Friday, April 28, 2006

Pinoy Summer Paella

This is a very Pinoy (slang for Filipino) paella because, for one, it is not cooked in a paellera like the original Spanish paella - I cook it in a kaldero, which is where ordinary kanin or steamed rice is cooked. And it has a distinct tomato taste and color from the fresh summer tomatoes I stewed before mixing in, which is also why I identify it with summer.

No saffron here - I would have used kasubha as a substitute but I was content with the orangey color imparted to the dish by the tomatoes. As for the rest of the ingredients, I think they, more or less, approximate the original dish.

But I don't think approximation really matters here. There was once this TV feature which tried to document all the existing paellas around the world - mostly in countries with histories of colonization or trading relationship with Spain and/or Portugal.

Each country's paella has evolved into very distinct dishes, assimilating the characteristics of the host country's respective food cultures. The ingredients were, in most part, where the various kinds of paella differed, as well as the flavors used.

In Spain itself, there are different versions, depending on the available or common resource in every region. So there are rabbit paellas, snail paellas. In Cuba their paella is made distinct by the flavor of their chorizo or sausage.

In the Philippines I've eaten paellas cooked as close as possible to their Spanish origins, in fiestas and big gatherings. Of course, with the amount of time and resource involved in cooking paella, it is reserved for "special" occasions.

However, in not so "grand" parties, I've had paellas that have a distinguishing Pinoy characteristic. And that is the taste of tomatoes, enriching the rice and meats. We Filipinos are so enamored by tomato sauce, as evidenced by our affinity for spaghetti (always with tomato sauce and nothing else, "bolognese"-style) and our assimilation of tomato-based Spanish stews, such as menudo, afritada (gallego), callos, mechado, etc., which are now common features in our daily meals.

And so that's how I like my paella. I don't use tomato sauce often, though, but instead reserve my tomato-cooking days to tomato season, when I can stew kilos of them to make a chunky tomato sauce. Of course this is more expensive, with Php30 worth of tomatoes yielding just about two cups of sauce, than buying a commercially processed one, at about double the amount for the same price.

But nothing beats the taste of tomato sauce stewed from fresh tomatoes. It speaks of warm sunshine, light and bright, while I find the commercial one to be heavy. Fresh tomato sauce also has a natural sweetness that can never be found in commercial tomato sauces, even if sugar has been added to balance the sourness.

And I have two young kids in the house, so I always have to be careful about what I feed them. Using fresh ingredients as much as possible and making things from scratch are one of the ways I ensure that they grow up to be healthy children.

So here's my summer paella, Pinoy style, made from scratch.

2 kgs fresh tomatoes, chopped and deseeded
1 onion, sliced
a clove of garlic, crushed
1 kg mussels, trimmed
2 pieces chorizo de bilbao, cut into pieces
1/2 kg chicken parts
1/4 kg chopped pork
1/4 kg squid, skinned and cleaned
3 litse rice, washed
2 litse glutinous rice, washed
a cup of cooked green peas
sliced bell peppers
  1. Sauté the tomatoes in a little oil and garlic and onions, and let stew for about an hour, or more if using the thick-skinned, native tomatoes. Blend in a food processor and set aside.
  2. Steam the mussels in water until they open. Take out the opened shells and set aside the soup.
  3. In about five tablespoons of olive oil, fry the chorizo until it renders fat. Remove, and fry for a few minutes on each side the chicken and pork, stir-frying the squid for about ten seconds, and set them all aside when done.
  4. In the same pan using the same oil stir fry and let the oil coat the washed rice. Mix in the chicken and pork and pour in the mussel soup and the tomato sauce, stirring to mix well.
  5. Transfer to a large kaldero and add about 2-3 cups of water (or more, depending on the age of the rice). Cover and let boil.
  6. When the sauce has been absorbed by the rice, mix in the mussels, squid, peas and bell pepper, lowering the fire until the rice is thoroughly cooked. Season to taste.
  • Tastes better when reheated the next day. And even the next.
  • I used a kilo of mussels because they are cheap. I removed them from the shell and mixed them with the rice at the onset, so when the rice was cooked they were all in disintegrated parts and pieces. However, they imparted a rich flavor to the paella.
  • The tomatoes peeled their skins as they cooked, and I had to remove them painstakingly one by one. I don't know how to avoid this, although processing them in a blender somehow solved it.
  • Alimasag and sugpo (prawns) are premium additions to any paella and would greatly enhance flavor, but I did not include them since I prefer eating food that I could spoon and fork entirely, without having to peel anything (that's why I removed the mussels from their shells).

  • Thursday, April 27, 2006

    Langka Cheesecake

    Cheesecake with Jackfruit Coulis

    This is one absolute favorite dessert of mine. I adore langka. I love how its aroma permeates everything it comes close to, and how the refrigerator smells when I open it.

    I once bought some small loaves of ciabatta, then saw some fresh langka and bought a few grams. I put the wrapped langka in the plastic bag containing the ciabatta and unwittingly stored them together in the refrigerator. When I took out a piece of the bread the next day it smelled and tasted like a langka-flavored ciabatta, and I ate it as it is, without adding anything else, savoring the fruity flavor.

    Of course I love cheesecakes of any kind, but then in the dining-out world, there are cheesecakes you love and there are cheesecakes you hate. And there are cheesecakes I hate because they are sold at such hefty prices when I can make my own at just about a fourth of the cost of buying a commercially sold one.

    I hoard cheesecake toppings, especially when I'm in Baguio, where I get to splurge on Good Shepherd strawberry and blueberry toppings. They're not as pretty and as softly delicate as the ones that can be bought in Metro Manila (for example, the blueberries aren't pitted and the berries look emaciated), but they use locally grown fruits and I am all for that.

