explorations of the clumsy "cooks"

Monday, 23 June 2014

Sweet Potato Top Salad (Ensaladang Talbos ng Kamote)

I am in love with all vegetables boiled, blanched or steamed. The simplicity of making a quick salad-cum-side dish without any frills or with the addition of spices and fruits as you please makes this dish worth trumpeting; also worth noting that this is healthy as long as you lay low on the condiments/dressing you pair it with. 

The list of local vegetables you can make into a dish such as this one is endless: from okra (lady's fingers) to kangkong (water spinach) to young squash leaves to sayote leaves (young chayote leaves) to ampalaya (bitter gourd/bitter melon), both the fruit and the leaves to sigarilyas (winged beans) to pechay or bok choy (Chinese cabbage). 

How to prepare it

Wash the sweet potato tops really well. 

Bring water (about 2 1/2 - 3 cups) to a boil and place the leaves in it. 

Drain it after 2 - 3 minutes*, you don't want the leaves to be overcooked. And the crunchy texture is great! 

Let it cool a little before adding chopped tomatoes and red onions. You don't really want to cook them in with the hot sweet potato leaves.

Add the calamondin (kalamansi) juice. You can replace this with fresh lemon juice if you don't have calamondin. Add bird's eye chilis if you want it spicy. 

For the salty dressing/condiment/dip, you can pair it with a little soy or fish sauce, salted shrimp fry (bagoong) or fermented fish/shrimp (bagoong alamang) or just add a dash of salt. 

*The time you need to cook the vegetable will differ depending on which vegetable you are using for the recipe. Okra and ampalaya (fruit) usually takes longer; for sigarilyas you might want to just blanch it and wash it with cold water right after to keep its crunchy texture. 

The "love story" between me and this dish probably started when I worked for an urban poor non-government organization in 2004. My colleagues introduced this to me during our lunch cook-offs. And as they say, the rest is history. 

Okra (lady's fingers) with sliced tomatoes, red onions and bird's eye chil with calamondin sauce. 

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Our Take on Pepe's Tinolang Manok

Tinolang manok or chicken stew with green papaya wedges and chili leaves is a dish often associated with our National Hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal. Although I am not aware of any other historical accounts to support many claims that this dish is indeed "among his favorites" aside from his mention of it in his famous novel, Noli Me Tangere (The Social Cancer) in Chapter 3: "Ang Hapunan" (The Dinner). Here's an excerpt from the chapter, from Project Gutenberg

"A large steaming tureen was brought in. The Dominican, after muttering the benedicite, to which scarcely any one knew how to respond, began to serve the contents. But whether from carelessness or other cause, Padre Damaso received a plate in which a bare neck and a tough wing of chicken floated about in a large quantity of soup amid lumps of squash, while the others were eating legs and breasts, especially Ibarra, to whose lot fell the second joints. Observing all this, the Franciscan mashed up some pieces of squash, barely tasted the soup, dropped his spoon noisily, and roughly pushed his plate away. The Dominican was very busy talking to the rubicund youth."
How to prepare

Parboil the chicken in a pot with 1/4 cup water and a dash of salt. If frozen, thaw the meat first. 

Take off from the pot portions of the chicken without skin. Let the remaining chicken in the pot cook until it turns brown and its oil comes out. This way, you don't need to add additional oil for sauteing. 

Once the chicken oil is out, add the ginger until it turns brown, add the garlic and the red onion. 

Add the portions of the chicken you have set aside earlier. Add fish sauce (initially about 1 tablespoon) to taste. You can add more of either salt or fish sauce to fit your desired taste. 

Add water and bring to a boil. 

Add the green papayawedges. To check if the green papaya is cooked (it takes about 2 - 3 minutes or more), poke it with a fork. 

Turn off the stove and add the chilies and leaves. Put the pot lid on to let the leaves cook before serving.

*Sayote (chayote) is often used to replace green papaya in this recipe; and in some preparations, malunggay leaves (moringa) is used to replace chili leaves. 


