Emperor’s Beef Stew

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I’m halfway done with The Girl Who Played With Fire, a novel with as much grit as the first novel that I’m left dumbfounded how I never picked up the series earlier. Suffice to say I have time on my hands, because Mindanao (the large island in the Philippines where my city, Zamboanga, is located) has been going through a power crisis that has apparently pushed it a few hundred steps backwards and into the dark ages, literally. When I’m not doing anything productive (which is most of the time), I read.

And I’m enjoying this laziness a lot – too much apparently that I’m relying on spontaneity to determine what to cook and what to blog about. Time is definitely divided, and I’m actually pretty glad I don’t have to fuss over this little blog too much. Not that fussing over something is inherently bad – but in my case, it has sometimes been counterproductive and counterintuitive.
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Have you ever used a pressure cooker?

(My off-tangent paragraph flow construction amazes me)

I’ve recently made friends with it. Usually it’s my dad who uses it and he always talks about how improper usage will literally kill you. No joke. According to him, opening it without releasing the pressure will apparently cause an explosion. I’ve been perusing youtube for evidence to support his claim, but I realized that even if that were true, I’m not stupid enough to mishandle it in any way.
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The point is, because I fear for my life – that little noisy spindle on top of the pressure cooker lid needs to be lifted in order to release the pressure before I open it. Because the heat is scalding, I use tongs to lift the spindle. I haven’t died yet.

The pressure cooker does wonders to soften tough cuts of meat. We usually use it to soften beef in less than an hour. I had a surplus of beef shanks that were used for soup last Sunday. I was thinking of making it into Osso Buco, but a little Del Monte recipe postcard latched onto our fridge door by ref magnets caught my eye. It seemed easy enough, and I wanted to get back to my reading as soon as possible, so I decided to give it a try. Osso Buco would have to wait.
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The stew itself is savory and hearty, with hints of rice wine, hoisin, soy, and oyster sauce. The sweetness from the pineapples (It’s a Del Monte recipe after all) tempers the saltiness, resulting in something that’s almost like ‘endulsado’ (pork stewed/cooked in soy sauce and sugar), but not quite there yet. That’s a good thing, because endulsado can be cloyingly sweet.

This stew doesn’t need to beg to be wolfed down; it’s just natural to help yourself to a few more servings. Well, at least that’s what I did. I’m not ashamed.
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Emperor’s Beef Stew (serves 4 – 6)

  • ½ cup chopped white onions
  • Half a garlic bulb, minced
  • 1 to 2 pieces dried laurel/bay leaves
  • Freshly cracked pepper, to taste
  • 1 to 1 ½   kg beef shanks, cooked and softened in a pressure cooker (make sure to read manufacturer’s instructions)
  • 3 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • A scant ¼ cup rice wine or gin
  • 2 ½ cups water
  • 2 pouches Del Monte Pineapple tidbits (115 grams each)
  1.  In a pot large enough to hold the beef, sauté onions, garlic, bay leaves and pepper in oil. Add the beef and sauté until lightly brown.
  2. Add oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, rice wine and water. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes to soften the beef more.
  3. Add the pineapple tidbits with the syrup and cook for 5 more minutes. Remove from heat and serve warm with rice. Enjoy!

Breaded Pork Cutlet with Pineapple-Lychee Sauce

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This week was a blur. After we were done with the Easter celebration, everyday felt like a strange shift back to monotony and admittedly, I purposely ignored posting anything new. When I didn’t have anything else better to do, before I started this blog, and especially during the summer, I’d read a good book. I surmise that no matter how old I’d be, I’ll always be a devoted consumer of children’s fiction.

But I really don’t think I can consider The Millennium Trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, for starters) children’s fiction. No, no, no. It’s peppered with all sorts of things that, well, aren’t safe for work. But I really enjoyed reading it, probably because it’s a brilliant, intricate yet incredibly straightforward crime novel and I haven’t really immersed myself in that realm yet.

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So yeah, my week was filled with amble reading moments, and I think I needed that. But during the moments in-between reading, I remember that I had to feed myself too. And without a lot of intricate preparation, I managed to whip up something decent. Scratch that, it isn’t just decent…it’s really good.

This is just the standard breaded pork, which really becomes more flavorful if you let the meat marinate in vinegar, garlic and sugar (yes, sugar), overnight.

But now we come to the issue of the sauce. Sure, the standard soy sauce-vinegar-calamansi dipping sauce is a winner, but it was when I read the book Asian Dumplings that I found a little gold nugget. Towards the end of her book, Andrea Nguyen shares recipes for sauces commonly partnered with dumplings and beyond. One of which, she calls ‘Sweet and Sour Sauce’, but her description is far from the mental image that I know is sweet and sour sauce. The bottled kind is…reddish-orange, ketchup-y, slightly translucent.