    This cheesecake, though, uses one hundred percent home-made topping, and the same can also be said for the crust and crumb (of course made from commercially bought ingredients, hehe). I've been experimenting with local flavors, and langka (nangka, jackfruit, Artocarpus heterophyllus Lam.) paired fantastically well with cheesecake, especially if mixed into the crumb.

    But as I've found out when using fresh fruits, the color, shelf-life, and sometimes palatability and physical presentation become unmanageable. This case was not an exception.

    I pulsed fresh, newly ripened langka with the cream cheese and cream, with astounding results in color (a very appetizing light yellow), taste (fabulous!) and aroma (fantastic! mmmmm!), but the cake spoiled after two days, when my cheesecakes ordinarily last up to a month (in the ref, of course, and with me exerting such inhuman efforts to prevent myself from eating more than a tiny square after every meal).

    But I do recommend, with all my heart, this langka cheesecake. It just needs a big party so it would be consumed all at once in one sitting. Make it the night before a big party (in the morning if the party will be at dinnertime), store overnight (or the whole day) in the refrigerator, and serve.

    Just pureé about 100 grams of fresh, ripe langka and mix well into your preferred cream cheese mixture (preferably processing them together in a blender). Use less (halve it) if making a round, 8-12 inch diameter cake. The amount of langka I mentioned is good for my usual mix of a pack of cream cheese with 3-4 packs of all-purpose cream.

    The langka cheesecake in the photo, though, has an ordinary (unflavored) cream cheese crumb, but has a thick langka sauce for topping. I made this with the goal of making it last for a while, so I just made an ordinary cheesecake with the topping in a separate container, ready to be poured when it is time to serve the cake.

    I prefer desserts in individual servings, so my mini cheesecakes are usually in ramekins or wine/shot glasses ( a lot of them!).

    I made the jackfruit coulis by boiling fresh, ripe langka with white sugar and a little water until thick, and putting it through a food processor. Bottled, preserved langka available in supermarkets can also be used, needing only to be pureéd.

    Here, the jackfruit flavor, as well as the color, is more concentrated, and splendidly tops a cheesecake, rounding the various flavors quite nicely. The pungent sweetness of langka goes exceptionally well with the creaminess and salty hints of the cream cheese.

    Add to that a coconut cookie crust (using crushed coconut butter cookies, because I get bored too easily by graham crackers), and you have a tropicalised, very Pinoy cheesecake.

    Other cheesecake variants:
    Black Forest Cheesecake
    Mini Cream-O Cheesecake
    Cream-O Cheesecakes

    Wednesday, April 26, 2006

    Phad Kee Mao

    This is my approximation of the "specialty" dish as claimed by Oody's Express, called phad kee mao, which I had one lunchtime at the Market!Market! mall at Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City.

    I'm not a fan of the restaurant chain, which started with Oody's Rice & Noodles Bar opening simultaneous with the start of operation of the theme-based mall Glorietta 3 in Makati City. Express outlets has since opened in other "common" malls, called Oody's Express.

    The chain supposedly especializes in Asian cuisine, with emphasis on Thai food, but there is nothing noteworthy and genuine about most of the dishes. However, one time I found myself looking for a redeeming value, and in all providence asked the waiter what their best dish was.

    And phad kee mao was recommended, so I ordered it, even though pork is not a part of my regular diet. Good thing I made an exception that time, because it was very good, so good that I actually wanted to cook it at home.

    Phad kee mao is ground pork sauteéd with thin slices of green beans (Baguio beans), young corn, bell pepper and sweet basil. It was lively to eat it topped on a steaming bowl of rice, with the vegetables providing premium crunch, while the basil and a thin sauce made it aromatic and very flavorful.

    I was so excited to try it at home that I never researched the flavors and just tried to approximate it with the sauces I had on hand. Had I tried to learn more about it then, I would have known that in Thailand ground chicken is more commonly used for the dish, which is more favorable for me. And it is topped on noodles, preferably fried.

    But I had a fairly decent initial venture, using all the ingredients in the dish I ate at Oody's, and combining a bit of oyster sauce (using the saltier Mama Sita's) and soy sauce for the sauce. All the flavors complemented one another fairly well - the saltiness of the sauce foiled by the sweetness of the vegetables and the basil, which also all provided nice textural contrasts. The oyster sauce and basil together made the dish decadently aromatic.

    In short, a pork dish I'm willing to eat over and over again, spooned over hot rice. But of course the next time I'm cooking it I'll use chicken. I haven't cooked it again, though, and may not do so for a long time yet.

    Because when I served to my husband the phad kee mao I made he said it smelled and tasted like a pisęng. It was the worst someone could say about food, because pisęng is the Pangasinan term for that tiny, black insect which emits a smell as powerfully foul as a skunk's when crushed. It was only then that I realized that, being a true-blue Filipino, he wasn't used to the flavor of basil. Which is, of course, an acquired taste.

    Just in case anybody wants to confirm that there is nothing being missed by not eating at Oody's, here is a list of the whereabouts of its outlets.

    Monday, April 24, 2006

    LP9: Inselar a Bangos

    [Sinigang na bangus, milkfish in soured broth]
    The theme for Lasang Pinoy 9 for the month of April, hosted by Cia, is Lamang-loob: Odd Cuts and Guts, lamang-loob being offal, the internal organs of your preferred animal.

    I dare say Filipino cuisine is indeed redolent with dishes containing lamang loob. This is related to Filipinos being very economical. Once an animal is slaughtered (for family consumption purposes, which happen during fiestas and family events), all parts and pieces are utilized, not a single part goes to waste.

    So we have such Filipino mainstays as papaítan (thin slices of goat innards cooked in calamansi juice and bile), igadó (chopped pig intestines cooked in vinegar and soy sauce), bópis (minced pig lungs cooked in spiced vinegar), sísig (pan-fried chopped pig ears and chicken liver), dinakdákan (boiled and grilled pig ears and brain), even karé-karé (oxtail and tripe in peanut sauce and fermented shrimp fry) and adóbo of chicken liver and gizzard.

