Jute: Much More Than Just Twine

Elmer and Ailyn Viernes of Elmer’s Farm grow fruit and vegetables on 40 acres at Kilohana Plantation in Lihue. Sustainable farming techniques include seed saving, crop diversity, crop rotation, chicken manure as fertilizer and no chemical pesticides.

What’s growing: Apple banana, beets, bitter melon, bok choy, cherry tomato, chicken eggs, eggplant, herbs, Chinese ginger, green onion, jÌcama, long beans, okra, peanuts, pineapple, pumpkin, GMO-free sunrise papaya, sweet potato, wing beans.

JUTE

Jute, from the genus corchorus, is a long, soft, shiny vegetable fiber that can be spun into coarse, strong threads. “Jute” is the name of the plant or fiber that is used to make burlap, Hessian, gunny cloth, twine and rope, sacks, carpet, fabrics, furniture, espadrilles, floor coverings, home textiles, high-performance textiles, geotextiles and composites.

Popular in Asia, the Middle East and parts of Africa, jute leaves add a distinct flavor to food, have nutritional value and thicken soups, stews and sauces. Jute is called saluyot in the Philippines, molokhia in Egypt, bai po in Thailand, nalta sag in India and moroheiya in Japan.

Season: On Kaua’i, jute can be grown year-round.

What to look for: At the farmers market, leaves will be attached to small branches and sold in bundles. Don’t worry if they are a little wilted as they cook up just fine.

Storage: Store wrapped in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Preparation: Jute leaves can be bitter and, when cooked, make liquid into a thick, highly mucilaginous broth. Like other members of the mallow family, including okra and marsh mallow, the plant has a texture that is often described as slimy. Generally, leaves are eaten cooked, not raw, and are most frequently turned into a kind of soup or stew. They also can be added to stir-fries to add interesting moisture and mouth-feel.

Health benefits: The leaves are rich in beta carotene, iron, vitamin C and more than 32 vitamins, minerals and trace elements. The plant has potent antioxidant activity with significant vitamin E, three times the calcium and phosphorous as kale and four times the amount of riboflavin. One serving provides 70 percent of the RDA value for vitamin C and 25 percent RDA of vitamin A.

Elmer’s Farm produce can be found at: Restaurants: Hanamaulu Cafe. Farmers markets: Kukui Grove, Mondays at 3 p.m.; Kapaa, Wednesdays at 3 p.m.; Vidinha Stadium, Fridays at 3 p.m.; Kaua’i Community College, Saturdays at 9:30 a.m.; Hanalei, Saturdays at 9:30 a.m. Call 652-4201 for details.

EGYPTIAN MOLOKHIA

Molokhia is the Egyptian name for the leaves and a dish made throughout Africa and the Middle East. The origins of the dish are said to be in ancient Egypt, where it’s still popular today. Molokhia leaves are minced and cooked with ground coriander, garlic and stock and served over steamed rice and chicken. Makes four servings.

* 6 garlic cloves, minced
* 1 tablespoon ground coriander
* 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1 pound jute leaves
* 2 cups chicken stock
* 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Chop leaves by hand or in a food processor and set aside. Add olive oil to a preheated soup pot. Saute garlic, coriander and salt until fragrant and brown. Add 1 1/2 cups of stock and minced leaves. Gently simmer, stirring occasionally until the molokhia is thick, about 15 minutes. If you like thin molokhia, add remaining 1/2 cup of chicken stock. Add lemon juice and stir through. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with steamed rice and grilled, baked or huli huli chicken.

Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.

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