its high fiber content.  The shape of the fruit is also ovalish with no visible edges on the sides.  The flesh is also a golden yellow.  The fruit ripens to a golden yellow skin hence its name.  The skin is also relatively thin and bruises easily once ripe.  The outer skin texture is waxy-smooth.

This banana can be used to make cucur kodok, lempeng and other sweet delicacies such as banana bread and muffin when it is over-ripe.
I do not recommend the inflorescence or jantung pisang for ulam due to its bitter taste.

Bananas - Pisang Abu

Quite a few of my friends are only familar with Pisang Montel, the ones that you can easily find in supermarkets.  Only a few are familar with the many varieties that we have in Malaysia - dare I say it - the real local varieties.  A few have suggested that I do write-ups on them so this is the first of the series.  At the farm, we have over 10 varieties and I continue on my quest to uncover more.....
Among the variety of banana plant that is planted at the farm is Pisang Abu.  There is two types: Pisang Abu Batu and Pisang Abu Bunga.  This variety is often used in cooking the many sweet delicacies that we have.  The most often way is as banana fritters or pisang goreng.  It can also be eaten raw.
The inflorescence or jantung pisang is also amongst the tastiest and does not have a bitter taste.  For those ulam lovers, if you like raw inflorescence, then this is the variety for you.  Of course, you can also eat this cooked.
The initial plant takes about 1 year before it starts to bear fruit.  However, as the plant matures, baby plants will begin to sprout.  This plant can grow to over 10m with the pseudostem diameter of 20cm.  However, to ensure good quality future plants, do not remove the baby plants from the cluster until the initial plant has been harvested.

The pisang abu batu is slightly larger that its "sibling" and turns into a nice yellow when ripe.  Due to its size, this is the often used in banana fritters for commercial purposes thus making it more readily available due to demand.

The pisang abu bunga is has black/brown areas on the skin with the green portions turning into yellow when ripe.  For me, I prefer this type for my banana fritters as it is sweeter than pisang abu batu as well as having a lower moisture content hence it soaks less oil during frying.
For both types, the shape is almost squarish with clear edges and narrows to a flat end.  Depending on the type, the skin can be relatively thick so at the farm, we have selected the type that is not although the skin may appear to be.  It also has a velvety outer skin texture.
So, next time that you are buying banana fritters, you might want to find out which variety it is :)

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Brassica Vegetable

Now that my greenhouse is ready, I am embarking on planting leafy vegetables without the use of chemical herbicides or pesticides.  My latest experiment is in planting sawi (choy sum) and kailan, both of the Brassica family.  I love both this vegetables hence my choice of what I would like to start my vegetable project in the greenhouse was a no-brainer.  The sawi has a vivid green leaves whilst the kailan has a slightly bluish-tint to the green leaves.  The stems also differ with the sawi stems being a lighter, milky green whilst the kailan has a dark green stem. 

I started with seeding in beds and it took about 5 days for the little plants to start appearing.  Before seeding, I had prepared these beds carefully, breaking the soil and adding organic compost.  I love the feel of the rich and organic soil. 

Choosing to grow these vegetables as naturally as possible meant that a lot more effort was required.  Freequent manual weeding was required to ensure that the vegetables didn't have to compete with the weeds for nutrients and water.  I also checked the leaves for any bugs - especially those leaf-eating ones and manually removed them.  Daily watering was required, sometimes two times a day, depending on the moisture in the soil.  Being blessed with having a clean water source, without any man-added chemicals, I was further assured of limiting polutants to my vegetables.

I have planted the vegetables in stages to ensure relatively constant supply, especially for my family and own consumption, with the remaining sold at my Sunday morning stall.
These leafy vegetables are best harvested either very early in the morning, just after Suboh, or late in the afternoon/early evening - just before Maghrib.  This ensures that the vegetables remain fresh longer.  Once harvested, I keep the roots moist to maintain its freshness until I cook it or take to market.

Both the sawi and kailan are rich in nutrients including iron, calcium, vitamin C, Bs and trace elements and minerals.  It is best cooked lightly or can be eaten raw for maximum nutritious values.  It can be an addition to salads. There are many benefits of these tasty vegetables:
  • The cholesterol-lowering ability of these steamed greens is in their ability to bind bile acids in the digestive tract. When bile acid binding takes place, it is easier for the bile acids to be excreted from the body. Since bile acids are made from cholesterol, the net impact of this bile acid binding is a lowering of the body's cholesterol level. It's worth noting that steamed mustard greens (and all steamed forms of the cruciferous vegetables) show much greater bile acid binding ability than raw mustard greens.
  • With its glucosinolates which are phytonutrients that provide us with unique health benefits because they can be converted into isothiocyanates (ITCs) that have cancer-preventive properties.
  • The cancer protection we get from these greens may be largely related to two special glucosinolates found in this cruciferous vegetable: sinigrin and gluconasturtiian. Sinigrin can be converted into allyl-isothiocyanate (AITC) and gluconasturtiian can be converted into phenethyl-isothiocyanate (PEITC). Both AITC and PEITC have well-documented cancer-preventive and anti-inflammatory properties.

