Life Life

16/12/2019 - 08:29

Crunchy pepper elder

It is strange that the pepper elder (Peperomia pellucida) vegetable exists in nature. Because it is crunchy and succulent, it needs to be mixed and tossed with sweet and sour spices.

Usually in a salad dish, the pepper elder is the accompaniment for shrimps, meat slices, eggs. Yet with my mom, she turned the pepper elder into the "queen" on the plate.

Pepper elder and egg salad. Photo: Archive

When I was a little girl, I was often scolded by my mom due to skipping noon naps to wander around with my friends. With my accomplices (all children), we went from one garden to another, sometimes collecting sapote, sometimes collecting dropped limes. On lucky days, we picked a lot of pepper elder, and were very excited as we could make enough money for an ice-cream if we sold all the vegetables.

In the past, when my village had lush gardens, pepper elder grew around the base of the banana, custard apple and papaya trees. They were the freshest succulent pepper elder with inviting flowers. If one was patient, s/he would pick the vegetables carefully; if in hurry, then just grab the whole bunch and uproot them. At home, clean the vegetables for a basket of eye-catching fresh pepper elder.

On many windy days, when my father and siblings had body aches, my mom would quietly show her talent with pepper elder. The crunchy, raw fresh smell of the vegetable penetrated, cooling off the body as it traveled down to the stomach. 

The best dish my mom usually made was a sweet and sour pepper elder salad. She would cook some fragrant shallots in peanut oil, add a little lime juice, fish sauce, chili, sugar, garlic and roasted peanuts. Pepper elder mixed with the fat of oil, the sweetness and the sourness. So, the whole family would get full on salad without paying attention to the hot rice.

Not only for making salad, this vegetable is also rich when making soup, especially in combination with all sorts of home-grown vegetables. The combination of flavors of the sweet leaf vegetables, amaranth, sweet potatoes leaves and pepper elder is gentle; each with its own fragrance. Gather a bit of pepper elder, and the surprising crunchy taste would cause great excitement.

Occasionally, I would go to a restaurant. The beef - pepper elder salad on the menu would call out to me. Oh, how little meat I had when I was young! My mom tried very hard to include a little protein in the dish. There was never a lot of meat to mix in the pepper elder salad. Yet when eagerly eating, and fondly remembering my childhood, I still feel it was lacking something.

The luxurious, eye-catching dish of pepper elder is delicious, but it is not made by the diligent hands of my mother. The sauce of the professionally made salad is full of flavor, but still lacks the soul and love that my mother had put in the salad. It turns out that the good taste of a dish is not only in the ingredients and spices, but it is also the memories associated with the food.

It is my mother who has turned pepper elder into a "queen" in my heart.

By Mai Hue