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This one is (in her words) “a rich dark honey color, this tart-sweet-savory sauce does not resemble the cloying, sticky, bright red sauce that’s often served at Chinese restaurants.” She also hints that this can be a blank canvas for other flavors – tropical (use canned pineapple juice instead of water) and/or spicy (add ginger and chili to the mix).

What’s more tropical than pineapple? pineapple-lychee of course! But don’t count pine-orange or pine-mango out, because as of writing this, now I understand why this sauce is definitely a blank canvas.  I was sold.

(And….I’m about to read The Girl Who Played With Fire. Time is definitely divided.)

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Breaded Pork (serves 4 – 6)

1 kg pork chops or belly (if using belly, ask the butcher to slice it into uniform pieces 5 – 6 inches long)

Marinade:

  • ½ cup white cane vinegar
  • Half a bulb of garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Breading

  • Flour
  • 1 – 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • Salt or liquid seasoning (Maggi or Knorr)
  • Breadcrumbs
  1. Combine the marinade ingredients in a bowl or Tupperware and add in the pork. Mix well and leave in the refrigerator preferably overnight.
  2. When ready to fry, set-up a dipping station using 3 shallow dishes. In the first dish, add flour enough to coat the pork.  Begin with around ½ cup, adding a few tablespoons more when needed. Season the flour with salt and pepper. In the second dish, lightly beat the egg. It’s best to start with one egg, then if it runs out, beat in another one. Add a pinch of salt or a few drops of liquid seasoning. In the third dish, add the breadcrumbs.
  3. Using tongs, dredge both sides of the pork with the flour. Then dip both sides in the egg. Lastly, coat both sides with the breadcrumbs.
  4. Over medium-low to medium heat, heat enough oil to cover the bottom of a nonstick pan. When the oil is glistening, add the pork pieces. You may need to work in batches, 2 or 3 at a time, depending on the size of the pan. Do not overcrowd the pan. Fry each side for around 8 – 10 minutes or until breading turns golden brown.

Sweet and Sour Sauce (makes 1 cup)

  • ¼ cup lightly packed light brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons vinegar (any kind)
  • ½ cup pineapple-lychee juice (Dole or Del Monte)
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
  1. Combine the sugar, salt, ketchup, soy sauce, vinegar and water in a small saucepan.
  2. Bring to a near boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.
  3. Give the cornstarch a stir and then add it to the pan. Continue cooking,  stirring, for about 15 seconds, or until the sauce comes to a full boil and thickens.
  4. Remove from heat, transfer to a serving bowl, and set aside for 10 minutes to cool and concentrate in flavor.
  5. Taste and add extra salt, if needed. Serve warm or at room temperature. Feel free to prepare this sauce a day in advance.

Tonkatsu

Bringhe

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Grandma burst into song at lunch today. After lengthily praying, she burst into song – clapping while singing “This is the Day”. Look it up, I’m not singing it.

Mom was hiding silent giggles, uncle kept mouthing under his breath that he’s hungry, while I couldn’t really hide the fact that I was pleasantly amused. That doesn’t usually happen over lunch. She’s like that, my grandmother. It’s been an inside joke among family members that her lack of comedic timing makes her that more amusing. One time, during a party that we had at their place, with guests in tow, she burst into tears and extended the prayer before meals after my grandfather said his spiel.
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The amusement that happened over lunch offset whatever antsy feelings I had prior. I was flipping out because from my end, lunch almost never happened. We don’t have set Easter traditions, we don’t have Easter bunnies and eggs; it’s usually only a celebratory lunch and dinner. I decided to make two dishes – bringhe and roasted chicken.

Bringhe is a rice dish from Northern Luzon (specifically Pampanga), similar to arroz valenciana and paella, but the liquid used to cook the rice is a mixture of water and coconut milk, and it has a characteristic yellow color because of the turmeric. Think curry rice, without the curry. Roast chicken is, well, roast chicken.  I marinated it in soy sauce, vinegar, rosemary and lemongrass.
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Time wasn’t on my side that day. While I was in the kitchen, I kept glancing at the clock, mentally kicking myself for being a hot mess. I thought I started on time, but in my head there was still so much to do. We brought out the turbo broiler for the first time, hoping that it’ll do wonders with the chicken. At 11:00 AM, we discovered that the broiler had failed us. The chickens were barely warm even after preheating and cooking for at least 30 minutes. I felt like I was on a pressure test and something was about to spell my elimination. I quickly grabbed a roasting pan and the chickens by the neck (sorry, chickens) and hastily preheated the oven. But even I knew they would never make it for lunch.
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I cursed a bit, and resigned at the fact that something did go totally awry. I went back to the stove, telling myself that I probably burned the bringhe as well.

