Coconut, Lemon Grass & Coral Uncertainty

October 1, 2010

How I wish that somewhere there existed an island for those who are wise and of good will.
~Albert Einstein

While I am on a lemon grass binge, let’s add some coconut milk, rice and peace…

Indonesia, the most vast of archipelago states, is bespeckled with over 17,500 islands in the Indian ocean, covering a maritime area of some 3.1 million square miles. Home to the world’s fourth largest populace and still growing, the land mass of Indonesia alone is three times that of Texas. Put those numbers in your lone star stetson and smoke ’em, George.

And here, behold coral’s homeland, the marine biodiversity hall of fame, and for some shame. The Coral Triangle — a stunning, yet sadly imperiled, underwater Eden.

The Coral Triangle has been aptly dubbed the global epicenter of marine species diversity and remains of paramount concern to conservationists and commoners alike. This fecund region of the seas covers a deltoid area equivalent to one-half of the United States and contains more than one-third of all the world’s coral reefs. An evolutionary hot spot due to the combination of light, high water temperature, and strong, nourishing currents from the confluence of the Pacific and Indian oceans. The seasonal influx of nutrients from these deep ocean upwellings along with equatorial sunshine and warm seas results in an abundance of plankton. So, it teems with more than 600 species of reef-building coral (compared to only 60 in the entire Caribbean) and over 3,000 species of reef fish. Sheltering nearly 75% of the world’s mangrove species, 45% of seagrass species, 58% of tropical marine mollusks, five species of sea turtles and at least 22 species of marine mammals also occur in the region, the Coral Triangle is an astounding display of diversity condensed into less than 1% of the world ocean’s surface area. This melting pot of biodiversity harbors species that appear nowhere else on Earth, including 97 species of reef fishes endemic to Indonesia, and more than 50 in the Philippines.

With this resplendent beauty comes the beast, as coral reefs and other marine habitats within this region are severely threatened by human activities. The most pervasive and perfidious threats are overfishing and baleful fishing practices, including blast fishing and fishing with poisons, which torment broad stretches of reefs in the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Indonesia. Sedimentation and pollution associated with overpopulation, coastal development and land use also put the region’s delicate reefs and marine habitats at risk. To worsen matters, acidification of the surrounding seas is occuring due their absorption of excess atmospheric carbon dioxide. More acidic oceans render it more difficult for coral to produce the necessary calcium carbonate shells, diminishing oceanic ecosystems and the existence of coral reefs.

Exploring the manifold cultural, ethnic, regional and historical underpinnings of Indonesian cuisine is for another day, another plug. For now, allow me to at least briefly touch on one ingredient in this dish. Daun salam (Syzygium polyanthum), sometimes mistakenly called Indian bay leaves, are leaves from a deciduous tree in the myrtle family which grows wild in the Southeast Asian peninsula, Indonesia and Suriname. Reaching heights of over 60 feet, this tropical tree has spreading branches and simple, aromatic leaves. The Indonesian phrase daun salam means “peace leaf.”


2 C jasmine rice

1 1/2 C water
1 C canned unsweetened coconut milk
3 thick stalks of fresh lemon grass (bottom 1/3), bruised, and tied in a bundle
1″ slice of ginger
1 t sea salt
8 whole dried daun salam leaves (or 2 whole dried bay leaves)

Roasted peanuts, chopped (for garnish)

In a large heavy saucepan, rinse rice several times with fresh cold water, gently swirling with your fingers. Once the water is no longer cloudy and fairly clear, drain completely.

Add water, coconut milk, lemon grass, ginger, salt, and daun salam leaves. Stir some to combine.

Place the pan over high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to prevent the rice from scorching on the bottom. Bring to a vigorous boil and allow to continue to boil for less than thirty seconds, still stirring. Reduce the heat to the low and cover tightly. Continue cooking at low for 15 minutes. Resist all temptation to peek by removing the lid as that would allow essential cooking steam to escape.

Remove from heat and continue to steam, covered, for an additional 10 minutes.

Discard the lemon grass, ginger and daun salam leaves. Gently fluff the cooked rice with a spoon. Mound the rice in a deep serving bowl, and serve warm. Garnish individually with chopped peanuts.

7 Responses to “Coconut, Lemon Grass & Coral Uncertainty”

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