Love Laing? We Have Tips On How To Properly Cook Gabi Leaves

IMAGE Anna Varona

Laing is a delicious and iconic dish from Bicol that's considered a staple in many households. It's an incredibly creamy vegetable dish made from local ingredients that are found plentiful in the area. This means it's loaded with gata (coconut cream), bagoong alamang (shrimp paste), dahon ng gabi (taro leaves), and of course, siling labuyo (bird's eye chili) and siling haba or pangsigang (green finger chilies). 

However, there are some brave souls who cook laing from scratch but find that, instead of eating a spoonful of what should be a mouth-watering bite, they suffer a throat-scratching epidemic.

These fresh taro leaves hide an itchy secret!
Photo by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay

Don't panic, though. It's not an allergy! It's those gabi leaves that are to blame! 

Also known as taro leaves, gabi leaves are available in the market as either fresh leaves or dried leaves. Fresh leaves are fantastic when cooked into creamy laing although the dried variety are much more available than the fresh kind. The fresh leaves, however, when cooked, retain much of its bright green color when cooked resulting in a laing dish that's much more green than the very dark green that you usually get when using dried gabi leaves.

However, whether you're cooking the fresh gabi leaves or the easy-to-find dried version you can easily find in packs in palengkes, there is a cooking procedure you must do to both of these types of gabi leaves to prevent it from being the cause for extremely itchy throats. 

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This creamy laing dish is made with taro or gabi leaves.
Photo by Riell Santos

You may have been led to believe that this is because gabi leaves contain tiny needles on its leaves that cause the itchiness. This is a misconception. Those "little needles" aren't actually needles but what the leaves do have are toxins that cause the irritation you feel when you eat laing or other dishes that have been cooked with gabi

How do you cook taro leaves (gabi leaves) properly? 

The cooking solution to prevent the gabi leaves' itchiness when cooking it is two-fold: you need to cook it in a liquid and you also need to cook it for a long time

Cooking it in a liquid is basically going to help dissolve the toxins from the leaves in the cooking liquid and then, since it's in a liquid, this dilutes the toxins in that liquid so it no longer causes such an adverse reaction in those who eat your dish. 


Step two is to cook it for a long time, and the cooking time needs to be at least 45 minutes. Heat will neutralize the sting and itchiness caused by the toxins that are present in the liquid. 

You might be wondering if you can't just blast the gabi leaves on high heat, so it will immediately neutralize the toxins. The issue with this cooking process is that the toxins are inside the plant cells, so you will have to heat those leaves up considerably to break down the plant cells first before you can get to the toxins present inside. Simmering the leaves in water or another kind of liquid will release these toxins from the plant cells into the liquid. Only then will the heat be able to neutralize the toxins from doing any of its itchy damage. 

Now that you know how to cook taro or gabi leaves, here are a few gabi leaf recipes as well as a few spinach recipes you can easily tweak to make using these affordable leaves: 

Photo by Anna Varona

1 Laing Recipe 

You can't go wrong when making laing. It has three main ingredients in it that you can easily tweak the recipe to include a few choice ingredients (like crispy shrimp!) to make it even more lusciously delicious. Serve with your favorite fried food and freshly steamed rice or on its own.



2 Laing Pizza Recipe 

There was a time when laing pizza was all the rage! If you didn't get on the bandwagon then, you should try it out at least once to find out what all the fuss was about. 

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3 Laing Pasta Recipe 

Pasta is always a crowd favorite. Whether it's served with a creamy sauce, tomato sauce, or even an oil-based sauce, you know you're getting a pasta meal that's filling, hearty, and flavorful. That's why this laing pasta recipe is so life-changing. Laing isn't your usual sauce for pasta but its creaminess will surely win you over! If that doesn't, maybe the addition of those gorgeously grilled prawns could lure you to try this elegant and definitely flavorful recipe. 

Photo by At Maculangan

4 Pinangat Recipe 

This recipe is really laing wrapped up with something delicious on the inside. What's inside? A small fish called the kanduli or a small local catfish. The combination of fish and laing is a classic pairing that, with this recipe, you don't need to cook another dish since it's served with both. Not only that, it's wrapped in even more gabi leaves so the fish and laing filling doesn't fall out as it's cooked. 

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Photo by Dairy Darilag

5 Chorizo, Kangkong, and Chickpea Stew Recipe 

We said we'll offer spinach recipes as a great substitute so you can use gabi for these sometimes hard-to-find greens! Kangkong is easy to find but maybe you should try this easy swap. This is one recipe that we think would work incredibly well with gabi leaves as long as you cook the leaves right. Since chickpeas or garbanzos can handle simmering and stewing, these legumes can stand the long cooking time needed. Plus, this recipe introduces an incredibly and intensely flavorful way to prepare these leaves that's not in gata or coconut cream. 

Photo by Karishma Etong

6 Spinach-Mushroom Dip Recipe 

What's so great about this recipe is that it's jam-packed with spinach. You can totally do the same with gabi leaves! Since the spinach can be prepared before you add to the rest of the other ingredients, you can easily simmer and prepare the gabi leaves. This prep will make sure that you don't have to spend too much to make this intensely appealing dip for any handaan. It won't break your budget yet you can still offer a delicious appetizer or snack.  

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There is only so much laing you can eat, but we think you can use the gabi leaves for more than just laing. It makes a great substitute for other leafy greens, as long as you prepare and cook it right before adding it to the other ingredients. Keep these cooking tips for gabi leaves in mind, and you'll always be serving (and eating!) delicious leafy green dishes every time. 



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