    And we also have tomato stews with Spanish influences, like menúdo (pork meat and liver), callos (tripe), lengua (ox tongue). I've cooked some of these, ironically the Filipino ones I haven't, though I've watched countless washings of intestines in our backyard. Preparation and cooking are usually undertaken by male cooks, and I leave it at that. Especially since I fear buying innards in the market.

    And so my contribution to LP9 is quite a common dish in Pangasinan, albeit probably unknown outside the province. It is siningang na bangós, with all the fish innards (except the gills and bile) thrown in the soup for flavor.

    Bonuan bangós (milkfish coming from ponds cultivated in the coastal barrio of Bonuan in Dagupan City) has quite a legendary status in Pangasinan, and such worship is entirely deserving. No other bangós, whether cultivated in the province or elsewhere, tastes like it.

    True to its name, the flesh is milky and sweetish, the fat in the belly inducing nirvana. There are less bones and those pesky thread-like spines, and there is never a fishy hint in taste. Like eating pure cream in the form of soft fish flesh.

    Of course it follows that the innards of the bangós are as milky and as fresh-tasting as well. Pangasinenses and Ilocanos have a habit of flavoring soups (including tinóla) with bagóong (salted, fermented anchovies). In a sinigáng, the bangós innards take the place of the bagóong, and you have a very flavorful, quite tasty soup. Even insęlar a oráng (sinigang na hipon or shrimp in soured soup) uses bangós innards for flavor.

    Restaurants along the beaches in Dagupan City cook sinigáng this way, particularly the famous Matutina chain of Pangasinan seafood casual dining.

    To cook, fresh Bonuan bangós is sliced and put in a simmering pot of water flavored with a peeled ginger the size of your thumb, chopped tomatoes, sliced onions, salt and the innards, and calamansi juice (optional). When the fish flesh has turned opaque, add some kamote tops and continue cooking till the leaves are tender. Do not overcook so the fat will not disintegrate (very important!).

    May I just add a note that it is critical to use fresh bangós, preferably newly harvested, and cook straight from the wet market. Never use previously frozen fish. If you only have access to the latter, it may be prudent to discard the innards.

    • (Annex 1, 2, 3, 4)
      Bonuan Blue Beach
      Bonuan, Dagupan City
    • MacArthur Highway
      Urdaneta City

    Related Posts

    Friday, April 21, 2006

    Tinapay: Iloilo Delicacies By Way of Bacolod

    [Clockwise, from topmost right: kinihad, bañadas, barquillos, galletas, kinamonsil, biscocho prinsipe]

    This is part of a series, "Tinapay," on local breads from street corner bakeries across the Philippines.
    When an office colleague went home to Bacolod City for the Holy Week I asked her to bring me the representative local bread/s in the region. I expected Wewyn's sweet biscocho, which I was able to buy and enjoy for myself more than ten years ago, or the famous flat (as opposed to the bulging) piayas, and maybe some butterscotch bars.

    I was surprised, though, to receive a box of assorted goodies, from the Panaderia de Molo in Iloilo City. But then after some pondering I thought it wasn't really such a surprising idea, since Iloilo and Bacolod both share the same Hiligaynon language and food culture.

    The surprise is in the fact that Panaderia de Molo should be considered the prime makers of Ilonggo treats, both in the cities of Iloilo and Bacolod. Not that I have a problem with the quality of the products - no, I think they're unsurpassed, although of course I'm not a real authority on Ilonggo food.

    Probably because Panaderia de Molo was the pioneering institution in making the now famous and distinctively Ilonggo bakery goodies. It traces its roots to the Spanish colonial times, when there was a boom in church-building activities.

    Historical data reveal that construction of churches used crates and crates of eggs as binder for the limestone blocks, but utilising only the whites. It is stated in Panaderia de Molo's wrapping paper that the bakery traces its roots to an order of nuns in the district of Molo in Iloilo City who thought of a way to make use of the surplus yolks from the construction of the Molo cathedral.

    It is even claimed that the nuns' recipes, perfected and closely guarded by the family who eventually set up Panaderia de Molo in the second decade of the 20th century, and even the wood-fire baking and manual packing methods are still used today.

    Panaderia de Molo's assorted biscuits are packaged in either the tin round cans or in small boxes, with the various biscuits packed in individual plastic packs.

    Kinihad are thin slices of toasted bread, great for dipping into coffee or hot chocolate, and would benefit greatly from a spread of sweet jam and butter. They are like biscochos without the baked in butter and sugar on top.

    Bañadas are soft round cookies glazed with sugar icing, which reminds me of something similar in Pangasinan, and which made the late food doyen Doreen Fernandez wax sentimental over the local bakery treats in her hometown of Silay City.

    Of course who doesn't know barquillos, called apas elsewhere (but is different from the thin apas of the Tagalog region), the long tubes of rolled wafer-thin biscuits of our childhood that have evolved into the present chocolate-marbled and -filled Stikkos? This barquillo was coconut-flavored, and it was delicious without cloyingly sweet. It ranks among my other barquillo favorites - the ube and pandan flavored ones from Biscocho Hauz, also in Iloilo City.

    Panaderia de Molo's galletas are one of a kind - not like the dry, chalky Luzon galletas that are choking hazards - they are crispy, thin as an unrolled barquillo, and more like a crunchy communion host. Very close to the apas of the Southern Tagalog region, but with the characteristic chalky taste.

    Kinamonsil ape the shape of a kamonsil or camachile (Pithecellobium dulce, known among international tropical plant enthusiasts as Manila Tamarind) with its decorative form. I rather like my province's own camachile biscuit, though, as it is not as hard and sweeter.

