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Hazardous Green Leafy Thing

April 25, 2013

Nothing like trying to cook local food to make me realize that I’m still a rookie here.

My mental categories for foods at the market are Fruits, Vegetables, Green Leafy Things, Seafood, Prepared Food, and Mysterious Things. I keep venturing further into the local foods here. I’ve bought and eaten all of the fruits, most of the vegetables, lots of the Green Leafy Things, and zero of the shellfish. I’ll often ask the vendor how to prepare something.

If it’s a fruit, their responses in Pijin are something like, “You peel it, cut it up, take out the seeds, and eat it.”

If it’s a vegetable, the instructions are probably, “You peel it, cut it up, take out the seeds, cook it, and eat it.” I often ask for clarification about the “cook it” phrase. Possible responses include, “Fry it,” “Cook it,” “Boil it,” “Cook it in coconut milk,” and a puzzled look that I think means, “You don’t know how to cook this?”

If it’s a Green Leafy Thing, the answers are, “You cut it up and cook it in coconut milk,” or “You cut it up and fry it.”

Yesterday at the market I saw a new kind of Green Leafy Thing and asked what it is. “Taro leaf.” Yum! I’ve bought a prepared taro leaf dish a few times and think it is delicious, so I bought a packet of the leaves.

IMG_6977

proud of my taro leaves

I called another missionary here to ask how she cooks taro leaf. She doesn’t, because her family doesn’t like it. She said I could ask one of the local ladies here. Looking back: that was a good suggestion. Some of the Green Leafy Things are okay raw, but I think they all taste okay if cooked in coconut milk. So this is clearly what I should do with my new taro leaves.

IMG_6978

Taro is also called “elephant’s ear.”

A Solomon Islands teenager was over here playing with Little M as I was cutting up the taro leaf. He showed me how to take out the thick veins of the leaves, because he said they aren’t good to eat. He also said something about the veins “scratching” the skin of white people and maybe leaving black marks on our skin. I was a little unclear on what exactly he meant, so I just nodded. He said he didn’t know how to cook it because his mom or grandma does that part.

When I had a pot full of taro leaf pieces, I added some homemade coconut milk. I boiled it while the rest of supper cooked. I then added a package of ramen noodles because that’s just what they do here.

Quite proud of my local food, I served the taro leaf and noodle side dish to my family. A few minutes in, John said, “My throat feels funny.” I was about to automatically tease him when I realized that mine did too. I asked, “Does it feel scratchy? And my tongue feels tingly.” We quickly agreed that our symptoms were the same. (Neither of our kids ate the taro leaf.) Our throats, mouths, and tongues itched and felt prickly. I started wondering if one or both of us was having an allergic reaction. We ate no more taro leaf. This picture shows the dish, though unfortunately it’s in our compost bucket on top of the discarded leaf veins.

taro leaf thrown away

the taro leaves meet a sad end

After some asking around and online research, I now know that raw taro is “considered toxic,” and “The toxin is minimized by cooking.” Hours later, my throat still feels funny. Turns out I should have either soaked the taro in cold water for several hours, cooked it for a few hours, and/or scrubbed it. Not sure about the details there. Tomorrow morning, I’ll ask a few local women who work at SITAG a few questions:
1: “How exactly do you prepare taro leaf?”
2: “How exactly do you cook taro leaf?”
3: “Would you like some taro leaf? I have extra, and I might wait a few weeks to cook it again.”

–Lori

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Mom permalink
    April 25, 2013 7:35 am

    New hazards in a new place. Strange no one mentioned this to you, guess they just never would eat it that way. I’m thankful you quit eating it right away. Don’t give it to the chickens?
    Love!

  2. Becky permalink
    April 25, 2013 12:48 pm

    Glad it wasn’t worse, you are a brave woman for diving into all these new foods for your family. 🙂 Praying for you guys!

  3. David Peyton permalink
    April 29, 2013 12:05 pm

    Did anybody else spot the indelicious irony here? This post was called the weekly digest? Somebody somewhere knows how to manage this stuff. Best veggie burger I ever had was a taro burger in Hawaii! But is sounds similar to cassava — have to soak it a long time to make it edible.

  4. June 1, 2013 10:56 am

    We’ll help you with the shellfish when we arrive in August. It will be fun!

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