Sunday, November 12, 2006

Cooking with Puha

Puha (pronounced "poo-ha")
- aka Sow Thistle (Sonchus)

Puha and Pork Bones

Puha and Sesame Salad

As a child, puha was the bane of my existence. While mums the length of the street would lovingly caw from kitchen windows, "do you kids want sausages or saveloys for tea?", mine would say nothing, employing the power of surprise in the battle to feed her two picky children.

Arriving home in the early evening after hours of play always held an air of dreadful mystery for me and my brother. Unlike the other kids in our street, our mother was Maori, which meant that while the other children in our street always got 'proper' food, we, at least once during the week would encounter something 'different'. This often meant finding a steaming plate of muttonbirds, left-over hangi, paua fritters or if I was unlucky, pork bones and puha.


I hated puha. Cooked, the smell was strong and it was long and stringy in appearance. More commonly known as a 'boil-up' in Maori circles, pork bones and puha for this malcontent usually involved eating the pork, shifting the potatoes around the plate and then fruitlessly compressing the puha into smaller piles. As is often the case with children and unwanted food, mum would begin with a little gentle cajoling. Failing to convince, this led to lectures regarding the food's health-giving benefits; with that tack failing and frustration setting in, threats of smacked bottoms and being sent to boarding school rapidly followed.

Now, in my thirties, I quite like pork bones and puha. It's the perfect winter meal - warming, flavoursome and very comforting. Puha lends the meal a sharpness, lifting the rounded flavours of the pork and potatoes. In the 2005 Monteiths Beer & Wild Food Challenge, the Wellington restaurant winner Mange Tout used puha in a colcannon as part of its winning dish. Puha also has considerable health benefits (mum, it did sink in), being rich in antioxidants and iron. This post is about my efforts in cooking with puha; firstly, pork bones and puha; secondly, an easy yummy salad (unfortunately, there are only two photos in this post - my camera died - my apologies).

Puha, also known as sow thistle, is a green-dark green plant often found growing as a weed in your backyard or for sale at your local community or farmers market. If gathering from your backyard, PLEASE make sure that what you're picking is indeed puha - check the photo at the start of the post, take a look online or ask a Maori (if doing the latter, take food). You'll need a large fistful per person. Cut off the heads, any flowers and the bottom of the stems. The stem contains a milky coloured sap; eaten raw, the stem and leaves have a bitter taste. Cooking does not remove the bitterness but it can be greatly reduced by rubbing the puha plants together (vigourously) under running water - repeat a couple of times.

Putting the puha to one side, place pork bones (I had no luck finding these at the supermarket - try a butcher) into a large pot or if you have lashings of money, pork chops (please try and find bones - boiling pork chops seems so wrong), enough to allow two sizable pieces per person. Cover with water, bring to the boil and simmer. The aim with cooking the pork for a boil-up is to have it very tender, almost to the point of falling off the bone.

When the pork is three quarters of the way through cooking, add potatoes and kumara. When these are on the cusp of being done, place puha on top of the potatoes. When the puha is tender, serve - do not overcook! By the way, don't stir the contents of the pot at any stage during cooking - instructions from my mother, bless... This didn't taste too bad for a first effort. Piping hot - potatoes and kumara imbued with the flavour of pork, the pork itself very tender and the puha lending a wonderful bite to the dish - not bad at all.

Now this is a recipe I stole from the healthy-minded folks at Wild Health, a great organisation based in Nelson. It's for a puha and sesame salad, it's unbelievably easy and quite tasty. You'll need a large bunch of puha, a quarter of a cup of ground sesame seeds and two tablespoons of shoyu soy sauce. Bring a large pot of water to boil on the stove. Prepare puha as described earlier and cut into 2 - 3cm lengths. Drop the puha into the boiling water and blanch briefly. Drain immediately and then leave for a couple of minutes for any excess water to run off - do not squeeze. In a large bowl, mix the puha, ground sesame seeds and the shoyu. Add a little shoyu at first; add more to taste. We had this with some fresh pan-fried flounder - delicious!

24 comments:

ChrisB said...

Found this a very interesting post.

Barbara said...

I've lived in NZ for 32 years and I've yet to eat puha.

Nigel said...

ChrisB,
Thank you - isn't it fortunate that as we get older, our palate changes - most of the 'nasties' we perceived as children turn out to be absolutely delectable!

Barbara,
May I suggest finding yourself a Maori fond of cooking (preferably a large one; I'm wary of skinny chefs)to prepare some for you.

Emma said...

I sometimes think it would be great to have someone in the know walk round the garden with you. Would you mind letting me know if you are in Wellington sometime with a spare 5 minutes?!

Arfi Binsted said...

i would love to experience Maori cooking. looks delicious!