I opened the pot, steam wafted out and enveloped me for a nanosecond, and there it was. It was like a veil was lifted over me. I can tell. I can tell it was on its way to perfection with the broth slowly but surely being absorbed by the rice. I grabbed a spoon and took a bite of the rice. It was cooked (edible!). I didn’t break into song number, but I was happy. I will have something on the table at lunchtime. It felt like everything just fell into place. The timing was perfect.
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Grandma just finished her song, was a little bit emotional partly because my cousin lacks proper etiquette (that’s another story), and we dig in. The roast chicken is biding its time in the oven, and it’ll obviously be ready before dinner. There’s pancit bihon, dinuguan and of course, the bringhe. We were somehow together (dad was away and grandpa retired way too early), and I realized that I made a mountain out of a molehill.
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Today is Easter Sunday, the day hope was returned to us and a promise was fulfilled. There was darkness, but through it all, He lives. Jesus coming back from the dead can mean a lot of things, but I believe it means that God is stronger than pain, suffering and hopelessness. I try to pray because I believe I’m inadequate without Him. During lunch today, He sat with us and brought me back from whatever “death” had fallen upon me. I have a lot to be thankful for, Grandma kept repeating that.

I couldn’t agree more.
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Happy Easter everyone!

Beringhe/Bringhe (adapted from Inquirer Lifestyle)

  • ¾ kg chicken leg and thighs, sliced into serving pieces
  • ¾ kg pork belly or shoulder, cut into cubes
  • 150 g chicken liver and/or gizzard
  • 1 cup regular rice
  • 1 cup sticky rice (malagkit)
  • 2 tablespoons Star margarine
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 whole head garlic, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric powder
  • 2 tablespoons patis, or more, to taste
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup coconut milk (I used a 200 ml tetra pack; go ahead and use the fresh kind if you can)
  • 1 cup green peas
  • 1 carrot, sliced into strips
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced into small squares
  • 1 green bell pepper, sliced into small squares
  • 8 pieces Vienna sausage, sliced into halves diagonally (I used Libby’s)
  • 2 eggs, hard-boiled
  • 1½ c raisins, for garnish (optional; I didn’t like adding raisins so I didn’t use this)
  1. In a large pan, add the chicken and pork and enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Generously season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and allow the water to evaporate and the meat to cook. Allow for the fat the render and stir to lightly toast the meat. Do not allow to brown. Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. Combine regular rice and sticky rice and wash three times under running water. Set aside.
  3. Heat the Star margarine in a wide casserole, large pot or a paellera.
  4. Sauté onion until wilted. Add garlic and sauté until golden brown.
  5. Add turmeric and patis and stir in the chicken liver or gizzard. Add the pork and chicken. Cover and simmer for a minute.
  6. Add water and coconut milk and bring to a boil. Let boil around one minute, then add the two kinds of rice, distributing evenly around the pan. You may want to give the pan/pot a few through stirs. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer until rice is fully cooked and has almost absorbed all the liquid, around 15-20 minutes.
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  7. When the rice is cooked through but there is still some liquid on the surface, add peas, carrots, bell peppers and Vienna sausage. Stir lightly to incorporate and cover for 3 – 5 more minutes, cooking over low heat.
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  8. Garnish with sliced hard-boiled eggs and raisins, if desired. Serve warm. Enjoy!

Pancit Palabok

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I did not grow up eating palabok. Pancit bihon or sotanghon would usually be part of our party staple, not palabok. In fact, I could consider palabok an incredibly unorthodox addition to a buffet spread.

It was in college that my appreciation for palabok really grew. Tucked away at the back of the university where I used to study at, there’s this little resto called Flavourite. It’s practically an institution here in Zamboanga, with branches around town. It’s known for its reasonably priced home cooked dishes, the burgers and of course, the palabok. I think it would be an understatement when I say that their palabok is delicious. In fact, if somebody would ask me what a great palabok is supposed to taste like, I would describe it along the lines of Flavourite’s version.
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“Miki, pork”, is my usual order. Palabok noodles can either use miki, (round or flat egg noodles), or bihon (thin strands of rice noodles). I enjoy eating it with miki. And since I have no aversion to pork, I don’t see any reason it shouldn’t be pork.
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The thick, gravy-like sauce is curiously orange. Before I read about the process of making it, I’ve always wondered what it’s made of. Of course, all of that curiosity vanishes with the first slurp. The taste is peculiar as well. It’s slightly salty, more than anything else. But it still lays the perfect stage to showcase the hotchpotch of toppings.
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I understand that toppings are probably as diverse as the regions of the Philippines, from all-meat, to seafood, but like I said, Flavourite is my benchmark (So if you want to point me to a plate of palabok that rocked your world, drop me a line!) The palabok is topped with little tofu cubes, chicharon (pork crackling), mashed adobo and if I’m not mistaken, pork floss.