Curious about the health benefits of eating green papaya? Check out The George Mateljan Foundation's blog about it. 

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Steamed Cream Dory Fillet

Trips to the wet market are not frequent these days for me. Lately it happens only twice a month, if I get lucky, and only on weekends since it's still a drive away from where I live. With work and tons of errands, I couldn't find time to go as often as I want to get fresh seafood. I recently discovered that the neighborhood meat shop sells frozen cream dory and I was curious enough to try if it is any good. 

I was raised with a practice that "fresh" meant getting your seafood right after the fishing boat docks or at the wet market in our small town in Sorsogon (south of Philippines) early in the morning. For my maternal grandmother, Lola Onie, early in the morning meant 5:00 AM, just right before sunrise. If not from the fishermen and the early market trips, Lola would take us along the shore to pick up shellfishes or managunhas. All of these turned me into a seafood snob of some sorts. My Lola taught me well on how to spot a good one. When I moved to the city, my trips to the wet market involved endless debates with fish vendors. It took me years to build a relationship with my fish vendor who, in time, got used to having items being returned back if they were not as fresh as she claimed but she loves me as a suki (loyal customer).

Supermarkets might not be a great place to find good quality seafood, at least in the Philippines. I had numerous experiences buying seafood at several of them (with big names, which I will not mention) which I regret doing so to this time. They usually stock up a lot, store the unsold ones until they are "acceptable" to be sold and display them again the next day. The worst ones are usually the ones which were put on sale. This also works for meat sold at supermarkets, never get those which are on sale. 

The advantage of getting your fish from a "small" fish vendor (small was used here for the lack of a better term), they do not stock more than they can sell because they operate daily on a revolving fund, which means that when you come back tomorrow they will have new stocks, i.e. the most fresh you can probably get in Metro Manila. Most importantly, you can always haggle to get a better price. A disadvantage of this would be that small fish vendors offer less variety; often they have only the types of fish which people commonly buy like galunggong (big-bellied round scad), tilapia, tahong (mussels) and the likes. The key to overcoming this is have a good relationship with your fish vendor so you can order other varieties should you need to. 

(NOTE: Wet markets might not be the cleanest place and the water they use after cleaning your fish might not be good so it is a must to have them cleaned and washed well before cooking them.)

How to prepare it

After washing the frozen fillet, rub it with an ample amount of salt and ground black pepper. 

Add minced or crushed garlic and ginger. 

You might need to use foil if you are using a rice cooker steamer. Set the foil just around the steamer and place  the fillet. 

Steam for about 8 - 10 minutes. 

Set on a plate and squeeze as much lemon juice as you want. 

I added Java mint for additional kick, just tear the leaves up and spread on top. 

If you tried this recipe with another type of fish, do tell us how it worked. :) We have been meaning to try as many recipes as we can which doesn't use oil as in frying and sauteing and less soup-y (like cosido). 

If you are not THAT confident when checking if the fish or shellfish is fresh, check out these tips from Hank Show in Before You Buy Fish or Shellfish at About.com. 

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Burong Mustasa (Fermented Mustard Greens) Revealed

We have stopped blogging for a long time, attending to life's lemons; but we have never stopped cooking (and eating, of course!) We have slowly (like a drunk snail) kept updates on our Facebook Page every so and so. It's here.

In the middle of a summer thunderstorm yesterday, I was able to score great mustard greens (Tagalog: mustasa) at the wet market. I took nearly two kilos of it and decided to make fermented mustard greens (Tagalog: Burong Mustasa, a dish attributed to Southern Tagalog, Philippines) which I missed so much.

Being part Batangueña, I have kept and honored this dish. I learned about the recipe from my fraternal grandmother just before she died in early 2000. My grandmother was known to make these in her town in Batangas. I remember how my dad joked about it, that it was the burong mustasa which has enabled him and his siblings to attend school. That might be half truth but the idea has created a nostalgic feeling which I kept every time I prepare the dish.

It took a while for me to perfect it. During the first tries, I had to eat the whole batch of burong mustasa which were extremely bitter even after fermentation. Also, I had saltly ones. I have to say, years of practice has made me confident to finally share how I was taught it is done.