Nigel said...

Arfi, I'm thinking maybe we could do some sort of food-swap...I could convince my mum to bake some Rewana bread for some of your delicious baking - have a think!

Arfi Binsted said...

nigel, i would love to!!! how about come for lunch with me, barbara, and tim from take3eggs.com sometime in February. i'll email you if you wish. this will be fun!

Nigel said...

Thanks Arfi - I'll email you today.

Cheezy said...

Hey, I remember eating some great pork bones and puha at the Horse & Trap pub in Auckland a few years ago. Cheers for the nostalgia trip!

val said...

In Wellington last week and went to a wonderful restaurant called Kai in the City (Marjoribanks St I think). Resisted all but a morsel of the sensational steak and hangi vegis my daughter had, but shared the succulent seafood chowder, resisted (heroically) the mutton bird and had, cos I've always wanted to try it, pork n veg boil-up. It was unlikre anything I'd had before and bloody deeeeeeelishus.
Val, Sydney

Nigel said...

Val, it's a good restaurant and I've eaten there a couple of times over the last year. Glad you liked Maori kai!

Anonymous said...

cant w8 2 try it im moari but i hv neva tried or heard of pork n puha1 lol!
thx vry mch

Anonymous said...

cant w8 2 try it im moari but i hv neva tried or heard of pork n puha1 lol!
thx vry mch

dominic hodge said...

Great post... good to see people with alternate gastro interests

Ruth said...

Kia ora, thanks for this informative puha post, I'm going to try making puha pesto and see how that goes...I might bulk it up with watercress if I can't find enough puha or perhaps something less bitter if needed...

Anonymous said...

Ciao and Kia ora, from Adelaide Australia. I, being of Italian decent, and my parents being self-sufficient peasants back in a small village in Italy, grew up on a very similar dish-- sow thistle and pork trots with barlotte beans. My mother made corn pizza to accompany the puha type dish. In fact, when I lived in Sydney, as a reggae musician i met up with many Maoris. This is where I learned about the similar food of trad-NZ and our Trad-Italian peasant dish, which BTW we call "Minestra con Pollenta". I enjoyed many puha dishes with many a good Maori in Sydney, and have made many a Maori friend simply by "breaking the ice" by mentioning Puha here in Adelaide. I have always loved sow thistle cooked in the trad fashion. Thanks for sharing your recipe and story.

Melissa said...

I've been following your blog for quite a while and enjoying your wealth of good recipes. When Foodista announced that they are going to publish the best food blogs in a full color book that will be published by Andrews McMeel Publishing Fall 2010, I naturally thought of you. This recipe would be a good submission! You can enter here: http://www.foodista.com/blogbook/submit

Cheers,
Melissa

melissa@foodista.com
Editor and Community Developer
Foodista.com -- The Cooking Encyclopedia Everyone Can Edit

John said...

I was raised on puha/ porkbones, brisket, sea food, I couldnt stand it....couldnt wait to grow up and cook my own food (and promised I'd never feed it to my kids when i have some).... Im 43 and I like my puha/ ponebones...puha has so many health benefits.....my kids are all teenagers. when i cook a boil up, its in a huge pot, pork bones, kumara, do boys, my kids love it, it goes quick......Im in Perth W/A I see puha everywhere and It reminds me of my childhood days having to help my grand dad pick it for our boil up

Nigel Olsen said...

John, I know what you're saying! I hated the stuff growing up, but I really appreciate the flavours now that my palate's a lot more refined.

Anonymous said...

Sound great. I'm in England and can't buy it. Would spinach work? I love spinach.

Nigel Olsen said...

Anon - I don't think it would be quite sharp enough in flavour, unless of course you use older leaves. Your best bet might be dandelion leaves. Drop me a line if you go through with it, I'd be interested to see how it turns out.

Mikey18 said...

Mate: just been surfing for a good Puha and Pork bones recipe (post Chrissy too much ham etc!!) and found you! Thanks heaps - like your style of writing and bless your mum for her goodness! It sealed it for me that you liked Tempopo - who can ever forget the passing of that egg yoke...best wishes and a happy NY to you.

Michael, Wellington

Nigel Olsen said...

You're welcome, Michael. You're also one of the few folk I've come across that's seen Tampopo!

Rosie said...

My Dad's and my Nana on my Mums side are maori and we used to live off Puha - usually cooked with bacon bones.

When we moved to Australia Mum used to send us kids down to the railway lines where it grew aplenty.

Major shame job standing there shoving 'free food' into the bag while the trains went past!

I'm now 39 and haven't eaten Puha for about 20 years - thanks for your recipe, I may just have to find me some and carry on the tradition with my own kids - although I doubt I'll be sending them down to the train lines to collect...hahaha.