Flavourite is so old-school they don’t have a website, not even a facebook page. It makes sense; through the years it has sustained itself well without any gimmicks. So to understand my enthusiasm, if and when you’re in our little city of Zamboanga, please, check it out.
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In the meantime, here’s my take on their palabok – with a few topping modifications. The real work is in making the sauce; the rest of the toppings can just be put together at the last-minute. But I’d like to think it was so good that after a few hours the big pot of sauce was polished clean, and the noodles long gone.

And I like it so much I don’t mind it with calamansi, my archenemy. Palabok does that to you.
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Pancit Palabok (serves 6 – 8)

Some miki noodles have been pre-salted already, so exercise caution when seasoning the sauce, tasting as you go along.

2 500-gram packs miki (egg noodles; the ones that I used were bundled but already soft and ready to use, with a shelf-life of only 3 days)

Sauce:

  • At least 8 – 10 medium-sized prawns, head and shell intact, but with barbs (the rostrum) and whiskers snipped
  • 3 – 4 cups water to cook the prawns
  • 1 30-gram pack annatto/atsuete seeds
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil

Seasoning:

  • 2 tablespoons patis/fish sauce, or more to taste
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 pork broth cubes, or more to taste
  • Cornstarch slurry: 6 – 8 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 1 cup warm water

Toppings:

  • ¼ kilo pork belly, sliced into small cubes
  • Pork chicharon, crumbled
  • Spring onions, cleaned and sliced thinly
  • Napa cabbage/Chinese pechay, cleaned and sliced into strips
  • 5 – 8 hard-boiled eggs, sliced in half
  1. Over medium heat, boil prawns in a pot with the water. When thoroughly orange all over, turn off the heat.
  2. Using a slotted spoon, remove the prawns and place in a bowl. Allow to cool. Reserve the water for use later.
  3. Meanwhile, in a pan, add the pork with enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Cook over medium heat. Season with salt and pepper. Allow the water to evaporate and the pork’s fat to render. Sauté the pork in its own fat until lightly toasted.
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  4. Peel the prawns and remove the heads. Place all the prawn heads in a mortar and using the pestle (the heavy bat shaped object), pound the prawn heads until juices have been released and the mixture looks “pulpy”.
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  5. Place everything in the pot of water that was used to boil the prawns and mix everything together.
  6. In a small pot, make the atsuete oil by heating the vegetable oil over medium heat and adding the atsuete seeds. Toast until fragrant and the oil takes on a shade of dark orange.
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  7. Add the oil to the shrimp water, together with the seeds. Mix everything together and let the color bleed into the soup, leave for 3 – 5 minutes. You will want a slightly dark yellow-orange colored liquid.
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  8. Run the mixture through a sieve and into a slightly larger pot.  Heat the pot over medium heat. Add around 1 – 2 more cups water. Season with salt and pepper. Add the broth cubes and the fish sauce, starting with 2 cubes and 2 tablespoons, respectively. Add more if desired.
  9. When it starts to simmer, add the cornstarch slurry. Allow to boil, stirring frequently. Adjust taste and consistency to your liking. I personally want a liquid that’s thick and gravy-like, which may need more of the slurry, or not – it’s your call.
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  10. Place the miki noodles in a bowl of hot water to wash and soften it. Drain.
  11. Put everything together: In a plate, place a generous mound of noodles. Ladle an equally generous amount of sauce. Add the toppings (toasted pork belly, sliced spring onions and Napa cabbage, shrimps, hard-boiled egg) and sprinkle with the crumbled chicharon. Serve with calamansi on the side. Enjoy!

Lechon Sinigang

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The months of March and April usually herald the end of another school year, with graduation rites all over the country. My cousin graduated a few weeks ago and in true Filipino fashion, the family just had to celebrate, complete with the ubiquitous lechon. Lechon/roast pig instantly makes everything more festive and special.

My mom and I share this habit that when we’re at the buffet table, as soon as we get our plates, we dash straight to the lechon (which usually has its own little table at the end of the line) bypassing the rest of the dishes. Those come last. Now that I’m thinking about it, I probably got that habit from her.
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For a long time, my favorite moment was being one of the first few who get to peel off squares of crispy skin. A real sign that the lechon has been freshly cooked is when upon helping yourself to the skin, you sometimes get a glimpse of steam wafting from the body. Underneath the skin is a layer of fat and meat, and using your fingers (which I usually do) to get the crisp skin ends with my fingertips plastered with “salty slightly oily juice”. A real treat is when you suck on your fingers for a nanosecond, just to taste the it. Hey, it’s not as disgusting as it sounds.