    The one I like best among the lot, besides the hojaldres which are not in the photo and are akin to otap but are not as flaky and softer, are easily the biscocho prinsipe. I like Ilonggo biscocho (and not the Ilocano biscocho), but I love biscocho prinsipe. The qualification prinsipe (prince) is a deserving adjective - it is indeed a royal biscuit. It isn't even a biscocho, it is more like a slice of dried butter pound cake - crumbly, buttery sweet, finger-licking good. It needs nothing else.

    Panaderia de Molo
  • San Jose Street, Molo, Iloilo City

  • Rizal Street, Iloilo City

  • The Tinapay Series

    Related Posts
    Experiencing Iloilo in 24 Hours
    Public Market
    Lunch: Nora's
    Dinner: Breakthrough
    Roberto's Siopao
    Biscocho Haus/Wewyn's
    Bacolod Pastries
    Bongbong's/Roli's Napoleones
    Casa Carmela Piaya/Quan Pandelitos/El Ideal Guapple Pie
    Panuelitos/Clara's Barquillos

    Thursday, April 20, 2006

    Rediscovering Katíba

    Katíba is the Pangasinan term for what is commonly called coconut jam, or coco jam for short, elsewhere in the country. It is a common enough jam, made in many households across the Philippines, and manufactured and locally sold by at least two food processing companies whose only products are the jam and peanut butter.

    Katíba or coco jam is a thick, viscous spread that can range in color from dark copper to bronze and even a dark brown. There are also variations in thickness, from being syrupy to almost candy-hard. These variations result from the sugar form used and the length of cooking involved.

    Of course preceding these is how it will be used and what it will be eaten with, which then dictates how it is made. The range of thickness also have corresponding various names.

    I've seen a locally produced white coco jam, which is rare and is more expensive. But I've read that in other South-East Asian countries the white variant, which uses white, refined sugar, is more common and is called kaia/kaya.

    Since I grew up on katíba, I tend to find kaya too sweet and lacking the depth of flavor that bagás or bagasse or molasses infuses in a coco jam.

    Katíba was considered a lowly sweet in my family. We never made it, and we didn't even have it in the house often. I know now that in other towns and provinces latík, which is the syrupy version, is the common sweetener to a súman sa liyá/lihiyá, or glutinous rice wrapped in banana leaves and steamed.

    In my hometown of Malasiqui suman sa lihiyá is uncommon but we have súman sa íbos (glutinous rice cooked in coconut milk, wrapped in buri or young coconut leaves and steamed) in the market daily, instead. We don't even qualify the súman to be lihiyá or íbos but just súman, and this refers to the one in the búri tubes. And this súman we eat only with sugar.

    But I knew katíba because I ate it in my elementary school years. I went to public school, and part of the nutritional boosting program then of the government was to distribute nutribun (pronounced nutriban), the whole wheat, multi-grain bread bigger than the size of one's hand distributed to pupils every other afternoon for snacks.

    Of course the ever enterprising public school teachers sold sweets as paláman (spread or filling) for the nutribun. Invariably these were katíba in soft candy form in individual plastic wrappers, and pastillas de leche, soft rolls of milk candy covered with granulated sugar.

    Despite the roughness of the nutribun on the tongue we pupils then were quite happy with the treat, if only for the chance to eat the sweet fillings we inserted into the bread. And it was this memory which prompted me to buy a small jar of Ludy's Coco Jam one evening a few months ago, having espied it on a shelf of the grocery I was aimlessly roaming around in, and decided to include it in a care package I was going to send to the US.

    It was then my fifth food parcel to send out in an international food swap, and I had ran out of ideas on what could best represent the Philippine food culture. The katíba wasn't a proud inclusion - as I said it was looked down upon in my family - I was just sharing a childhood memory.

    But just as my swap partner randomly included Old Bay Seasoning to the package sent to me, not knowing I would appreciate it so much, the katíba I sent made such an impact on my recipient without my expecting it at the least.

    Which development forced me to review my grudges and take a fresh, new, unbiased look at that humble, very Filipino spread. And what a (re)discovery it was! How could I have been so indifferent to it before? All this time I have been missing its wonderful taste, unique and incomparable, and cannot be found in anything else.

    Looking back I think what denigrated the jam in our eyes is its commonness, and probably a little "colonial mentality," with all our preferences for imported jams made out of fruits not found in the archipelago. And, I've realized, I've been eating low-quality coco jam.

    I decided to change that, and resolved to try to make my own good-quality katiba and share it, so Lindy, my American beneficiary, could make her own endless supply of katíba. I'm looking forward to what dishes she could come up with using it, since the only ways I know how to eat katiba are with the súman sa lihiyá and spread on pandesal (no more nutribun these days!) with a generous dollop of butter.

    I talked to a lot of people and compiled various recipes, but in the end I let "cooking instinct" guide me. Which was just as well, since most people I've talked to have been making the jam for most of their lives and so do not use measurements, but rely on tantyá (approximations) and gut feel. I now consider it so unPinoy of me, especially now that I'm blogging, not to know how to make katiba. Which I've found out, by the way, is the easiest thing to make. So simple, but so richly rewarding. Thanks, Lindy, for this rediscovery.

  • Recipe to follow.

  • Related posts:

    Sunday, April 16, 2006

    A Glorious Easter To You!

    I find it providential that this is my 100th post.

    I didn't continue posting during the Holy Week, thinking wrongly that nobody would be reading. As it turns out, I got the most number of hits on Black Saturday, of all days.

    Anyway, I hope everybody had a meaningful week, whether spent in introspection, family reunion or otherwise, and whether the Catholic/Christian religious tradition was observed or not.

    Let me just share the following message I received for Easter, which I found to be true in how I look at life in general.

