Brisbane Local Food

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Celebrating Chaya -- Mayan tree Spinach

I guess that I eat a lot of greens. My every day consumption is not of raw, but cooked, leaves.
I am not of the salad persuasion. Nor am I of the lightly stir-fried sort.
I try to grow the greens I like to eat. That way I always have plenty of different stems to forage.
Among my preferred leafy comestibles Chaya has become my favourite.
The spinach tree of the Maya, Chaya is indigenous to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsular so it sure has culinary context.
Now that my specimens are keenly verdant, I can harvest the leaves as impulse dictates.
They are generous leaves too. Not as big as your Silver Beet or Kale, but ahead of the mini size leaf offered by Katuk, Okinawa Spinach, Warrigal Greens, Moringa or the English standard.

Chaya has high levels of protein, calcium and iron, nutrients many people are concerned about. The leaves are also chocked with carotene, potassium and vitamin C. Studies have shown the nutritional content of Chaya to be two or three times that of foods like spinach and Chinese cabbage.(SOURCE)

They cook up well and hold their fibre without dissolving to mush, despite the requisite boil time of 20 minutes.
Why 20 minutes? Chaya leaves must not be eaten raw because they contain hydocyanic glucosides. Cooking inactivates the release of toxic cyanide components which, I gather, are steamed off (so don't go burying your head in the pot). This is the same challenge with Cassava -- a distant relative.
If you check out the nutritional value of Chaya leaves and avail yourself of the possibility that they are delicious, the 20 minute prep is surely worth the wait. So much of greens from the one stunning plant!
Folk go on and on about Kale or Moringa — but really, there is no disguising their taste.
Chaya, on the other hand, despite being of similar ‘miraculous’ status, is a buzz in the mouth and much more generous with the leaves.
As I said, it’s a tree! How about that! May grow to 6 metres but here in SEQ I’m not sure. Not yet, anyway. It is at least a bush and all its leaves are edible (so long as you do the twenty).
I know that Chaya plants not readily available in SEQ (I had to share a cutting with a woman in Cairns!) so I’m hoping to nursery up a few over the next few months and grow myself a Chaya hedge.
Like I did with Katuk — I’ll have Chaya planted and growing hither and yon. And I must have at least 10 straggly Katuk bushes about the place.
Outside of the heat they are hard to bring on. But if you do the cuttings right they begrudgingly will take.

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