Alugbati (Malabar Spinach)
While we all love to indulge in guilty pleasure dishes every once in a while, there truly is something refreshing about eating healthy food. And especially if you’re a Filipino, you will at one point learn to enjoy and relish in your heaps of leafy greens in one plate. The secret truly is mixing and matching the right components with one another. Through this, we can bring the best out of our vegetables and fruits. A massively nutritious component that can’t be forgotten in Filipino cuisine is Alugbati. If you’re unfamiliar with the name, you’d probably recognize its somewhat citrus-y taste and semi-sticky texture.
While I previously mentioned that balanced combinations in ingredients is key to making a delicious, healthy dish, Alugbati is a great choice to add to various combinations. With its mild flavor and satisfyingly crisp texture, it works great with stews, salads, fried meals, and many other recipes. But before I introduce you to them, let me give you a bit of a backgrounder on this pleasant vegetable!
What is Alugbati?
Firstly, let me answer a commonly asked question about this ingredient. What is Alugbati in English? You may have heard of this component often in your kitchen at home. But have you truly gotten to know its roots? Alugbati is actually known as Malabar spinach, Indian spinach or vine spinach in most other countries, but it isn’t actually a kind of spinach. But when you cook it up, it tastes very much like spinach, which is why people consider it to be a great alternative to the leafy component.
And because it grows great in hot weather, cooks love to utilize it when salad greens aren’t available. Most of these, including lettuce, usually thrive in colder tempreatures. And so in the Philippines, we love to grow our own Alugbati, which grows nicely in temperate places, and is also quite perfect for tropical lowlands.
Alugbati, the ingredient, actually comes from a herbaceous vine with the scientific name Basella alba L. And this comes from the Madeira-vine family, all of which possess relatively fleshy leaves and tuberous rootstocks. For Alugbati specifically, the leaves are heart-shaped and usually about 5 to 12 centimeters long. And as you might have already guessed, we grow it mostly for its deliciously succulent vegetable. But other than its great taste, we also love to include it in dishes for its large stock of nutrients. Keep reading to find out just some of the many vitamins and minerals you can find in Alugbati!
Alugbati benefits for your health:
Integrating a good arrangement of vegetables into your meals has always been a great idea to keep your health in check. And our Alugbati is definitely one vegetable you should think about adding to your diet. Did you know that just 100 grams of this, which equates to about one serving, already gives you 35 percent of your recommended daily allowance (RDA)? And it also provides 23 percent of the RDA for manganese. The leaves in Alugbati also provide compounds you’ll need to keep your body away from free radicals. These contain antioxidants such as lutein, beta carotene and zeaxanthin, and they are carotenoids. These help keep blue light away from the deep layers of our retina, and keep your eyes nice and healthy.
Moreover, Alugbati is a fantastic source of calcium, zinc, magnesium and iron. But the vitamins and minerals don’t end there. This ingredient also possesses a great deal of dietary fiber, which can help slow down sugar absorption in your blood. This makes it a good preventive measure for diabetes. Fiber, in general, also helps largely with your digestive health.
Now if you’re concerned with keeping your brain in good condition, consuming more of this vine spinach might be a great option for you. Biotin, thiamine, folic acid, as well as other B vitamins are integral in maintaining your mental functions and general mental health. A lack of Vitamin B-12 has previously been shown to lead to more chances of getting fatigue, paranoia and depression.
Another fantastic thing about this filling and nutritious vegetable? It’s something you can have a huge supply of, just by growing it in your garden! Learn how to keep some of your own at home!
How to plant Alugbati:
Start off by making sure you’ve got the right conditions for your Alugbati plant. If you live in the Philippines, you’ve got a pretty good setup already, as it thrives in hot and humid climates. But if you live in a colder place, your plant’s development might be a little slower, and yield less produce. Still, you can try making this work by making sure your Alugbati plants get full sunlight for most of the day. Now let’s head on the process of planting this versatile vegetable!