    "Let the...season remind us all that life is just lent to us. We are all just passing by. We are not immigrants here. We are all pilgrims on the road. We bring nothing when we die. But we can leave behind the love we have shared, the hope we have given and the goodness we have done..."
    And may the beauty and freshness of these yellow flowers inspire you for Easter.

    And may I venture to ask, can anybody guess what they are? They were brought in a tight bundle to the kitchen table very early in the day by the tenant of a farm owned by my in-laws, and I spent a good part of the morning trying to remember what they are. Silly me, I have been eating them since childhood (yes they're edible, in keeping with this blog's theme), but I couldn't place them, because it was the first time I saw them this vibrant and gloriously fresh. They're usually sold in the market all closed back, wilted.

    So let us see if anybody can arrive at the name faster than me.

    Tuesday, April 11, 2006


    [Palitaw with Coconut Sauce]

    Holy Week is termed Àmbęlat Àgęw (again, all e's pronounced gutturally) in Pangasinan. It literally means "heavy day/s." I believe the term has profound psychological effects, since Holy Week has a pervasive air in the province. Maybe it has much to do with people being still very conservative when it comes to religious observances. All the same, as a child I remember Holy Week being sultry, the heat weighing on everything, and aggravated by the fact that you have to maintain a serious face all throughout.

    Coupled with the general weightiness of the entire atmosphere is the fact that Lent, despite the heat, is characterized by the consumption of ansak-kęt (malagkit, glutinous rice), which is heavier than ordinary rice (it lands like a dead weight in the stomach). I don't know why, but this has always been the case.

    Maybe it has something to do with harvest time (I've been getting many calls lately, informing me that I can pick up my rice and glutinous rice ration), and the seasonality of the ingredients, mainly rootcrops. The standard partner with which ansak-kęt is cooked - coconuts - is available year-round, though.

    Anyway, I'm very unconventional, but family traditions which have been observed since childhood have gained sacred status that are very difficult to uproot. And so once again, I will be cooking and eating ansak-kęt, in its many variants. Inspite of the heat.

    Our version of palitaw, called unda-unday or unday-unday, is syrupy, and so does away with the "dry" toppings of grated coconut, sugar and toasted sesame seeds. It uses the same thin wafers of glutinous rice dough which are cooked once they rise out of the boiling water (that's why they are called palitaw, which means "rises up" or "pops up"), which are then mixed into the sweet sauce.

    The term unda-unday evokes a vision of rolling plains or sand-dunes for me. I don't know if that's why it's called such, but it is how it is known up to now.

    To make, soak desired amount of glutinous rice in water overnight. Grind the following day (most wet and dry markets have grinders, usually near the coconut graters). Take small pieces one at a time, forming them into thin discs approximately 2 inches in diameter. Spread each disc onto a plate - never stack one on top of another.

    Boil a pan of water. Drop several rice discs onto the boiling water. Take out with a ladle each disc that goes up from the bottom of the pan to the water surface and lay on another plate. Repeat with the rest of the discs.
    Boil about two cups of water (or more, depending on the amount of palitaw) with half a cup of white sugar (again, amount depending on desired taste), some anise seeds and slivers of young coconut meat. Stir until thick, but still runny (sauce will thicken some more when the palitaw are added). Mix in the cooked palitaw, and cook to desired consistency of sauce. Can be served hot or cold.

    Another way to cook palitaw with sauce is masikoy.

    Monday, April 10, 2006

    Grilled Tahong/Crispy Fried Tahong

    I am much of a Cavite citizen as I am a Pangasinense these days, since the husband started working in Cavite City in October last year. The family often tries to spend weekends there, and we actually spent our first Christmas out of Pangasinan in the city of three bays.

    Of course any new place brings the thrill of new, local food. And what has Cavite to offer along these lines? Apart from the original Digman halohalo (which I still have to see and taste)?

    Of course it's fresh tahong (mussels) and talaba (oysters), heaped still dripping on tables lining Coastal Road all the way to Sangley Point. At Php40 per overflowing tabo (a large can), mussels have become the family's cheap and nutritious weekend staple.

    The tahong from Cavite City are especially large and luscious, tastier than those harvested in towns nearer the metropolis. I guess cleaner waters have much to answer to this discrepancy.

    So as not to suffer burnout from the usual tahong tinola, every weekend I try to rack my brains for other ways of cooking mussels. Especially since we haven't gotten over our tahong phase yet - the talaba phase still has to start (but then we prefer our own succulent Pangasinan talaba, cultured in Dagupan City).

    But tahong are tasty on their own, needing not much else. I've tried baked mussels - a mixture of softened butter, grated cheese, crushed garlic and salt and pepper spooned over mussels on the shell that have previously opened by a few minutes of steaming, then grilled or baked on high until topping has melted and browned a little, about 5-10 minutes.

    In this version, the mussels benefit from the condiments because the juices invariably drip to the steaming water (making it ideal to make into soup - the tinola with vegetables but without the mussel meat), with the mussels turning a bit bland so that they need a little enhancement.

    And then I remembered an uncle who just grills tahong - unopened shells tossed over live coals until they open. It was an easier and more economical way, removing the steaming part. So I tried that out one weekend, with the happy thought that the mussels cooking in their own juices would turn up tastier meats.

    How right I was! They were the most intensely flavored mussels I've ever eaten, concentrations of taste hitting you with every succulent bite. They came in such robust colors, too.

    I first planned on spooning my usual baked tahong butter-cheese-garlic mixture on each shell as it opened and grill for a few minutes, but thought better and let them be. Good thing I did, for the mussels would not have tasted better than on their own.