But I’ve also taken a liking to waiting for the people to massacre the poor pig until the ribs are exposed, then make my way to the table. The ribs absorb most of the flavors, making it probably the most fragrant, succulent, and delicious part of the whole roasted pig.
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We almost always have lechon leftovers. Usually it’s made into paksiw, which is pretty standard in our household. But once in a while, when the tides sing a different song…

This post has been a long time coming. In fact, this burning desire to do something more with lechon started a few months ago, when I perused a magazine with an advertising feature that had a recipe for lechon sinigang. It was pretty frustrating that until now, I couldn’t find the said magazine with the recipe. But hey, it’s sinigang. It couldn’t be that hard right? I told myself that if my intuition will serve me right, I’ll probably avert catastrophe.
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And I was right!
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Not only was catastrophe averted, but two distinct flavors and aromas, sour sinigang broth and lemongrass-fragrant lechon, was placed in a bowl that was easily finished in one sitting. This left our tummies heavy and happy, which means we shouldn’t eat this all the time, but when we do, we superlatively indulge.
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Lechon Sinigang

Sinigang is one of those dishes that can be adjusted to suit your taste.  Ingredients and proportions do not need to be approximated to the letter; just adjust everything depending on how much leftover meat you have. 

  • Leftover lechon meat, excess fat trimmed and sliced into bite-sized pieces
  • 6 – 8 cups water that was used to wash rice (rice washing)
  • 3 – 4 medium-sized tomatoes
  • 2 ½-inch ginger slices
  • 2 red onions, sliced
  • String beans, sliced into 3-inch long pieces (add as much as you like)
  • 1 whole finger chili (optional)
  • 2 10-gram sachets Sinigang sa Sampalok mix, or more if desired
  • 2 cups chili leaves/tops or kangkong
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons patis/fish sauce, or more, to taste
  1. Trim off any excess fat from the lechon
  2. In a large pot, bring rice water to a boil. Once boiling, add the tomatoes, onions and ginger. Add the lechon, string beans and finger chili.
  3. Continue cooking until lechon and string beans become tender, around 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and patis. Add the sinigang mix and adjust taste to your preference.
  4. Add the chili leaves or kangkong, and cook for 1 more minute. When done, remove from heat and serve. Enjoy!

Spicy Prawn Curry with Roasted Tomatoes

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For the past few weeks Fridays have come to mean more than just the American Idol results show and the day where torrent files of my favorite shows come out. I took it upon myself to observe the season of Lent and abstain from eating meat and eat only one full meal every Friday until Easter, among other “restraints”.

Have I been faithful? No, I have taken afternoon snacks so adhering to one full meal has been difficult. Right now typing this, my stomach’s grumbling. Aside from that one Friday where it slipped my mind, I have been trying to avoid pork, chicken and beef. Self-discipline isn’t really one of my strong suits. Probably one of my fatal flaws, but nonetheless I’m proud of myself. Restraining myself, exerting a little measure of discipline during this season, is something that I’ve been trying to do. My cross is heavy but I’m trying to hold on.
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Lent is a season of reflection, of going beyond your usual call of duty and examine yourself in relation to how you treat yourself and others. At least that’s how I see Lent. I don’t claim to know everything about my faith – but I know it’s not perfect. Sometimes my roots are parched – the leaves wilt and fall, and what exactly I need to do about it, makes me wonder even more. But time and time again, my belief in a higher being will never die, no matter how misguided I can be.
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What does the prawn/shrimp* curry have to do with everything? Well, this is just my way of exercising that “restraint” without purposely depriving myself to the point of punishment.
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Have you ever tried to roast tomatoes? Try it, you won’t be disappointed. Have you ever tried to roast garlic? It was my first time to do that today, and I knew I had to put a few tender garlicky segments into the curry, just because I love garlic.
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I still had a little container of garam masala in the pantry from my chicken korma escapade. I didn’t want it to go to waste. Making this wasn’t a stretch at all. As much as I appreciate a spicy curry, the people around here don’t. A few dashes of chili flakes gave it the heat that it needed. To offset it, aside from the coconut milk, I added a few spoonfuls of peanut butter to give it that subtle sweet creaminess.
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A spoonful of this will give a gentle sweetness that  mingles with the bold curry taste, then there is that unmistakable heat that still lingers at the back of your mouth. The roasted tomatoes do their part by offering a sweet tang that gloriously blends with everything else. And there’s nothing wrong with mashing a few pieces of garlic directly into the sauce. Nothing wrong that at all.

