Sat, Dec 29, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Ian’s Table: Lazy daisies

Crown daisies are much appreciated for their ornamental qualities, but used right, the leaves can prove a nice addition to your repertoire of quick and easy meals

BY Ian Bartholomew  /  Contributing reporter

Savory Hakka tangyuan in broth.

Photo: Ian Bartholomew

I often wonder why it took me so long to appreciate chrysanthemum greens (茼蒿). I usually blame hotpot restaurants, for no better reason than the greens often get dumped into the broth and then are allowed to go mushy. It was not a great introduction. So I resisted using these excellent greens for a long time, until I was pressed into making Hakka-style savory tangyuan (湯圓, glutinous rice balls), when I discovered that with proper control, chrysanthemum greens can be truly delicious, and are a key aspect of this Chinese festive dish.

These greens can also be used in a wide variety of other dishes, from salads to soups, infusing dishes with a splendid grassy flavor that cuts through oil and gives dishes a refreshing punch.

Chrysanthemum greens are more properly called glebionis coronaria, with common names such as garland chrysanthemum, chop suey green and crown daisy. My own preferred name is the last, and will use that here.

Crown daisies are most often found as an ornamental flower in the west but its leaves are highly prized as a vegetable in East Asia. They are cheap and hardy, have a herbaceous flavor and a very slight bitterness that is a great boon for cooks, and are packed with many substances that are excellent for those seeking to achieve better health or to lose weight.

According to the Health with Food Web site, crown daisy “is rich in chlorogenic acid (a type of hydroxycinnamic acid), carotene, flavonoids, vitamins and potassium, and can offer a multitude of health benefits. Some of the beneficial effects associated with eating garland chrysanthemum leaves include weight loss, antioxidant protection, a reduced risk of lung cancer, as well as protection against cardiovascular problems, kidney stones, cellulite, bloating and bone loss.” (www.healwithfood.org/health-benefits/garland-chrysanthemum-leaves.php#ixzz5aqqHqCuM).

These are huge claims for what, to many, is merely part of the herbaceous border, but it should be noted that it is becoming increasingly evident that many long neglected plants have outstanding health-giving qualities that are not present or have been bred out of mainstream foods. In Taiwan, crown daisy remains part of the culinary mainstream, but it sadly is not given the respect that it deserves. If hotpot restaurants are allowed to have their way with them they will soon be relegated to oblivion.

Using crown daisy well generally involves no more than finding a good supplier, ideally a farmer who brings his or her own produce to the traditional market and has taken care to pick young leaves. Older crown daisy leaves are still perfectly usable, but require a little more exposure to heat and other flavors to tame their bitterness, while the tartness of the young leaves is refreshing and requires little interference from the cook. In Japanese cuisine, blanched crown daisy leaves is served with a miso or sesame seed dressing, a perfect foil for richer foods.

In my own more minimalist moods, I enjoy tossing a bowl of crown daisy leaves with some stewed minced pork, letting the steamy pork mince do all the cooking that is necessary. The grassy flavor of the leaves provides a wonderful counterbalance to the richly flavored meat.

There are a number of varieties of crown daisy leaves available in the markets, including regular crown daisy, with rounder leaves, and mountain or Japanese crown daisy, with more pointed leaves. There are slight flavor and textural differences, but they can be used pretty much interchangeably. Crown daisy should be bought fresh and used as soon as possible. They will keep for two to three days in the vegetable crisper, but will go down hill pretty quickly after that.

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