Cooking With Lai /Brassica juncea

From left, clockwise:Brassica juncea, lai hon, lai with fish & lai bhaji

Cliched as it may sound, the leafy greens that make us go lie la lie ( easiest lines to remember from Boxer) is actually Lai/Brassica juncea. Soon after the heat of summer bids a reluctant goodbye, backyard gardens and markets in every neighbourhood include tender plants of this popular vegetable along with the other leafy greens of the season. This vegetable also makes its appearance during the monsoons as farmers work harder to produce vegetables that aren’t officially their season. And they come, the worse for wear with light green leaves punctuated by holes that make you wonder why they are being planted in the first place. But that’s not the case in winter. To pick these greens in the morning with the dew still glistening on them tells you what you already know. That the flavour and the taste will be delicious!  Lai is also known as Indian mustard, Chinese mustard and mustard greens. It has a slightly more pungent taste and smell compared to other leafy greens. All mustard greens are high in vitamin A and vitamin K.

Lai hon shown in the collage is a Dimasa dish cooked with fermented fish and thickened with rice flour. It can be cooked in plain water or in chicken or pork stock. The other ingredients that go into the dish are chillies, alkali, salt, and crushed garlic.

The best part is that they can be teamed up with several other veggies, meat, fish, or dried fish. They can be fried with fresh peas, or boiled with pork and fermented bamboo shoots, steamed on their own with a touch of ginger…a versatile vegetable indeed!

This photo shows steamed lai with a few pieces of fatty pork. The same can also be steamed in a colander, in a pressure cooker or in a bamboo hollow. For added flavour, the leaves can also be wrapped in banana leaves before being cooked. A simple fried dish can be made according to the recipe below:
1 thick bunch of lai
Oil to fry
3-4 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
6-7 green chillies, chopped
A bowl of fresh peas
Ginger juliennes for the garnish
Salt to taste
Turmeric (optional)
Coriander powder (optional)
Wash the leaves in running water to remove any dirt and grit. Drain and chop fine.
Heat about two tablespoons of oil in a pan. Add the garlic and the chillies.
Add the chopped greens, stir and keep covered.
After five minutes or so add the peas and the salt. Keep stirring from time to time.
Cook till the water dries up and the leaves are thoroughly cooked.
Remove to a serving bowl and garnish with ginger juliennes.
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