Thank God it’s Friday.
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Spicy Prawn Curry with Roasted Tomatoes  (serves 4 – 6)

*Prawns and shrimps are semantically different but can be used interchangeably, though prawns are larger than shrimps. I used prawns for this recipe, but like you, I’m used to saying ‘shrimps’, big or small. That’s OK. I guess. 

  • 200 ml coconut milk
  • half a garlic bulb, minced
  • 1 large white onion, sliced
  • 15 – 20 pieces medium-sized prawns, peeled and deveined.
  • a few pieces of the prawn heads, the sharp pointy things (it’s called a rostrum) and whiskers snipped
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons garam masala
  • a few dashes red chili flakes
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 1/2 tablespoon turmeric powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 – 5 pieces roasted garlic segments (optional)
  • a few pieces roasted tomatoes 
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  1. Prepare the roasted tomatoes. If you want to roast the garlic, roast it will the tomatoes. I slice around 1/4 inch off the top of the garlic bulb to expose the flesh, then drizzle it with olive oil, salt and pepper. 
  2. In a pan, heat both oils over medium heat. When hot, add the onions, then the garlic. Saute until fragrant. 
  3. Add the coconut milk, then the shrimps heads. Lower the heat to low. Add the garam masala, turmeric, chili flakes and peanut butter. Season with salt and pepper. Adjust taste, color and consistency to your liking. 
  4. Add the roasted garlic and mash with your spoon to incorporate. 
  5. Add the shrimps/prawns and crank up the heat to medium, and cook until both sides turn orange in color, around 3 – 5 minutes. Remove the shrimp heads. 
  6. Add the roasted tomatoes at the last second and mix well. Remove from heat and serve. Enjoy! 

Sinigang na Hipon/Shrimp Sinigang

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Really sour. That’s how I like my sinigang. Be it fish, shrimp or pork, as long as I’m slurping a bowl of rich tangy broth, I’m good. Sinigang, to all y’all clueless, is the Filipino ‘soup’, characterized by the meat/whole protein, vegetables, and a souring agent – usually sampalok (tamarind).
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The only cop-out with this classic soup, that sits well with me,  is the use of powdered soup mix (called Sinigang sa Sampalok). Every corner store, wet market and grocery carries sachets of this in its many brands and forms. So to put it out there: I’ve never had sinigang that wasn’t prepared and soured using the powdered mix. But like I said, it works for me.
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Shrimp sinigang/Sinigang na Hipon sits at the top of the list of my favorite soups. I like how it gives the soup a fresh, subtle, “from the sea” flavor, that broth cubes just can’t give. Compared to adding pork in your sinigang, shrimp isn’t  greasy at all, and you can hardly see any oil globules floating on the surface of the soup. It’s not that I don’t enjoy eating pork sinigang, on the contrary, I love it. But I love this one more. So much more.
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I associate a hot sour soup like this one with memories of summer. Growing up it was really during the summer that I had uninterrupted moments in the kitchen with my Mama Eng. I got to enjoy family lunches and dinners more, and admittedly, I had more variety with what I was eating – probably more vegetables. I can’t really remember it all.
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If you want to make this (and I hope you do), don’t settle for the ones that are literally shrimps. Go for the big prawns. They’re meatier and pack more flavor. And don’t forget: really sour.
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Sinigang na Hipon/Shrimp Sinigang (serves 6 – 8)

  • 6 – 8 cups water
  • around 15 – 20 prawns, head and shell intact, but barbs and long whiskers snipped with scissors
  • 2 red onions, sliced
  • 4 – 5 small tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1 half an inch piece of ginger, intact
  • 1 eggplant, sliced
  • around 2 cups kangkong leaves or chili tops/leaves, washed under running water
  • 1 cup/a bunch of string beans, sliced into 2 -3 inch pieces
  • 1 cup malunggay/moringa leaves
  • 2 10-gram sachets Sinigang sa Sampalok mix, or more if desired
  • 1 sachet seasoning granules (I used Maggi Magic Sarap) or salt, to taste
  1. In a stockpot, allow water to boil over medium heat.
  2. When it’s boiling, add the shrimps, onions, tomatoes, ginger, eggplant and string beans. Cover and allow to cook for around 5  minutes, or until eggplant is tender. Season with salt or seasoning granules, to taste.
  3. Add the rest of the vegetables and the sinigang mix. Lower the heat to medium-low. Mix everything together and adjust taste to your preference. When it starts to boil again, remove from heat. Serve with rice and enjoy!