    For the next batch I removed the grilled mussels from the shells and poured over melted butter and fried minced garlic, my favorite enhancers to steamed white fish. But the butter and garlic flavors drowned in the commanding taste of the grilled tahong, powerfully emphasizing (screaming, actually) that they do not need anything else. The better for me. Minimal preparation and cooking. Minimal saturated fats, too.
    Another tahong dish I've been making I learned from a former supervisor at work, who cooks tahong as her husband's TV viewing pica-pica, or even pulutan. It involves the previously-steamed mussels taken out of the shell, coated with a batter mixture of a beaten egg, flour, cornstarch and salt and pepper, then fried to a crisp.

    The frying process, albeit increasing the fat content, also adds back flavor. I add a bit of my favorite (obvious by now) Old Bay seasoning to the batter for a bit of spice. The version above, made by the househelp, had a watery batter, so did not cover the mussels much, turning them a bit chewy. A thicker batter (more flour) would preserve the mussels' succulence.

    So to share some easy dishes for those going meatless this week. Be warned, though, as these have such deep flavors, I have found that they are very rice intensive.

    Other dishes using tahong:
    Tahong-Halaan Tinola
    Recipe for Kasilyo-Topped Baked Tahong
    Daing na Tahong from Princesa Princesa

    Friday, April 07, 2006


    This is part of an ongoing series, "Tinapay," about local breads and cookies in street corner bakeries across the Philippines.

    Camíguin, a beautiful volcanic island off the coast of Cagayan De Oro, in Misamis Oriental in Northeastern Mindanao, is known for the sweetest lanzónes (langsat, Lansium domesticum Corr.) ever produced in the country. And so it becomes crowded during lanzónes season, especially in October when the island pays homage to the fruit by way of a festival.
    Tourists, though, whether local or foreign, need not fret when travelling to Camiguin off lanzónes season. For, available year-round, is the island's other source of pride - pastél, these soft, buttery dinner roll-like buns filled with divine yéma (caramel custard, dulce de leche).

    You may have encountered pastél elsewhere, in another form and carrying another name. Camíguin's pastél, though, is something else. Tender crust, crumb moist and flaky and almost approximating a brioche or an ensaymada. And the sweet, viscous yéma fills the bun to bursting, a slight squeeze readily rewarding you with oozing eggy, milky goodness.

    With pastél, I can imagine what eating that Ilonggo treat toffee condensada (condensed milk boiled for hours in the can) must be like. But with pastél, sweetness won't be cloying and troubling to your throat. The bun in which it is stuffed makes sure of that.

    Pastél got its name from the Spanish term for cake. Prior to the development of tourist infrastructure in Camíguin, it was the traditional delicacy served during fiestas in the island of many springs (hot and cold, take your pick).

    And so you had to attend a fiesta in Camíguin to get to know pastél-maker Vjandep (standing for the names of the owners, Virgilio Jose AND Elena Popera, who capitalized on pastél-making with a recipe handed down for generations originated by the Bollozo family). Until several years ago, when Vjandep thought that one small island among the 7,104 during low tide is such a wee, teeny market for the excellent product it churns out.

    And so an outlet in Cagayan De Oro City was opened. The pastéls, having been known beforehand with the tourism influx to Camiguin, was well received. Cagayan De Oro being a center of sorts in the region, pastél was included as a must-buy and pasalubong from the city of gold.

    Several years passed between my trips to Camiguin and Cagayan De Oro, but I never forgot about the pastél. Attending the wedding of a brother in CDO last year, I had to hunt down that outlet, near Divi. To my delight, the pastél custard now comes in about a dozen flavors (cheese, langka, durian, strawberry, among others). But of course, nothing beats the original from which it built its name.

    Pastél was one of many regional delicacies featured in the Filipino fiesta event of the Gaisano Metro supermarket at the Market!Market! mall in Fort Bonifacio late last year. It was well-received and gained enough fans that, lucky for Metro Manilans, pastél has now made many city folks happy since it started selling in a kiosk in the mall since November.

    Most of the flavor variants are available in the Market!Market! kiosk, but the bulk is still in the original flavor. Pastél is sold by the piece, or in half-dozen or one dozen boxes. Now there is no more reason to deprive yourself of pastél.

    • Available at Market!Market! Mall
      Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City
    • Vjandep Pastél Outlet - CDO
      Tiano Street (near Ruby Appliance Center)
      Cagayan De Oro City

    The Tinapay Series

    Thursday, April 06, 2006

    Steamed Bangús with Black Beans and Garlic

    I adapted this from Yan-kit's Classic Chinese Cookbook (© 1984 Doubleday Sydney and Auckland). The recipe is categorized under Western (China) or Szechwan Menu, and calls for either rainbow trout or grey mullet. These fish I've often read about but have never seen hereabouts (trout lives in freshwater with temperature of 12 degrees C in summer). There is a local freshwater fish I know that looks like a mullet (talilong), but it rarely grows to the size specified in the recipe (350 grams in weight).

    Bangús or Milkfish, Chanos chanos (Forsskal) is the most common fish in the Philippines which is found (marine) and cultivated (freshwater) across the archipelago. Of course the taste and looks vary, but I'm not about to go into that, yet (again, I reiterate that I'm a Pangasinense so where my loyalties lie should be transparent enough). Along with bangús is probably tilapia, too, since I heard it is even cultivated in Lake Sebu in Mindanao (and wherever I go, for that matter, across the globe).

    My lethargy, from the summer heat, has been getting the better of me lately. I've been assembling and cooking (or not) easy dishes, and this is one of the easiest ones so far. It just involved steaming the fish (placed on a heat-proof dish that sat on a steamer for about 10-15 minutes, with peeled slices of ginger inside the cavity) with a mixture of mashed black beans, half a teaspoon of sugar (brown) and crushed garlic on top.

