My turn to tell how I dealt with this week's CSA mystery ingredient. I found a pretty simple Vietnamese-style stir fry that used the betel leaves as a substantial part of the dish--as a vegetable, not just a flavoring. Unfortunately, that meant that after I scaled everything else down to fit the five leaves I had, I only had enough for one modest serving. Here's my modified version:
Beef tossed with wild betel leaf and lemongrass
Original version created by Luke Nguyen
100 g lean beef sirloin, thinly sliced
5 betel leaves, roughly sliced
1/2 lemon grass stalk (white part only), finely diced (peel off dry outer shell)
1 small clove garlic, finely diced
most of 1 hot chili, finely diced
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2/3 teaspoon sugar
a little cilantro, chopped for garnish
the rest of the chili, finely sliced for garnish
0. Mix fish sauce, soy sauce and sugar in a small bowl.
1. Heat a medium pan to over high heat to smoking hot, add oil and lemon grass, cook briefly until fragrant. Add garlic and chili. Stir fry until they become fragrant too, then add beef.
Stir fry two minutes, until beef is cooked through and starting to brown. Add seasoning mixture and betel leaf. Stir fry 1 minute more, until betel leaf is wilted.
2. Remove to a plate, garnish and serve with rice.
I know some others had difficulty with the flavor of the betel leaves, but I liked them. Maybe it's the difference between having them raw or cooked. The cooked betel leaf flavor is quite distinctive and hard to describe. It's a bit spicy, a bit smoky, a bit medical. It's one of those odd distinctive flavors like curry leaves and kaffir lime leaves that have no easy paralell for comparison in Western cuisine. I can see it being a bit rough on it's own, but I wouldn't want to eat straight curry leaves or kaffir lime leaves either. They're meant to be mixed with other flavors. Here, moderated by the sugar and complimented by the lemongrass, the closest comparison I can find is root beer--the real stuff, not the artifically flavored version you can commonly get. I quite liked how it paired with the beef; it would probably work well with pork, too, I think.
The dish as a whole needs a little tweaking, though. Two minutes on high heat is too much for thinly sliced sirloin and the soy sauce ended up a caramelizing when I dumped it into the hot pan. If I had been making a full-sized recipe in a wok, that would have worked better. But, overall, it was pretty tasty and it did show the betel leaves to good advantage.