I know I've said this before, but one of the pleasures of being passionate about food, cooking and eating, is discovering new and unusual ingredients to work with. I came across several such items at the Asian Pacific Market last week, among them a bushy flat-leafed green called tung ho.
A helpful Nepalese employee at the market told me that the flavor is brought out best by a quick stir-frying, as opposed to steaming or boiling. I had picked out several fruits and vegetables, but this particular one elicited from him the most enthusiasm, which I took to be a good sign.
I came back late in the afternoon yesterday, after spending an exhilarating five hours selling my books and chatting with interesting people at the Colorado Vegetarian Festival in Golden (Colorado). I was ravenous, having eaten close to nothing all day. My wife had made a pot of brown rice and a delicious-looking tofu dish with fresh shiitake mushrooms, broccoli, zucchini and onions. This was perfect for me; all I needed to add was a salad and a sautéed leafy green. It was an ideal moment to introduce my new friend, tung ho.
I plucked the tender leaves away from the woody stems and washed them in plenty of water. This was a good move, as it turned out, because a ton of dirt and debris I hadn't seen came away and sank to the bottom of the bowl. After I scooped the leaves off the top and shook them in a wire basket to drain the excess water, they were ready to go.
I favor spicy, pungent food, so I began by slicing whole cloves of garlic. I placed these in a skillet with a fair-sized knob of coconut oil and a generous scattering of red chile flakes. Then I set the skillet over high heat and began stirring. As soon as the garlic began to color lightly and the air was redolent with the combined fragrances of roasted chile and garlic, I threw in the greens and stirred furiously to incorporate any water that still clung to the leaves into the mixture.
The sudden addition of water created a hissing cloud of the most delicious steam. The greens collapsed and deflated rapidly, from at least eight cups down to a bare cup and a half. At first, this was a bit disappointing, since there were going to be four of us at the table, but because the flavor of the tung ho was so concentrated and unique--and the chile and garlic were quite potent in that small quantity of greens--it took only a few tablespoons per person to thrill everyone. Next time, I think I'll cook the tung ho by itself, just to appreciate its flavor unembellished. This is one unique leafy green, in both form and flavor. Very tasty!