How to make it

Make sure you wash the mustard greens well to take off dirt.

Slice in half-inch length. Or your preferred size. I have seen some prepare it without slicing, but this size works for me.

Put salt and squeeze the sliced mustard greens until the bitter juice separates.

Drain the bitter juice.

Wash the squeezed greens with water to take off the extra saltiness.

Drain it again to take the water out. Place them in sterilized bottles and set aside.

Preparing the rice milk

Usually, I put extra water when cooking rice to get the rice milk, but in case you missed doing that, here's how to prepare it.

After washing it with water to clean, put the rice in a pot with 2 cups of water.

Bring to a boil to create rice milk (that's the sticky starchy liquid which you get from boiling rice).

Set aside.

Let it cool down completely.

Once it has cooled down, drain the rice to separate the rice milk. (Don't throw the rice, you can still eat it. Just add yogurt, a dash of honey and some fruits!)

Pour it in the bottle with the mustard greens.

The fermentation process for burong mustasa takes about 2 to 3 days. This is best served as side dish (a personal favorite is this with fried tilapia) or this can be used as vegetable to sauteed dishes.

UPDATE (Sunday, 8 June): It was a happy ending for our burong mustasa today. We had it over breakfast with black rice and fried dried squid.


What to know how traditional fermented food benefit you? Jyoti Prakash Tamang of Sikkim Central University talked about it here.


Don't have time to make one? I found one seller of burong mustasa at SIDCOR Sunday Market (Eton Centris, EDSA corner Quezon Avenue in Quezon City; of course, during Sundays only) and also available, ready-to-eat in the markets of Tayabas, Quezon and Los Baños, Laguna. 

Friday, 25 April 2014

Ice Cold Tea with Calamondin (Kalamansi) and Honey

We love the idea of preparing our own iced tea. This is perfect for summer and picnic.

Brew the tea in a pot, usually two teabags of Earl Grey Tea for about 2 1/2 gallons of water (around 324 oz/40 cups). You can choose what type of tea to use.

Add sugar, honey or any desired sweetener. (Although a personal preference is honey.) Let it cool down.

Add kalamansi (calamondin) or lemon juice, the fresh ones of course.

Chill or serve with ice.

Throw in some mint leaves if you have some!

Sunday, 22 May 2011

A Whole Lot of S...

Shrimp and Squid Scampi Pasta
The stats of my life these days would reflect 80% work and 20% play. It seems desolate but honestly, it isn’t. As I see it, majority of what I do at work recently involves constant scampering to different tasks that can be physically strenuous at times, but can get really fun as well; what with all the free travels, opportunity to work with interesting people and of course being able to try a variety of food in the places I visit.

I am always grateful for the fact that development work has spawned useful skills in me that have become part of my everyday life. I’ve learned, among others, to see and value the singular in the plural - every single thing as unique on its own, a speck connected to other specks that make up a particular whole, which also forms part of a bigger dimension, and so on. Just like a single person in a community, and just like one custom in a diverse culture. As in cooking, every single ingredient makes up a whole dish. One ingredient can make all the difference, but we won’t know the difference unless it is mixed with all the other ingredients.

Lost in Translation: Mejillones en Salsa de Pimenton (Mild)

I had no idea I was reading a Spanish website containing the recipe for our European-themed afternoon feast for Ningning's birthday, (thanks to an auto-translation by Goggle Chrome) until I opened it on a mobile device while attempting to copy it on my little black notebook as I rush to Meleguas. Instantly, I had a really strange feeling that somewhere my professor in Spanish 1 at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Señor Wystan Dela Peña, is doing his evil laugh and had this charming “You should've listened more” face on. I should have, but Señor, I still figured everything out. (I guess.)

After all, centuries of Spanish colonization are embedded in our veins, six units of language classes still stack-piled somewhere in my brain's recycle bin and guts, which I seem to use more of in the kitchen lately, I was able to make mejillones en salsa de pimento (mild).