More Great Finds at downtoearth…

I was back at the downtoearth stall at Salcedo market last Saturday because they had some lettuce that I wanted to try. They also brought some other produce items to sell and of course I left the table with several bags full of stuff. I am pretty sure that 98+% of readers will be unable to name all of the three items in the photo above. I certainly wasn’t able to do so because the bowl of little pink flower buds had me completely stumped.. When I find a food item I have never come across before, I usually buy it, photograph it and post it on this blog for my own reference and to see what readers have to say about the particular ingredient.

The pink flowers are of the plant medinilla magnifica (mislabeled medillinia magnifica I think at the market), what most might think is an ornamental with rather effusive blooms, a photo here. I think I have seen this plant before, but never realized the flowers were edible. Apparently, in Bukidnon, the locals use the buds for medicinal purposes and with their sour taste, they could be used as an interesting garnish or salad ingredient for those bored with their iceberg and cucumbers… Going completely on downtoearth’s recommendations, I munch on a few of the younger pink blooms and they were indeed pleasantly sour. Not sure how I would use them in a cooked dish, but as an unusual garnish to a dish or as a flavor accent they might be rather interesting. If you ever get a chance to taste them, make sure you don’t taste the older buds (the ones that look like they have turned into miniature lotus seed pods) as they are not good. Have any of you come across this ingredient before? And how do you use it?

Purple basil. Yay! I have only ever found these in local markets a half dozen times in the past. They are very similar to regular Italian or Sweet Basil, but have a fantastic deep burgundy or purple color. They make a terrific garnish and taste just like green basil, though they sometimes have less intensity of flavor probably due to the basil oil content of the leaves. Apparently, green basil may have more oils on average… If you leave a purple basil plant on its own, it eventually with morph back into a green basil plant with lots of sun and the right weather conditions…

Finally some micro or is it mini arugula. Small, soft and already flavorful arugula leaves are perfect for a salad or garnish. A little goes a long way and I love them on simple homemade pizzas. I also bought more pasture raised ground beef and was thrilled to get some of their pasture raised pork.

The network of small farmers or groups of farmers raising interesting organic produce around the country seems to be growing and I am thrilled to see this development. I strongly encourage readers to try new produce items, seek out smaller growers and purveyors, find out more about where your food comes from and who raises it, and realize that with slight shifts in the way you choose your food, you can do heaps to support this nascent movement. Chefs out there need to go out of their comfort zones and check out what’s in the market and cook more items that are seasonal, rather than waiting for delivery trucks that are packed with the same old, same old. I hope culinary schools take note as well… I have run across culinary students in groceries way too often where they didn’t have the foggiest clue what some basic ingredient was or what it looked like! Seems like we might be churning out thousands and thousands of chefs (like we did nurses a few years ago) and many of them will have never even made a sinigang broth from scratch before they had graduated from their culinary academies, let alone an old-fashioned adobo, a decent pan de sal…


27 Responses

  1. Interesting finds. Love urugula. I was rummaging thru my ref once for some greens for my spare ribs sinigang and all I had was urugula. I dropped a bunch in the broth that made for a very tasty sinigang. MM–are there dandelions in the Philippines?

  2. What you call mini aragula is not really like normal aragula which has a slightly bitter taste (I love it though). This one is often called ‘lamb’s lettuce’ because lambs love eating it apparently, and here in France where they are devoted to it it is called ‘mesclun’ and is often served as a simple salad with vinaigrette – good made with balsamic vinegar – to go with a simple roast, of lamb of course, or pork…whatever is left from the main course is often served with the cheese.

  3. Wiki says it’s native to Luzon and Mindoro but I have not encountered it until now. The whole cascading baby-pink bunches of them are quite eye-catching. Furthermore, there are more than 400 species in the genus and most of it native to the Philippines. When you mentioned the buds are sour, I thought it could be a type of begonia whose native strain we sometimes use as souring agent in roughing it out situations.

  4. Though I have Medinilla plants back at home (i.e. Medinilla cumingii. I had Medinilla magnifica once but it rotted away due to a typhoon), I never thought it was edible or used as a medicinal plant. Birds probably eat it though (that’s probably how they’re dispersed).

    Here’s some more info of M. cummingii:

  5. Very interesting! Those are the fattest purple basil leaves I have ever seen!

  6. watch out! neighborhood medinilla blooms will get pinched for a taste..

