Thursday, March 29, 2012

Salted Myrobalans & Chinese Olives

I recently discovered a fruit which looks like an unripe mirabelle plum or a large gooseberry. I found it at a stall selling medicinal herbs and plants.

As usual, I asked the seller:
“What do you call it?”
R: ”yàuh-gâm-jí”.
“How to write it?”
R: “ 油甘子”.
Fresh myrobalans
I came home and ‘googled’ for I was curious to know its English name. It is called myrobalan, Indian gooseberry or aamla.  Myrobalan is full of vitamins C and is used to cure throat inflammation. Indians make pickles with it (South Indian style) to use in cooking. (Wikipedia)

More questions to the seller:
“What are the benefits of this fruit?”
R: “It’s good for sore throat and clearing heat {chìng-yiht - 清热}.
“How to prepare it?” 
R: “boil the fruit in water and drink the liquid in place of tea.”

The skin of myrobalan is yellowish-green and smooth. Its flesh is firm and fibrous. Each fruit contains a small brown stone. Despite its “sweet” appearance this is a very sour and bitter fruit. I tried it raw and it is really astringent. Later I tried a teaspoon of the water in which the fruit had been cooked. It was very acid. To make my myrobalan tea pleasant to drink I added a big spoon of honey.

Cooked myrobalans in water

I thought of using a couple of the cooked gooseberries as a substitute to Chinese sour plums (syùn-muìh 酸梅) and steam them with spare ribs and bean paste (dauh-báan-jeung 豆瓣酱)  but did not follow up on my idea.

A few days later I mentioned my new discovery to a friend of mine. She told me that her Mum preserves Indian gooseberries in brine and her family take one of the fruit whenever they have an irritated throat (excellent! this confirmed what the seller had said to me). As I was interested in making my own salted myrobalans she gave me her Mum’s recipe so I could try it myself.

Salted myrobalans & Chinese olives

I had to figure out the quantity of salt myself as her Mum does it by habit. (It seems that a 5% brine or 50 grams of salt per litre of water is ideal for pickles.) The brine I prepared was enough for 150 grams of myrobalans and 150 grams of Chinese olives (and there was still a bit left).

  • 150g myrobalan + 150g Chinese olives
  • 1/2 litre water
  • 25g salt (I used coarse salt)

  1. Wash and dry the fruit clean.
  2. Wash jar and lid clean and rinse well with boiling water.
  3. Bring water to a boil. Turn off heat and add salt. The salt will dissolve.
  4. When the water has reached room temperature fill up the jar with fruits (with clean hands) and pour salted water on fruit. The salted water level must be at least 1cm above the fruit.
  5. Close lid and place the jar aside.
Should be ready after 2 weeks.

Note: When making pickles make sure that your hands and utensils are very clean and free from oil and grease.
My friend’s Mum actually let the boiled water to cool down for one night before adding the salt. I did not do that as I wanted to finish the job in the same day.

Salted myrobalans: 1st day

Herbs & plants stall (Tai Po Hui market)
(Left) Chinese olives (Front right) Myrobalans
(Centre right) Banana flowers
The stall I bought myrobalans from is full of herbs and plants. I could recognize mint, aloe vera, prickly pears, Chinese olives and banana flowers. All the other produce (herbs, vines, roots, etc) were completely unfamiliar to me. I asked the seller for the names of some of them and their use. {I cannot remember and I should not have wasted the time of this kind woman}. All I can say now is they are supposed to have medicinal properties and help to treat minor illnesses (stomach-ache, flu, cold, etc.)

On the day I bought myrobalans to make pickles with I also bought Chinese olives láam-gwó after the seller told me they could also be preserved in salted water and used to soothe sore throat.  Fresh olives are crisp, tart and astringent.   

Fresh Chinese olives
(Different from the Mediterranean types)
Preserved (salted) Chinese olives
(Good in stir-fried dishes, bôu-jái-faahn, etc.)
Salted Chinese olives: 1st day
Today my pickles are 2 weeks old and it is time to taste them. I took some fruits out of their jars and rinsed them under cold running water.

Both the skin and the flesh of the myrobalans have turned to a dark and shiny yellow. The flesh is crispy and not as tart and sour as before being preserved.  Much to my surprise the small fruit has even a slight sweet aftertaste. I liked it very much and ate 2 pieces.

2 weeks old salted myrobalans
Then I tasted an olive. The skin has also darkened and the flesh has turned brown. I have not yet tasted something similar. It is no longer unpleasant and bitter but I think it needs a longer time for the olives to fully develop their unique flavour.

2 week old salted Chinese olives
I will keep checking the changes in colour and taste over the coming weeks!

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