When it comes to the snack department it’s fairly common to serve them on crackers or croutons. Think parfait or cheese or the classic kabana and pickled onion. While this is classic for a reason it tends to render the vessel as just that.
Or step into nature, where leaves with structure such as witlof and radicchio can nestle punchy ingredients and still bring great texture and crunch. By far my favourite, and a leaf with great tradition, is the betel leaf. Betel leaves come from a vine-like shrub that grows prolifically in subtropical regions. Betel has a great pepperiness and fragrance as well as bringing several medicinal benefits. They have long been used in South-East Asia and India for both cuisine and health. The leaves are not only great as a vessel, they also work really well shredded through salads where they provide great structure.
The key with using all of these leaves is to look at the balance of the bite as a whole and integrate the flavour. Just as the bitter leaves such as radicchio work well with richer meats and fatty snacks, the betel leaf thrives on grilled, smoky items and sweet and sour profiles.
I have experienced betel leaves most frequently in Thai cuisine. Designed as a single pungent mouthful, they offer such an energetic beginning to a meal. Lightly drying the tomatoes in this recipe helps lower the liquid ratio and heighten the acid and sweetness, which is key to holding the loosely bound dressing. Pungency is also key, so feel free to build in more chilli or texture to the betel leaf.