How to Identify Indonesian & Other Asian Leafy Green Vegetables (Part 2)

In this blog, we feature some very Indonesian vegetables, including cassava leaves, papaya leaves, and sweet potato leaves.

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Deyana Goh
Deyana was born in Singapore and lives there. She is half-Chinese, half-Arab, with a grandmother who was born to an Arab family in Bogor, Indonesia. Deyana grew up eating Indonesian food as it is cooked in Arab-Indonesian households, and has fond memories of the festive whole chicken stuffed with lamb.

In the first installment of this two-part blog, we talked about a few leafy greens used in Indonesian cooking that are also commonly used in East and Southeast Asian cuisines. 

In this second part, we’ll highlight a few vegetables that are used in Indonesia and the Malay archipelago, but which don’t really feature much in your typical Thai or Chinese restaurant – cassava leaves, papaya leaves, and sweet potato leaves.

Daun Singkong or Cassava Leaves

Oleh Forest & Kim Starr, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6178780

Daun singkong is a delicious, popular vegetable in Indonesia which literally means “cassava leaves”, or “tapioca leaves”. In Malay, it’s called pucuk ubi, and in both Indonesia and Singapore, it’s served in virtually every Padang restaurant out there. Here, it’s almost always served as gulai daun singkong, where it’s cooked in a rich coconut-based curry.

In Indonesia, all the edible parts of the cassava plant are used, from the tuber to the leaves, as it’s easy to grow in this region. The leaves are a dark, pale green colour, and it generally has a larger stem compared to the leaves. When cooking, it can sometimes get tough and fibrous, so it’s important that it’s cooked long enough for it to soften, by adding some water to wilt it beforehand.

Daun Pepaya or Papaya Leaves

Oleh Joydeep – Karya sendiri, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20260754

Less common than daun singkong, daun pepaya or papaya leaves is another tropical vegetable that’s sometimes used in Indonesian stir-fries or gravy. Here, young papaya leaves are used, and they’re usually a light green colour and are fan-shaped if unbroken. The leaves are all connected to one another, resemble little hills and valleys between each leaf.

Daun pepaya can be difficult to cook and is an acquired taste, with a slight bitterness that might be unpalatable to some. It’s different from another vegetable of a similar name – daun pepaya jepang or Japanese papaya leaves, which is actually tree spinach and is popular in Indonesia these days, frequently stir-fried to make tumis daun pepaya jepang.

Daun ubi jalar or Sweet Potato Leaves

By Dinesh Valke from Thane, India – Genasu gadde (Kannada: ಗೆಣಸು ಗಡ್ಡೆ), CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=112290511

Daun ubi jalar or sweet potato leaves are, like daun singkong, another plant mostly known for its tubers but whose leaves are also consumed in Indonesia and the rest of Asia. And like cassava, sweet potatoes are sometimes thought of a ‘wartime food’, but it’s easy to grow and was therefore a staple during World War 2, when there was a shortage of rice.

Like its tuber, sweet potato leaves are slightly sweet. The leaves are large and fan-like and heart-shaped, and about half the length of each stem. Unlike daun pepaya, it’s easy to cook and can easily be stir-fried or cooked in soups. I usually do a simple tumis daun ubi jalar, in which I stir-fry the leaves with shallots, garlic and chillies.

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