  7. Arg! I’ll be going out of town this weekend so I’ll have to wait two week before buying from them. I grabbed their flyer last time I was at the market and so glad to find people with pasture raised beef and pork! I will definitely be supporting these guys!

  8. hi market man the purple leaves look like a jpanesse plant calld chiso. the english common mane is beefsteak leaves. it is picked in plum juice then mixed with dried bonito shavings(katsuobushi) then mixed with pickled plum fruit. very aromatic and makes a very good appetizer

  9. the proprietor guy at down to earth said the flowers were good for salad. maybe to balance out a fruity vinaigrette?

  10. never knew medenilla was edible. They’re quite common here, and i’ve been to a nursery in kidapawan which had nothing but med
    enillas in so many varieties. You’re right, MM, I had a gorgeous
    purple basil plant that turned completely green within a year. Does anyone know how to prevent this?

  11. Im amazed they are able to raise such vibrant purple basil. Mine doesn’t last very long in the garden due to cross pollination. Having such beautiful greens is so inspiring for cooking.

  12. Off topic but can you pls advise on what I can do with beet tops / beet greens? Mixing them in a salad is the only thing I can think of….Thank you!

  13. Those little green leaves look more like “mache” to me than mini arugula. I used to eat it a lot in France. It doesn’t have the same peppery taste as arugula as its bit milder but nutty. It’s my favorite kind of greens, actually. So much more flavorful than other kinds of lettuce. Fox and Obel in Chicago stocks it but I haven’t seen it here in New York. Or I may have but don’t remember. Enjoy! Envious that you have it there.

  14. Medinilla a.k.a. Kapa-kapa you see the growing in abundance on the limbs of big trees in Mt. Makiling and Banahaw…interesting post…:>

  15. Never knew that medinilla is edible. They are endemic to the Philippines but are already rare in their wild habitat. I have one at home and it flowers usually at this time of the year.

  16. Leah,
    Mache is available all year in NYC at Fairway, Citarella, and Agata e Valentina.
    Also available in the spring and early summer at Union Square market.

  17. Dear Sister – thanks for letting me know! I think I’ve only been to Fairway and Citarella once even though I used to live in the UWS. And I’ve never been to Agata. Have not dropped by the farmer’s market at Union Square lately. Will go soon and look for mache. Thanks!

  18. Those pink flowers are absolutely beautiful!! How wonderful that they’re edible too. Would definitely add this to my salad if I had access to them. Thanks for posting these pictures!

  19. Gigi, Young Beet tops, up to about 8″ tall, can be steamed or blanched and then sauteed in olive oil and garlic or shocked in cold water after blanching, drained well and dressed with a vinaigrette.
    Leah, mache is available at the Paffenroth stand at Union Square until early summer and again in early fall.

  20. Growing up in the province and even until now living in Cebu City, whenever I saw this plant medinilla magnifica I always take some of its pink flowers and ate it. I just learned to eat it while growing up in our province in Leyte from elderly people we met whenever we go to the mountains and drink from falls or spring. Yet i never saw anyone using it in cooking food. I love its sour taste.

  21. I must have these great food finds on my plate. Thanks for sharing these MM! I miss Salcedo so much :|

  22. i agree with the others who commented that the last photo is not of arugula. the leaves seem to be a variety of watercress, called agriao in Portugal (where i’m based). here are some photos to compare.

    while it appeared a bit like “mache” (canonigos, in portuguese) at first look, the difference is that the leaves of the “mache” fan out from a central point, and have a slightly felt-like texture. it also has a more bland taste than watercress.

    either way, both are perfect for salads as well as soups. there is a typical portuguese soup called sopa de agriao, which is a potato based cream soup with the leaves thrown in just before serving. the very mildly bitter taste makes a great twist to an otherwise ordinary soup.

  23. deebee et al. I appreciate the guesses, but I am pretty sure I know what arugula tastes like. As does the grower. These were small arugula leaves. They take on a more distinct shape a few days later in their stage of development. And besides, there are several varieties of arugula as well, so what one might be used to is not necessarily what applies to all micro, mini, normal greens… Perhaps the photos are misleading visually somehow, but they were arugula. I LOVE mache and wish they could grow it here, but apparently it needs a drop in evening temperature that is quite pronounced, hence the difficulty in growing it locally. Frisee and mache are the two lettuces that I still hope will eventually be raised here; the first apparently on its way, the second I have yet to find someone who has grown it successfully…



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