A simple but healthy vegetable dish would be stir-fried sawi with garlic where you can use olive oil or good vegetable oil and fry the garlic until soft before adding the stems of the sawi.  Once the cut stems are soft, just add the leafy portion of the sawi and salt to taste, and toss for about a minute and it is ready.

For the kailan, my favorite is kailan with salted fish.  I use the SHL salted fish.  First I would fry the cut salted fish until crispy.  Then I would use the same oil, albeit in reduced portion, to fry chopped red or yellow onions and garlic.  When they are soft, I add the stems of the kailan, cook until soft and then add the cooked salted fish along with the leaves of the kailan.  No additional salt required.

There are so many ways to consume this vegetable - can be added to your nasi goreng, mi goreng, mi rebus - it is limited by your imagination. So with its great taste and healthy benefits, try it - you may enjoy it :)

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Farming is....

I often get a good laugh at the shocked faces or surprised comments at my Sunday market when the market-goers hear me speak English.  To some of them, it is unheard of to hear a produce-seller being able to speak proper English - if you speak with the "lahs" and "lor" and without proper grammar, this is fine.  The sellers are also supposed to be uneducated or lowly-educated and the fine, clever customers should be able to look down on them.  At times, these fine, educated customers speak rudely and patronize you.  They are the ultimate practitioners of stereotyping.  I enjoy jolting them out of their preconceived notions and watching their jaws drop when I revert to my business English.  I view this as my social responsibility to cultivate sensitivity and awareness that all humans are to be treated with respect and civility - you never know the background of the other person - and not to judge a person on appearances - personal or otherwise.
From my experience in the US, a visit to the Farmers' market is always a learning experience.  Interesting produce and products direct from the farm is always of good quality and the sellers are always knowledgeable of their products.  Quality and freshness is the standard.  Consumers expect it.  Conversely, here, often, consumers expect cheap, low quality products.  SHL aims to produce quality and fresh produce and products at competitive pricing.  If the customers expect to pay cheaper than chain-store prices for a better quality, then they are sadly mistaken.  Vegetables are produced without chemical herbicide or pesticides and harvested the day prior to market.  At a recent visit to a T-store, I found 3 stems of pucuk paku, all wilted, sold at RM 2.99.  I sell a bunch of them at RM 1 and I have had comments from the well-dressed affluent customers who say that it is expensive.  What a joke!!  They ignorantly comment that since this should be easy to obtain in the "kampung", it should be sold at 50 cents a bunch.  I would love to see these people try to do it.  I just smile and suggest politely that they buy from alternative sellers.  Little do they know, that a few of the sellers there buy from us to resell :).  It is funny to see them circle the market and return later only to find that it has sold out.  We all have choices so I leave it to them to make theirs.
I have many regular customers that I enjoy to visit with - often we will chat on the nutrition of the produce that I sell as well as share recipes.  They warm my heart with their appreciation of my products and motivate me to improve.
From week to week, some of the products varies as it depends on what is ready.  The varieties of bananas also vary and I will only know what I will have 2-3 days before market day, the time when I tour the farm and select what bananas will be ready to consumption by Sunday or 1-2 days later.  At times, it is a battle between me and the birds.  The same goes for papayas.  Nothing beats the taste naturally ripened fruits as opposed to fruits that are chemically-induced.  One of the things that love watching is the change of the color of pisang lemak manis or emas from yellowish-green to bright yellow. 
Depending on the variety, the bananas are sold at RM 2.50 or RM 3.00 per kilogram.  I have some ignorant opportunist that say I should sell at RM 1.00 or RM 1.50 per kg as it is direct from the farm so all I need to do is wait for them to grow - no need to do anything.  Anyone with any sense knows that to produce quality produce, you have to take care of the plant, clear the weeds, ensure enough fertilizers before you can harvest them.  From a plant, depending on variety, it would yield about 5-10 kg.  Average time to harvest is 8 months.  So from one plant, you may get a maximim of RM 25 (the RM 3/kg is for pisang emas and lemak manis which only produce about 5kg per plant).  Do the math - how many of these consumers would wait 8 months to earn RM 25 per plant.  If you have 100 pants, then you make RM 2500 for 8 months or RM 312.50 per month before costs.  so, be reasonable consumers :)
All in all, I am getting to be quite spoilt and selective of my fruits and vegetable.  I feel blessed that I have this choice.  SubhanAllah.