Chorizo and Roasted Tomato Pasta

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I’ve had my fair share of pasta problems. Usually, when I was starting out, the comments would be along the lines of, “It tastes good, but the pasta’s undercooked/overcooked/mushy”, or the other way around, “The pasta’s cooked perfectly, but I don’t taste anything else”. Take note, I’ve never made my own pasta from scratch before, since I don’t have the ingredients, and the equipment is exorbitantly priced.
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I take comfort in knowing that there’s always a canister of ready-to-cook pasta noodles resting inside the pantry. So far my pasta streak has been pretty good. But of course, I’m looking forward to the day I might be able to press my own pasta noodles.

Coming from a family whose conceptual definition of pasta is a chunky, saucy spaghetti, it’s a challenge getting them to try anything that digresses from their mental image. I’ve haven’t really made major breakthroughs with them yet. One time, when my uncle suggested that my vegetarian tomato pasta would taste better with condensed milk, my ego was torn in half. My mom, however, is my biggest supporter and a fan of my garlic and sardines pasta, so I usually give everything to her.
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But of course, when I saw my 12-year old cousin, who has known fried chicken and Jollibee spaghetti all his life,  devour his plate of my pasta, I had a feeling I was on to something.

Like I said, the roasted tomatoes I made are incredibly versatile. One classic preparation that I’ve always wanted to try is to add it to pasta. And the rest was history. The chorizos that I used were the plump, sweet, smoky variety, so it imparted a rich taste to the pasta oil. The tomatoes were the icing on the cake.
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Imagine yourself swirling your fork to pickup the noodles, stabbing little chunks of juicy chorizo and a piece of roasted tomato, and putting it in your mouth, slurping the pasta – the sweet flavors of chorizo and basil, the acidity of the tomato, dancing and exploding in your mouth.  Does it feel good? Are you drooling right now? I thought so.
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Chorizo and Roasted Tomato Pasta (serves 3 – 4)

If you noticed, there isn’t a lot of precise measurement involved. Just put it all together, and have fun dancing with generosity and restraint. 

  • 100 – 150 grams angel hair pasta
  • 6 – 8 pieces sweet smoky chorizo, sliced
  • roasted tomatoes
  • a few pieces of fresh basil leaves
  • around 1/4 cup olive oil, or more if desired
  • salt and pepper
  1. Cook the pasta according to package instructions. Reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta water before draining. Drain the pasta and set aside.
  2. In a pan, over medium heat, cook and brown the chorizo until the fat renders. Season with salt and pepper. And the olive oil, tomatoes and the basil leaves. Allow to cook for 30 seconds.
  3. Add the reserved pasta water, then add the pasta. Mix well to coat the pasta with the seasoned oil. Add more olive oil if desired. Cook for 1 more minute, or until the water evaporates, it’s no longer soggy and the pasta has taken the sauce well.
  4. Remove from heat and serve warm. Enjoy!

Nasi Goreng

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Quick disclaimer: although the title says Nasi Goreng, I’m not sure if what I made does qualify as Indonesian fried rice since I haven’t tasted the real thing yet – hence, there’s no benchmark. Note to self: eat nasi goreng when I’m in Indonesia. For it to be authentically Indonesian, ingredients have to be authentic as well. Case in point? This has pork in it. Despite all that, I can imagine that this is a close approximation.

But what’s interesting with this recipe is that I got to learn new things: belacan (Malaysia) or terasi (Indonesia), a common ingredient used to flavor the rice, is simply called bagoong here in the Philippines. So that’s one ingredient that didn’t give me hell. Next, most of the recipes I read online require the addition of ‘kecap manis’. Interesting fact: ‘kecap’ is pronounced as ‘ketchup’, and this is where the ketchup we know of today got its name from.
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Because we didn’t have kecap manis lying around, I decided to make my own. Once again, I have no idea what real kecap manis should taste like, but based on what dear old internet has given me, it’s sweetened soy sauce. How hard could that be?
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I’ve always been a sucker for good fried rice – hot and toasty with a light coating of oil. When it’s studded with other ingredients like egg, fried pork bits, peas, cabbages, carrots… (I could go on), it’s a complete meal in itself. On the other hand, there’s the simple, rustic fried rice whose only accompaniment are little bits and pieces of garlic and spring onions. This Nasi Goreng doesn’t go overboard with the toppings  (only pork and egg), but because of the flavor – intermingling sweet and salty tones, this can be a stand-alone meal.
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Nasi Goreng (serves 4 – 6; loosely adapted from Rasa Malaysia and this site for the kecap manis)

