Cha Om / Acacia
[Climbing Wattle; Cha-om (Thai); Pak La, Pak Ka (Laos); Su pout ywet, Tsu boht (Burmese); Saom (Cambodia); Khang-khu Khangkhuh (Mizoram, Manipur India); Senegalia pennata, formerly Acacia pennata]
This vine-like climbing shrub or small tree (to 16 feet tall) is native to South and Southeast Asia. Feathery leaf shoots are used in omelets, curries, soups and stir fries in Thailand, Burma, Laos and the Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur, adjacent to Burma. Acacia omelets are particularly popular as a side dish or added to soups in Thailand, and also in Cambodia.
The flavor and aroma will be quite unfamiliar to most people in North America, a bit like rubber cement, and may be off-putting to some who are not accustomed to it, so use with caution. It is similar in taste to Mexican Guaje Beans (also an Acacia).
This plant is highly illegal in Australia and New Zealand because it invades grazing land. Seeds and plants are also illegal in California, Hawaii and the Netherlands. Photo by J.M.Garg distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0.
More on Beans, Peas & Lentils
Buying: Your chances of finding fresh Acacia leaves of this variety in North America seems rather slim right now, even in Southern California. Washed and frozen leaves in sealed packages are now available here, as they are in Australia, imported from Thailand. The photo specimen was purchased from a large Asian market in Los Angeles (San Gabriel) for 2017 US $1.58 for 4 ounces (without stems). They are also available with stems for $2.09 for 8 ounces (about 3-1/2 ounces yield if stripped).
The version "without stems" may have some short pieces of stem included, so, after thawing, wring them out and massage the lump to locate any stiff stem pieces and remove them.
In Southeast Asia Cha Om is often served steamed "on the stem". The diner will strip the stems with his/her teeth. Unfortunately the frozen ones "with stems" don't look nearly as nice as fresh steamed, so I don't particularly recommend them.
Recipes often call for "a bunch". Judging by pictures from Thailand, a bunch of stems probably weighs between 6 and 8 ounces - fairly large because only the youngest leaf shoots can be used, and the stems are discarded. Photo of bunches in Thailand by Susan Slater, distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v4.0 International.
Cooking: The leaves are bitter and sulphurous when fresh (when they may be added to shrimp sauces and the like) but are a little milder when cooked. Only the young tender leaf fronds are used and these must be stripped from the central stem and inspected for tiny thorns. For a typical three egg Acacia Leaf Omelette recipe you need 1 ounce to 1-1/2 ounces of edible leaf.
Subst: The best substitute I know is
Dandelion Leaves, particularly for use in
acacia leaf omelets. They won't provide the distinctive rubber cement
aroma and taste, but many people may find that not to be a disadvantage.