The Writer’s Kitchenette Swamp Fern Pistou

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By 2018-02-04

BY PANCHAMEE HEWAVISSENTI

I came across this rare little eaten herb, Swamp Fern (Acrostichum aureum) which is also known as Golden Leather Fern or Mangrove Fern on a river bank in Ratnapura. Better known locally as Keran Koku, it is generally grown on river banks, mangrove forests, marshes and swampy areas.

The tender fronds of Keran Koku are brick red in colour and are curled into a very elegant design. A woman from the area who was plucking Keran Koku for her dinner told me that they prepare a curry with the herb and it is highly nutritious and savoury. Intending to try a novel dish with this healthy and tasty herb, I too plucked the herb - Keran Koku (Swamp Fern) that was growing abundantly near the river.

Keran Koku is not easily available in supermarkets like other common vegetables and herbs. Due to people's ignorance of this tasty as well as healthy herb and little tried recipes, the herb is not freely available in urban areas. Yet, Keran Koku curry is a somewhat popular dish among rural folk and if searched for, can be found at local markets.

Keran Koku has wide range of medicinal properties such as anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti –cancerous and is a good anti-oxidant and slows down the aging of skin. Some Ayurvedic doctors prescribe regular partaking of Keran Koku for patients who have gastric ulcers and digestive problems. It is also prescribed for diabetes patients.

I tried Pistou with fresh Keran Koku instead of a common curry that is made with the herb. Pistou is a recipe from the city of Nice in the Provence region in France bordered by Italy. Pistou means 'pounded' in the local dialect. The ingredients are pounded by hand in a mortar with a pestle into a fine paste.

Swamp Fern Wild Pistou is a vegan recipe but you can add cream cheese if you prefer. Although the traditional French version of Pistou is prepared with basil, garlic, olive oil and salt, nowadays many chefs prefer adding parmesan cheese with tomato puree to give the traditional Pistou an exotic flavour.

But I suggest that you make the dish without cheese because the fresh basil, virgin olive oil and garlic can give the dish its original taste and the salty taste of cheese can be replaced with high quality Kosher salt.

Roasted pine nuts are added in the Italian version of Pistou. However, this Swamp Fern Pistou has many ingredients other than the condiments that are found in the traditional recipe. Swamp Fern Pistou is made with onion, celery, potato, carrot, cilantro, leeks and lime apart from olive oil, basil and garlic in the traditional recipe. I have also added white wine to the soup to enhance its taste.

Ingredients
lSwamp Ferns- 250g
lCarrot- 100g
lPotato - 1
lTomato - 1
lOnion -1
lGarlic - 5 cloves
lLeeks - 50g
lCilantro
lCelery
lBasil
lOlive oil -50 ml
lWhite wine- 100ml
lLime

Method
First, finely chop swamp ferns. Then cube the carrots, onions, tomato and potato. Chop leeks, garlic, celery, basil and cilantro and leave aside. Heat olive oil in a large pan and sauté a portion of swamp ferns and a portion of leeks until they become tender. Take it out of the pan and put on a plate. The olive oil now has got the flavour of swamp ferns. Add chopped onions, garlic, carrots and potatoes and add more olive oil to the vegetable mix. While the vegetables are cooking, dust a table spoon of wheat flour. Once the onions become translucent, add white wine and mix well. Then add tomatoes and basil and simmer for about 10 minutes. While the vegetables are cooking, pound the remaining swamp fern and leeks in a mortar with a pestle until they become smooth. You can also blitz the mix in a food processor.

Since, traditional Pistou is made by pounding the ingredients in a mortar with a pestle, I prefer follow the same. Add the pounded swamp ferns and leeks to the simmering vegetable mix and stir for about 2 minutes. Turn the cooker off and squeeze some lime into the soup and mix well. Pour the Pistou into a soup bowl and serve hot with grilled bread.

Keran Koku raw or cooked has a slightly bitter taste, but it can be eliminated with the other ingredients like lime, white wine and tomato that are added to the dish. This Keran Koku Pistou is so delectable and can be eaten with Italian bread, pasta, egg noodles or local roti. It is also scrumptious when eaten with grilled seafood, poultry, beef or hamburgers.

Swamp Fern Pistou is a very healthy dish if you are concerned about food that you take and is sure to indulge the connoisseurs of food. Try this recipe of Swamp Fern Pistou if you come across some Keran Koku.

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