Wild black-jack flowers, an intriguing salad addition in Vietnam mountains. (Photo: Nguyen Chi)
The black-jack flower, which grows in the wild in Vietnam, is used to make a delicate salad in the northwestern mountains.
It is a common sight along roads everywhere, and is primarily considered a weed rather than a source of food. But in northwestern mountainous localities like Yen Bai Province, it is treated as a special vegetable with medicinal benefits.
The most common way to eat it is by sauteing it with garlic and beef. But chopped black-jack also makes for a refreshing and crunchy addition to a salad.
The preparation process is no less elaborate. Since the herb has a pungent smell and bitter taste, it is boiled twice and then wrung dry. After each time it is soaked in ice water to preserve its vibrant color and crunchy texture. After a few rounds it is finally ready.
For people living in the northwestern region, smoked buffalo meat is the highlight of every meal. With black-jacks added to it, the dish gains depth.
The thinly shredded buffalo meat is fragrant and infused with Indian prickly ash while the flower tastes fatty and crunchy. The spices of the salad douse the herb with sweet and sour notes. Other toppings such as peanuts, herbs, finely sliced carrots, and roasted sesame seeds complete the dish.
It might be an unexpected combination but in reality, the black-jack and buffalo meat complement each other exquisitely. Some variations of the dish have shrimp crackers for more flavor and texture.
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