  • 7 cups day-old rice
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • Half a garlic bulb, minced
  • 1 large onion, sliced thinly
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons shrimp paste/bagoong gata (a sweet-salty version of bagoong which is cooked with tomatoes and coconut milk)
  • 2 pieces pork shoulder or belly, sliced into small cubes (you can use chicken or shrimp)
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 tablespoon chili oil
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Cabbage (optional; I didn’t use this but looking back it would’ve been better if I did)
kecap manis:
  • 5 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons molasses
  • A dash of five spice
  1. In a frying pan, over medium heat, add the eggs and cook to make an omelet. When set, using your spatula, shred the omelet into smaller bits. Set aside.
  2. In a bowl, using the back of a spoon or fork, break the rice that might have clumped together. Set aside.
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  3. In a wok/pan that is large enough to hold the rice, heat oils over medium heat. Add the garlic and onions and fry until fragrant and lightly toasted.
  4. Add the bagoong and sauté for 1 minute. Add the pork. Sauté the pork for 1 minute. Add the water, cover and allow pork to cook. Stir occasionally to prevent it from burning.
  5. While the pork is cooking, make the “kecap manis”: in a small bowl, combine soy sauce, molasses and five spice.
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  6. When the water has evaporated, pork has become tender and fat renders, sauté and allow the pork to brown. Add the kecap manis, and chili oil.Photobucket
  7. Add the rice, and mix everything together to coat the rice with the ‘kecap manis’.  Stir the rice to allow it to fry some more, but take care not to burn the bottom.Photobucket
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  8. Add the shredded omelet and mix well. When done, remove from heat and serve warm. enjoy!
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And you ought to meet my new recipe notebook which doesn't like to stay open. Moleskine this isn't, but this'll have to do.

Meat and Malunggay Frittata

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At around 7:00 am you can still find me in bed, probably snoring, probably aware that people have woken up already, but most of the time, I don’t have a care in the world. That’s me at 7:00 am. Since my departure from school, being a student and teaching, that has been my routine. I just love sleep.

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Breakfast begins at 9:00 am, that is, if I’m actually in the mood to cook myself something decent. The people in the house are long gone, and I’m left to my own devices. Sometimes, I just wait to have my first meal of the day during lunch at my grandparents’ house, which is just next door.

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But I have my moments too. Moments where I just focus, zone in, get a pan ready, grab things from the fridge and cook. I think I may be on to something here with “one-pan” wonders. Yesterday it was pork with tomatoes for lunch, and today…breakfast/brunch was a really great frittata.

A frittata is just like an omelet, only studded with meat and vegetables, and usually finished off in the oven. You might even throw a pie crust here and there. I remember eating an amazing breakfast buffet at the hotel where we stayed in Hong Kong. There was an “egg station” where all you had to do was point at the fillings you wanted with your eggs, and the chef will make a frittata out of it. There was no oven work involved, and with his small spatula, he masterfully flipped the egg in the equally small pan to cook everything perfectly. It was a damn good frittata.

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And this one? I’d like to believe it’s just as good – probably even better. I had this idea of adding malunggay or moringa leaves to the frittata from a recipe that I read in one of our food magazines lying around. Malunggay, in the Philippines, is usually added to soups, like chicken tinola, to impart an earthy taste that goes perfectly with the ginger in the soup. Strangely enough, when I’m trying to describe malunggay’s taste, the thought of ginger comes to mind.
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It’s crazy overwhelming how nutritious malunggay is. It makes perfect sense to have it for breakfast because the leaves have quadruple the calcium content of regular milk, among other nutrients. We’re lucky enough to have a small tree growing just outside our fence, so all I had to do was grab a bunch.

What’s great about this recipe is that this can easily be a blank canvas. You can replace the chorizo and the meatballs with whatever deli products you might have lying around, keeping in mind that bacon makes everything better (haha). But seriously, don’t skip the malunggay.

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Chorizo, Meatball and Malunggay Frittata (serves 4 – 6)

  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper
  • malunggay leaves (I used 2 small stalks)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 6 – 8 meatballs, quartered (or your choice of deli)
  • 3 – 4 chorizos, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces (or you choice of deli)
  • 1/8 cup frozen green pease (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 160 C.
  2. Remove the malunggay leaves from the stems and wash under running water.

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    Make sure you remove the leaves from the stem

  3. Crack the eggs into a bowl. Add the milk. Beat until everything is incorporated well. Season with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes.
  4. Heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the chorizo and fry until lightly brown and fat renders.
  5. Add the meatballs and green peas. Stir to incorporate everything together.
  6. Pour the egg-milk mixture onto the pan. Sprinkle with the malunggay leaves.
  7. When the edges of the omelet have begun to set, remove from heat and place it in the oven. Allow to cook for 10 – 13 minutes, or until the frittata has set all the way through.

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    The edges have begun to set

  8. Remove from the oven (use an oven mit, the pan handle may be hot) and serve immediately. Enjoy!