Since you’ll be planting from home, it will be best to use cuttings for your garden. For this, you may want to use stem cuttings that are already quite mature, and are about 20 to 25 centimeters long. It would also be ideal to use with a minimum of 3 internodes. Then when you’ve picked them out, you should soak them in some water overnight. You also have the option of keeping them in an area away from light, and is quite damp for a day or 2.
After this preparation, you’re all good to go with growing some vine spinach! Begin by getting 2 to 4 of your cuttings, and watering them prior to planting. Now place them at 15 to 20 centimeters between hills, and 20 to 30 between rows. After this, you can water the cuttings again if your soil is lacking in some moisture. Then we’ll be mulching this or covering it with a layer of grass clippings or some rice straw.
Now planting some Alugbati might feel like a lot of work, but there definitely is a huge pay-off as well. That’s because there’s a ton of recipes that make use of this flexible ingredient. Let me introduce you to a couple!
Recipes to try cooking that feature Alugbati:
Ginisang Monggo with Inihaw na Liempo
Why stop at one delectable homemade Filipino dish when you can make two? My Ginisang Monggo with Inihaw na Liempo recipe puts together the richness of grilled meat with a satisfyingly savory mix of mung beans, tomatoes and more. I really love the combination of flavors we get from a vegetable dish with some meat that displays a distinct juiciness. Despite this being quite a simple dish, it is definitely something you and your guests would love for lunch.
One of the main secrets to this dish is the marinade for our meat. It can truly hype up the taste of our pork belly. And it evidently sits nicely with the taste of Ginisang Monggo, which has a considerably milder flavor. For this recipe, I used some malunggay leaves for the Ginisang Monggo. But I can tell you that it also tastes great with Alugbati instead, making for a perfectly healthy alternative.
Filled with the goodness of shrimp, Chinese eggplant, okra and more, my Laswa recipe is a celebration of fresh and delicious ingredients in one bowl. This vegetable soup is definitely a dish you will want to add to your menu from home. Not only is it loaded with nutrients from its brilliant array of vegetables, but its mild, savory taste is sure to bring you comfort. This dish radiates warmth,and is hearty enough to also fill your stomach up.
Like our previous recipe, malunggay leaves is actually the ingredient I indicated for this recipe. Given how largely accessible malunggay is as well, its popularity in Filipino cuisine comes as no surprise. Likewise, Alugbati makes for a great leafy component to add to our dish. It gives a one of a kind, satisfying texture that blends in perfectly with the soup, onions, okra, kalabasa, and several other ingredients.
Since you’ve now got an idea of what you can cook with our glorious ingredient, you may also be wondering about keeping it fresh.
Tips on storing your Alugbati:
We really cannot avoid how sometimes, we’ll end up with more leftover ingredients than we accounted for. Perhaps in trying to cook up some nutritious Laswa, you end up with a couple more Alugbati than you expected afterwards. Don’t think twice about keeping this for cooking later on, as you definitely have a large array of recipes to choose from that work perfectly with Malabar spinach.
To store these properly, simply place them in a styrofore box. Afterwards, you can put the box in your fridge, and keep them good for consumption for about 2 more weeks. Of course, there is another method for preservation, which also works quite nicely. You could simply propagate a new plant out of these, depending on how much you might have left.
If it is long enough to cut ½ inch out of the lower part of its stem, and still have a good length left, this method should work! After you cut the half inch off, put what is left of the Alugbati inside a jar. Then pour some water inside until the Alugbati is partially submerged, and the water should only be somewhat deep.
Doing this will lead to the Malabar spinach rooting in a few days or less than a week’s time. And when you need more Alugbati, all you will have to do is cut off the roots and use it for your recipe of choice! Considering how you can make even more out of the Alugbati you buy, it truly is a great idea to keep a good supply at home.
Have you got any questions about Malabar spinach, or the vegetable we know better as Alugbati? Simply comment on them below!