I first came across this unique herb several years ago when shopping in a Thai market in Sydney. A large box of cha om caught my eye as I wandered through the store. I picked up a bunch to have a closer look, as I had never seen anything quite like it before. It most closely resembled the fronds of a fern with delicate feathery leaves and a somewhat odd aroma, slightly chemical in nature. My interest at that stage was not piqued and I was about to move on when an elderly Thai lady exclaimed "Ahh, I see you like cha om".
I readily owned up to the fact that I had no idea what it was. She explained that she was a Thai cookery teacher and was kind enough to tell me a little about cha om.
Thai's harvest cha om for only a brief period each spring when the leaves are young and tender. Each year it is eagerly sought out as it is seen as a seasonal treat. To my surprise there is really only one dish which Thai cooks will use cha om. Omelette. A rough paste is made of garlic and pepper, which is mixed with eggs and quickly fried, then cha om is scattered over the omelette just before it has set. Before serving it is splashed with fresh lime juice. It sounded delicious, so I grabbed a few bunches to use as a special at the restaurant that evening. To my surprise it sold out, so I jotted down the recipe to keep for when cha om came around next year.
I have since found out a little more about the herb. It belongs to the acacia family, Acacia pennata and is grown through out Southeast Asia and India. Uses outside the kitchen include boiling the leaves and inhaling the vapor as a treatment for cholera, headache and body pains.
Cha om omelette
2 free range eggs
2 coriander (cilantro) roots
3 white peppercorns
1 clove garlic
1 Tbs fish sauce
1 Tbs vegetable oil
Handful of picked cha om leaves (or use coriander leaves)
½ a lime
In a mortar and pestle, grind to a rough paste the coriander roots, pepper and garlic. Place in a bowl with the eggs, sugar and fish sauce and 2 Tbs of water and mix with a whisk. Don't over beat, just break up the eggs a little.
Heat the oil in an omelette pan or frying pan and pour in the egg mix. With a fork drag the edges of the egg mix to the centre as the eggs start to set. Scatter with most of the cha om leaves and when the omelette is almost set, carefully fold in half with a spatula. Slide onto a plate and scatter with the remaining cha om and a squeeze of lime.