    When the fish is cooked (flesh is flaky), some spring onions are cut into small rounds and sprinkled on top of the fish. Smoking hot oil is is poured over the spring onion to cook it just so. Remove fish from the steamer and pour two tablespoons of soy sauce. The skin is then scraped back and discarded, the condiments put back as topping on the fish.

    I used bangús (more than half a kilo in weight) in this dish because I thought of the Filipino dish bangús tausi/bangús con tocho, though I've never had bangús steamed. A good experiment since I try to avoid frying fish as much as possible. Bangús lent well enough to the condiments, which was a bit salty, and very nice to pair with the thick, sweetish flesh. Next time, though, I'd add a bit more sugar to tame the saltiness.

    Yes, there's a next time for this. I like it, it's simple enough and fast enough to prepare, yet it provides a complexity and depth of flavor. I added fried garlic bits to the topping, which added more crunch and an extra dimension in flavor. I also put more soy sauce (in recipe it is 2 tablespoons), but reduced the oil by half (recipe indicated 4 tablespoons).

    I welcome any new way to eat bangus, or any other local fish. In the future I'll try other fish varieties that are good for steaming. Like pompano/pampano, talakitok (trevally), even tilapia. I'm eyeing fresh alumahan (Indian mackerel - so that's why it tastes like the canned mackerel sold in supermarkets!), too, although there's a different Szechwan recipe for it in the cookbook, and I want to try that, too.

    Wednesday, April 05, 2006

    Adobo ed Mangga

    [Adobo sa mangga/Chicken stewed in green mangoes]

    Name me a single Filipino who doesn't love - adore, be fond of, or even minimally like - adóbo, and I'm sure you'd be hard-pressed thinking of one. Adóbo is the quintessential Filipino dish, componentially salty and sour, its flavors in such a potent level because it will be eaten with bland steamed rice.

    And yes, how many Filipinos have eaten plate upon heaping plate of rice with adóbo in many differing variants? I'm guessing almost every one, if you ask me.

    As for me, I could live on adóbo every other day of my life. I could even venture to say every day of my life, if not for the fear of being branded as exagerrated. The late food doyen Doreen Fernandez once ventured to say that adóbo may have been assimilated from the Mexican adobádo, which basically uses the same ingredients but is now more related to the sweeter Filipino asádo.

    We benefited a lot from that colonial Acapulco-Manila galleon trade, which we owe a great deal for our local (localized) fruits and dishes, but, as is wont to happen over the centuries in every exchange, we have indigenized these to have their very own Filipino identities.

    And now it is our turn to introduce our own adóbo to the rest of the world. Filipino restaurant Cendrillon in New York serves it. And in every trip abroad, it is the dish, along with sinigang (meat or fish in soured broth), cooked by Filipinos for non-Filipino host families. I once cooked pork adóbo for my host family in Kanazawa City, Japan, during a cultural exchange program, and my otósan (host father) said it is good to eat with beer.

    Japan is of course still Asia, and I was in luck because all ingredients for a decent adóbo were accessible. But I was not so lucky in Aarhus, Denmark. Or make that - my host family was not so lucky, to have had me. There was no vinegar (up to now I wonder why), and soy sauce. Without those main ingredients I was doomed.

    But I could not think of any other dish to cook (it was then in my self-imposed, cooking ignorant life). So I persisted, and found a lemon (to sub for the vinegar) and, would you believe, a vegemite (or maybe it was marmite since I was in Europe, I cannot exactly recall). Silly me, I thought marmite could sub for soy sauce since I knew, from all the uneaten jars (courtesy of a balikbayan aunt) left to rot in our refrigerator if not for masochistic me, that it was salty.

    I've learned now that sometimes we should not push our luck too far. Back then I was young, and so I made a lemon-marmite adóbo. Up to now I still feel pity for my host family. I just hope they threw the black-as-dinuguan (pork blood stew) dish in the garbage bin. I never knew how they reacted to it because I was left alone in the house to cook, and had long been gone to another country when it was time for them to come home.

    Which is not to say that adóbo is not versatile. It is - it can use many different souring ingredients, and there are variations that do away with soy sauce entirely. Of course I know that now. But vegemite/marmite can never be put in an adóbo, I assure you. And that is one big understatement. Eating it alone or on toast is such a punishment for non-Australians and non-British - it has such a powerful flavor that is, to say the least, an acquired taste.

    In my new life, I cook adóbo in the most common way - a layer of crushed garlic on the bottom of the pan (I prefer a garlicky adóbo), to be topped with rinsed cuts of chicken that had been patted dry, then splashed with soy sauce and vinegar (no measurements, just tantyá, or an approximation), and sprinkled with whole peppercorns and bay leaf. The pan is covered, and the adóbo is allowed to cook by itself over low fire until tender and the sauce is thick. I'm a Pangasinense, so there's no place for any sweet hint in my savory dishes. Especially in adóbo.

    Adóbo sa manggá is another dish I first ate at Cafe By the Ruins in Baguio City. Pangasinan is mango country, and we incorporate mangoes in various dishes, but unripe ones are usually used to sour only sinigáng na bangús. Chicken adóbo soured by mangoes was a novelty for me.

    Not just a novelty, though. It was a great discovery. Being partial to anything sour, I liked instantly the innate tartness an unripe mango brings to an adóbo. It clashes with the saltiness of soy sauce on the same level - not overpowering, but having the same strength, both dominant at the same time. Your tastebuds are then left in a quandary deciding which taste is more forceful.

    Adóbo sa manggá is cooked just like the common adóbo, substituting the vinegar with slices of an unripe mango. A whole carabao mango is enough for a kilo of chicken - it is that sour (don't use the Indian and pajó varieties). And exclude the bay leaf. One time I forgot to instruct the househelp to forego it, and the adóbo came out tasting like a sour mango chutney.

