In my hunt to find Filipino ingredients locally, I realized that many things exclusive to the Philippines or other tropical regions in the world can often be grown here with some love and attention. Unfortunately, I’m not a very good gardener and if it weren’t for drippers our plants would be all dead. Luckily, I have a husband with a green thumb who will help me take care of plants when he isn’t traveling.
Here are two plants that are commonly used in Filipino cuisine:
Calamansi (Philippine lime) and Moringa (also known as Malunggay)
Calamansi (Citrofortunella microcarpa) is similar to a very small lime but sweeter with tangerine notes. It is used in drinks similar to lemonade, in marinades, garnishes on dishes that need a little bit of sour flavor, in dipping sauces with soy sauce, and in desserts. It makes a great marmalade.
My calamansi tree has lots of fruits already but the ripen slowly. They are ready to be picked when they are a bit more yellow/orange. The plant makes delicate white flower blossoms that smell so fresh.
I was able to pick up my little calamansi tree from the Sari Sari store in San Antonio, TX off of Bandera Rd. It’s the only reason I would need to go to this store as I can find higher quality Filipino goods here in Austin at Filipino Asian Mart off of Slaughter Ln – say hello to Jing if you go, she is super sweet and told me she would sell my vegan Filipino cookbook in her store when I finish it. In general, I have been reluctant to buy Filipino items at all at Asian stores. Many items usually have animal ingredients, are super high in sodium, have artificial colors/flavors, or sometimes have questionable quality. I like to buy Bihon rice noodles and coconut vinegar there, though I am finding that I can make high quality Filipino food with staples I already have at home. I even found Fair Trade Islang Asukal (Muscabado Sugar) at Whole Foods (see my Instagram pic). But one thing that is really hard to find is organically grown tropical vegetables and fruits.
Hence my desire to have my own calamansi tree!
Another great tropical gift that grows all over the Philippines is the Moringa (Moringa oleifera) tree. It is known as Malunggay on the islands.
Many parts of the tree are edible (leaves, pods or “drumsticks”, and root – this is similar to horseradish).
In recent years, the Moringa plant is now being cultivated in tropical/subtropical areas here in the US, like Hawaii, California, Florida and even here in Texas!
There is a lot of interest in the medicinal use of Moringa to fight malnutrition, for skin care, and balancing blood sugar.
I personally think it’s a fun thing to eat!
If you have ever been to an Indian restaurant you will often find the Moringa pods “drumsticks” in Sambar. This is a blurry pic.
When I lived in Hawaii, I could buy fresh drumsticks at the farmer’s markets in Hilo on the Big Island and also on the dry side of Kauai where many Filipinos live. Malunggay tastes great in Sinigang (a traditional Filipino sour soup).
So where did I pick up my Moringa tree? At Miracle Garden off of HWY 71 in Cedar Creek, TX. If you have ever driven to Houston from Austin, you’ve seen it on the left side of the highway.
“Sunny” Huang runs the farm herself and is a wealth of knowledge about Moringa. She grows seedlings for purchase and also maintains older trees for their leaves and pods. She makes and sells tea, soap, oil, and balms. All of them contain either Moringa leaf powder or oil.
My daughter and I spent a good 2 hours viewing her farm, having tea, meeting a cute orange tabby named Peach, and talking about the glories of Moringa. I also found out from her that she has been a vegetarian since 1990 and believes that not eating animals and a steady supply of moringa products has helped her stay young and have lots of energy. She is a delightful lady and I highly recommend going for a visit.
2394 State Hwy 71 w Cedar Creek, TX 78612 (20 miles east of Austin)
Open Thursday through Sunday 9 AM to 6 PM
Here are some other plants that will continue to be on my wishlist:
Wing Beans (Cigarillas)
Hyacinth Beans (Bataw)
My mom said she ordered some of these seeds and will grown them next spring. That’s a long time to wait!
Gulay Para Masaya Buhay! (Veggies for a Happy Life)