My earliest memory of betel leaves go something like this ; After a family function the grandies of the family would have the traditional silver platter brought out. These would contain lots of freshly washed betel leaves neatly arranged to form an overlapping circle , a square cup filled with bits of the arecanut mix and a tiny silver box of chunnam . Then we would all sit around in a sort of huddle in no particular age order and listen to them talking with each other , to our mothers,aunts and every now and then we cousins would also be a part of the conversation. As they were engrossed in making up their betel leaf parcels , it was a habit to pinch off the ends of the betel leaf and give it to us young ones to chew on. We were told that this was very good for the lungs and that’s something I believe to this very day ! A bite of that peppery end and I feel healthier in an instant.
A few years ago my mother-in-law gave me a betel leaf sapling and ever since then I have not one but two healthy creepers growing in my front driveway. It’s the first ingredient I turn to while making a concoction to ward off a cold virus.
However a few weeks ago I came across a very interesting way of using it in a dish. It was one of the episodes on Masterchef Australia which was a mystery box challenge set by Luke Nguyen. He had included betel leaves along with several other ingredients that were typically Asian. One of the contestants ended up using the betel leaf as a wrap for the dish that he cooked ! I looked at that and thought ,” now there’s an idea I can experiment with !” Also because lately I seem to have an affinity towards wraps and parcels made with natural ingredients. Lettuce wraps , zucchini and carrot parcels is food that I enjoy experimenting with and eating. Not only is it so healthy but feels like a treat. You can pack in so much flavor into a wrap , it’s almost like having your chaat cravings satiated minus the calories !
We had vegetarian guests for dinner recently and it seemed like the perfect time to try my betel leaf experiment. The fact that they were adventurous foodies helped me set the menu along the line of Asian flavours. The stuffing was made with button mushroom , baby corn and spring onions cooked with ginger , soy and a bit of chilli. I like to add an array of different condiments on the table. It makes for an interactive meal and at the same time appeals to individual taste preferences. A fresh date sauce and a tamarind puree’ took care of the sweet and sour elements. Green sprouts and roasted peanuts added the interesting textural elements for this wrap. What I was most excited about was using the two chilli sauces that I had found at the stall of a local entrepreneur at the gourmet bazaar. Karthikeyan Palanisamy who is part founder of Regal Chocolates is in the process of sourcing different varities of chillies for his green devil sauce and red chilli sauce. Both sauces packed quite a punch and were just perfect for a dish of this kind.
To be honest , we were a group of seven and while four of us really enjoyed the complex flavours of the betel wrap ,the rest were not too enamored of the strong betel leaf flavor but loved the taste of the stuffing. So, it really depends on each person’s taste preferences but this is one dish that I thoroughly enjoyed making all the more because it reiterates my food mission of wanting to create different dishes using what grows around us. I will always be grateful for such happenings that teach us to take a humble ingredient and elevate it in a manner that nurtures it’s growth and contributes to our well-being !