Sunday November 7, 2010
Petai is good for you, all you have to do to enjoy its goodness is to get over the smell.
YOU EITHER love it or hate it. Those little green pods aptly called the ‘stink bean’ and locally known as petai come packed with a host of nutrients essential for the human body.
The health benefits of petai (Parkia speciosa) clearly outweigh the minor undesirable side effects such as its peculiar smell which some say is quite similar to methane gas. The beans are nonetheless an acquired taste and quite popular in Asian countries such Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Burma and some parts of India.
The flat, edible bright green beans can be consumed either raw or cooked. Unlike the durian which is notorious for its pungent smell and immediate distinct taste, there is a delayed response when it comes to petai.
As you chew through a single bean, it slowly emits a pungency similar to garlic. Some people say there is a hint of bitterness as you swallow it but no two palettes are the same.
The long lingering after taste takes a while to get used to. Like asparagus, petai contains certain amino acids that give a strong smell to one’s urine, an effect that can be noticed up to two days after consumption.
When young, the pods are flat because of the underdeveloped seeds and they hang like a bunch of slightly twisted ribbons – pale green and almost translucent. At this stage they may be eaten raw, fried or pickled.
Petai beans actually look like broad beans and like mature broad beans, they have to be peeled before cooking. Petai can be found all year round and is available in supermarkets and certain wet markets.
People suffering from diabetes are encouraged to consume petai as it helps to regulate a person’s glucose levels.
It contains three natural sugars - sucrose, fructose and glucose - and combined with fibre, petai gives an instant, sustained and substantial boost of energy.
The fibre content also helps with problems of constipation. The petai beans are rich in complex carbohydrates that can give you the same feeling of fullness, thus eliminating the chances of gorging on the wrong foods. Here are other ways the humble petai can help with various health ailments.
Depression – As petai contains tryptophan, a type of protein that the body converts into serotonin, consuming a few pods can help one to relax and improve your mood.
Pre-menstrual Syndrome (PMS) – The vitamin B6 in petai helps regulate blood glucose levels which can affect your mood.
Anemia – Petai also contains high amounts of iron, therefore it can stimulate the production of haemoglobin in the blood, thus helps a lot in cases of anaemia.
Blood Pressure – Petai is very high in potassium yet low in salt, making it the perfect remedy to beat high blood pressure. So much so the US Food and Drug Administration have allowed the petai industry to make official claims for the bean’s ability to reduce the risk of blood pressure and stroke.
Heartburn: Petai has a natural antacid effect in the body, so if you suffer from heartburn, eating petai can provide a soothing relief.
While there are many who can’t stand the lingering aftertaste and smell of the petai, some prefer to overlook that.
Housewife Jasmine Anas says she often cooks prawn sambal with petai for her family. “My two young kids haven’t acquired the taste for it yet but my husband loves it with sambal belacan too. I have been told petai has a good cleansing effect on our body as well,” she says.
Chris De Mello, owner of Mum’s Place Restaurant in Damansara Perdana, says their Cencaru Fish and Prawn Sambal, both cooked with petai are a big hit among the customers.
“Petai is actually a local delicacy in Negeri Sembilan, which is where I’m from and it started off as a favourite among the Malay community. But now, it is enjoyed by everyone and even my customers from foreign countries love the pungent taste. The health benefits of petai are huge and it is also known for its natural laxative effect,” says De Mello.
Some restaurants in Klang Valley which serve up good petai dishes include Jaring Restaurant in Bandar Sunway, Restaurant Sambal Hijau in Kg Sungai Penchala and Anggrek Kuring, which has branches in Puchong and Kota Damansara.
How to prepare petai
If you buy them still in their pods, gently break them out and peel off the green outer layer. Blanching them in hot water for about five minutes and eating them as part of ulam (Malay herbal salad) with sambal belacan is a favourite among many. The most popular method is cooking them in sambal, be it prawns or ikan bilis (anchovies).
Petai with Fresh Mushrooms and Cashew Nuts
(Courtesy of Jeanie Lee of New Formosa Restaurant)
200gm halved petai seeds
One large onion, cut into small wedges
Two varieties of fresh mushrooms (according to preference)
50gm cashew nuts
One red capsicum, diced into cubes (Optional: Rub salt over capsicum and roast for 15 minutes until skin blisters, peel and dice into cubes)
One tbsp vegetarian oyster sauce or light soy sauce
Half teaspoon brown sugar (optional)
Soak petai for 10 minutes and dry. Toast cashew nuts until slightly golden brown.
Heat one tea spoon of oil in a non-stick wok and sauté onions until fragrant. Add capsicum. Add mushrooms. Sprinkle some water and stir-fry lightly and then simmer the ingredients for about three minutes. Add petai and stir-fry about two minutes. Lastly add in cashew nuts, oyster or light soy sauce and a pinch of brown sugar.
Due to reduced oil and seasonings in this recipe, it is suggested that the petai is soaked for a while to get rid of its strong smell. If you prefer the strong smell, you may cook the petai while sprinkling a dash of brown sugar to enhance its taste. Simmer the mushrooms to release their flavour while simultaneously enhancing the flavour of the petai. Onions are cut into wedges to retain sweetness and texture, which tastes better eaten with petai compared to when cut into rings.
Sambal Petai with Prawns
(Courtesy of The Cooking House in Desa Sri Hartamas)
Half cup of petai beans
300g fresh prawns, cleaned and shelled
Three cloves garlic
One inch ginger
One cup of dried chillis (boiled in hot water, deseeded and blended with some water)
One stalk lemongrass, crushed
Two tablespoons of tamarind juice
Half cup fresh coconut milk
Pinch of salt and sugar
Blend together shallots, garlic and ginger in a food processor. Heat some oil in a frying pan.
Pour in the blended ingredients and saute for a few minutes until fragrant. Add in crushed lemongrass and blended chili. Stir well and add in the coconut milk.
Next, stir in tamarind juice and add in the prawns.
Once the prawns are almost cooked, add the petai beans and cook for another few minutes until prawns are fully cooked.
Season to taste with sugar and salt.