In Papua New Guinea our coastal gardens produce an abundance of this green leafy vegetable that is a household favourite, and one of two types of greens my three little bosses will eat.
The aibika (Hibiscus spinach) is an interesting vegetable due to its amazing ability to grow in the hot and humid environments often found in the tropics.
It is of course an evergreen plant and grows wonderfully from propagating making it a cash crop for most mamas who sell the vegetable at the suburb markets to buy basic essentials like rice and canned bully beef for dinner.
According to Wikipedia, aibika can grow to over three meters in height in good conditions and is reputedly a nutritious vegetable. The leaves are very high in vitamins A and C, and iron and have 12% protein by dry weight.
Aibika contains mucilage which gives that slimy taste in the mouth when it is eaten. A list of the benefits of mucilage can be found on this site with one of the benefits being anti-cholesterol which is vital in reducing vascular accidents.
However, there is the precaution of side effects of mucilage. Due to the high fiber content in mucilage it is highly advised that you drink a lot of water.
Abundant use of fiber may prevent absorption of certain minerals or cause intestinal problems in sensitive individuals.
Otherwise if taken in moderation, the aibika is a tasty and nutritious vegetable that is eaten in various dishes here in the pacific.
In Papua New Guinea, we love our aibika cooked in coconut cream with taro, banana, sweet potatoes, and with either fish or chicken.
I would love to visit other pacific countries later to fully capture their methods of cooking this wonderful vegetable.
Smoothiesailer lists all the common names that are used to identify the aibika.
Sunset Muskmallow, Sunset Hibiscus, Pele (Polynesia), Ailan kapis (Vanuatu), Lettuce tree, Bele (Fiji), Beli (Tonga), and slippery cabbage (Solomon Islands).
I would like to share here a simple method my partner and I use to cook our aibika at home.
Even though it is very simple and makes a humble meal, it is very tasty meaning our kids enjoy eating it with us. I just make sure to break the leaves into bite sized portions so that they don’t choke on it.
This recipe is so simple you can cook it with your eyes closed.
However, it is not the simplicity of the recipe that is being portrayed here but the story of how this vegetable has fed millions of families for many years along the coastal lines of PNG.
Cooking in the islands…
Aibika cooked in coconut cream
1 bunch of aibika leaves (10 medium sized leaves)
1 cup of coconut milk
2 medium sized taro peeled and cut in quarters (optional)
1 medium onion cut in quarters
1 medium ginger sliced in four
A pinch of salt
1 chicken stock cube (for taste)
- Wash each individual leaf making sure to wash all dust.
- Cut the leaves in half or in quarters for small children
- Place onion, ginger and taro in a pot
- Break the chicken stock cube into the coconut milk. Stir and then pour the coconut milk mixture over the onion and taro in the pot.
- Place the aibika leaves on top and sprinkle the tops of the leaves with the salt.
- Cover the pot and place on the stove to cook
- Bring to boil then turn flame down to low flame and let boil slowly for 5-10 minutes (remember to open the pot and stir the greens now and then to avoid browning).
- Take the greens out and place on a plate or tray. Let the taro stay in 5 minutes more if more time is needed for cooking.
- Turn off heat and serve up the taro onto a plate.
Enjoy with slices of corned beef or canned tuna.