(STAR) A TASTE OF LIFE By Heny Sison - I still remember with mixed amusement and certain fondness a catchy ad campaign by the Department of Health to promote the value of local vegetables. A school child would stand in front of class as part of a show-and-tell program. He would hold up a certain leafy green for his fellow classmates to see and wholeheartedly recite a poem in honor of it.

Just recently, such a veggie had its moment of glory and indeed took center stage. I was there to witness the affair and was happy to see it finally get its long-deserved spot in the limelight. The venue was Porac, Pampanga. The event boasted a stellar cast featuring Pampanga Governor Eddie “Among Ed” Panlilio, Porac Mayor Roger Santos, Porac Foundation board member Edna David, Central Luzon TV 36 board member Tess Laus, and other notable citizens of the community. However, on that day, their prominence took only second billing to the real star of the show, the humble, unassuming malunggay.

It was a great, sunny day looking upon a vast field where green dreams will finally be realized, for it was where the first malunggay plantation was launched to contribute to the development of our nation’s green growth. Aside from giving farmers a source of livelihood, the project was put up by the Porac Foundation in order to propagate the goodness of this lauded miracle vegetable.

Moringa oleifera is the scientific name of the malunggay and, till then, I never knew its amazing virtues. Research supports the claim that malunggay leaves can prevent over 300 diseases. It is a powerhouse of nutritional value. Gram for gram, malunggay leaves contain four times the calcium in milk, four times the vitamin A in carrots, seven times the vitamic C in oranges, three times the potassium in bananas, and two times the protein in milk.

Jacqui Alleje, owner of Rizal Dairy Farm, and I were approached to come up with recipes, not limited to savory dishes, to prove this vegetable’s versatility. These recipes were well received when they were served during the event.

Under open skies, we enjoyed light talk over malunggay fettuccini with tomato sauce, bites of Sweet Temptations malungay muffins, moringa bread with kesong puti, and polvoron with pinipig and malunggay powder. For refreshments we had moringa tea and chilled lemongrass cooler.

The fresh pasta, which we made with malunggay powder, was surprisingly delicious than fresh pasta with spinach. It makes a more colorful and much healthier alternative as well.

Malunggay powder can be made by dehydrating malunggay leaves and then grinding it into powder. Medical research shows that dried malunggay leaves, which can be turned into tea among other uses, is more nutritious than fresh malunggay itself.

I grew up on a diet of greens of all textures, shapes and shades — dark stalks of kangkong with sinigang, repolyo with pochero, bright leaves of crisp lettuce with other veggies and dressing, malunggay with tinolang manok or mais. And when I was young, my mother never had a problem selling me the health- enriching properties of organic produce from the earth. Whatever mom says is good for me, is good for me. Of course, whatever lessons I learned from mom, I pass on to my children.

Nevertheless, it sort of shames me to understand just how much we take our local crops for granted. I am bemused to realize just how much money we shell out for medicine and food supplements when we can grow the answer right in our backyard. Malunggay leaves are undoubtedly one of the richest sources of such nutrients, and growing a tree right in your backyard is like growing multivitamins. Due to its high content of vitamins A, C and E, which are very potent antioxidants, malunggay can effectively neutralize unstable free radicals that cause aging. Antioxidants reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. They also prevent the onset of various chronic diseases like arthritis, cancer and heart and kidney diseases. It helps promote good eyesight and digestion. And the list just goes on….

On a grand scale, malunggay leaves could be the tool to conquer global malnutrition. Enjoy the health-giving benefits of malunggay with the following recipes, which Jacqui and I have created.

Malunggay Fettuccini served with garlic-tomato sauce

For the malunggay fettuccini dough:

250 grams bread or semolina flour

10 grams malunggay powder

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

3 eggs

30 milliliters coconut oil

water, as needed

Place flour, malunggay powder and salt in medium-size bowl. Mix well. (If you are using coarse sea salt, you have to dilute the salt in one to two tablespoons of hot water. Let it cool and mix with the egg-oil mixture, rather than with dry ingredients).

Break eggs in a separate bowl. Add oil. With a whisk, mix until well emulsified.

Add the egg-oil emulsion to dry ingredients. Form to a soft pliable dough by adding bit-by-bit very little water. Rest dough for 30 minutes.

Sprinkle flour on dry surface. Form dough into a log, and cut log into equal sizes of around 150 grams. Form balls and flatten them to be passed through pasta maker to desired thickness before passing through a fettuccini cutter.

If you don’t have a pasta maker, flatten the dough with a rolling pin. Cut dough into two to three millimeters-thick noodles with the help of a ruler.

Serve with a freshly made garlic-tomato sauce. Sprinkle with freshly chopped basil.

Optional: Add diced kesong puti.

Malunggay Pinipig Pulvoron

500 grams all-purpose flour

250 grams powdered milk

250 grams sugar

250 grams shortening

1/2 cup Magnolia Gold butter

2 cups pinipig, toasted

1 tablespoon malunggay powder

In a wok, toast the flour over low heat until light brown. Set aside.

Melt shortening and butter in a saucepan. Set aside.

Place powdered milk and sugar in a bowl. Add the toasted flour and malunggay powder. Stir to combine. Make a well in the center, then pour in the melted butter and shortening. Carefully mix in the dry ingredients making sure that they are evenly distributed. Cool.

Fold in the toasted pinipig.

Dip polvoron mold in granulated sugar. Mold the mixture and release on greaseproof paper. Let set for about an hour. Wrap in cellophane.

Moringa Malunggay Bread

For the yeast mixture:

1 cup lukewarm water

2 teaspoons instant yeast

2 teaspoons sugar

For the dough:

500 grams bread flour

1 tablespoon malunggay powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup corn oil

2 egg yolks

bread crumbs

Mix together yeast mixture. Let rest for 10 minutes.

Add the rest of the ingredients and knead until smooth and elastic. Let rest until double in bulk.

Punch down and roll into a baston. Roll in bread crumbs. Let rest for 10 minutes, then cut into desired size.

Place on cookie sheet. Let rise until size doubles.

Bake at 350°F for 20 minutes or until golden.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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