    This adobo is dark - kayumanggíng kaligátan - because there is no other liquid to dilute the soy sauce. Brown, is beautiful. Quite tasty, too. And, like all adóbo and all Filipinos around the world, very much comforting and makes you feel so at home.

    Other adobo variants
    Ginataang Adobo in Naga
    Pork Adobo, Adobo sa Gata

    Other posts on food at Cafe by the Ruins:
    Shiitake-Potato Omelet
    Shiitake-Watercress Soup
    Lunch at Cafe by the Ruins

    Other Posts on Chicken
    Pinaupong Manok sa Asin
    Pinapuong Manok sa Sabaw
    Pininyahang Manok
    French Baked Adobo
    Chicken with Old Bay Seasoning

    Tuesday, April 04, 2006

    Radish Tomato Salad

    I'm not a fan of radishes. Or rather, I can dismiss it and be indifferent to its existence. It did not figure in my mother's, as well as my grandmother's, cooking, whether prominently or peripherally. I actually came across it only upon coming to Metro Manila to get a college degree, in the form of a vegetable that looked like it was put in a sinigang because there was nothing else to use.

    Then I heard it is not really popular because of what it can induce your body to produce. But I ate it, when there are no other vegetable dishes around, since I cannot eat a meal without a vegetable dish. I came across another dish where it was sauteed with some ground pork, and this time around it is the sole vegetable involved, the pork being just a flavoring ingredient.

    I have learned from all my eating out that radishes and mustard greens go together inseparably in tamarind-soured sinigang, especially if the broth is flavored by misó. So that's how I cook deep-sea fish sinigang - soured by sampalok, with mustasa leaves and lábanos slices, broth yellowed and thickened by misó. But it is still too bitter for me.

    The third dish involving radish I learned from a friend, who served it during one of the many meals I had in her home. She grew up in Palawan, and radish-tomato salad is standard accompaniment to the fresh seafood that is so bountiful in that paradise of a province.

    The flavors of grilled, baked or fried fish and seafood is brought out by this salad, which is akin to the more common atsara/achara (pickled unripe papaya) that accompanies meats. This one, though, because of the raw labanos component, has a bitter undertone and salty hints. It is a fresh take from the sweetish atsara, pairing excellently as well with lechon manok, liempo, and any inihaw and pritong karne. Easier to make, too, since it does not require cooking.

    To make, slice a medium-sized radish into thin, cross-wise rounds. Mix with salt and set aside for about 20 minutes or so, or until the salt has melted, in the meantime slicing some tomatoes into wedges. Squeeze the radish slices thoroughly, until almost dry, and put on a serving dish, disposing of the squeezed juice. Mix in the tomatoes, and splash on some local vinegar. Serve immediately for maximum crunch. Leftovers can be refrigerated, which would turn the salad a bit watery, but if you don't mind the radish being a little droopy it would still taste terrific.

    Great, and quite handy, for bringing to a picnic or a beach trip, assembling it while the fresh seafood catch, and maybe some eggplants, sizzle on live coals. But I've had it at home as well, and it is just grand.

    Related Post
    Dinilawang Atsara
    Kamias-Lasuna Salad

    Monday, April 03, 2006

    Summer Bounty

    Kaimíto/caimíto, or cainito, star apple (Chrysophyllum cainito L.)

    They are in peak season now, selling for Php20-25 per tumpok (the way vegetables and fruits have been sold since our grandmothers and maybe even before that, by grouping them in a circle, priced per round/mound) of about 8-10 ripe pieces. Great to store in the refrigerator, and in the morning take them out and halve them, and scoop out the cold, milky sweet flesh. I'm happy to see so many of this fruit during summer, indication that we still have lots of those big, far-reaching, leafy and shade-providing caimito trees around.

    The Department of Science and Technology website on fruits and herbs provides information that caimito leaves can be used to cure diarrhea, and I'm surprised to learn that the fruit, sweet as it is, is good for diabetics.

    I like to eat the fruits on their own, or mixed with a little evap and condensed and served cold. I've seen a recipe for sherbet, too, and the photo looks nice, but I haven't tried it yet.

    I have an issue, though, on why some local fruits are called -apple this and -apple that (star apple, pine apple, and some others whose names escape me at the moment). They do not in any way taste or look like apples, and calling them apples somewhat diminishes them since they are pitted against that temperate fruit, removing from them their own unique identity.
    Green mango shake. Long before green mango shake started its rounds in city restaurants, Pangasinenses have been grating the maták-ken (mature, unripe fruits) mangoes and squeezing them in water, adding ice and sugar to make a sour-sweet mango juice. Palate-cleansing, especially after meat dishes. Teeth-tingling, too. And, needless to say, saliva-inducing (I'm just drooling right now).

    But I've taken to the shake, and so has my husband. It's easy to make and won't require muscles for squeezing. I just peel and slice an unripe mango and process them in the blender with two trays of ice cubes, half a cup of water and half a can of condensed milk. If no condensed milk is available I substitute ordinary white sugar (I prefer brown sugar but it discolors the shake).

    All varieties of unripe mangoes can be used for this - pao/pajo, "Indian," kalabaw, even immature ones (malánguer, mura), although the really mature ones gives a magatâ edge to the shake.

    Pakwán-Lakamás Salad

    It's great to be eating things that do not require cooking, thus requiring minimal preparation and no swelteringly hot stints in front of the stove. We're not even in the peak of summer yet, and already it has the makings of being the hottest one in years. The brief showers last week provided some respite, but the heat is going full-blast once again.

    In this fresh summer salad I combined slices of two kinds of succulent summer harvest - watermelon and jicama - atop a bed of greens "freshened" up by chopped leaves of fresh mint. Splashed with balsamic vinegar or any local fruit vinegar (cherry, papaya, duhat) for a tangy note, or a combination of patis (fish sauce) and honey for a different shade of sweetness with salty tones, it's so refreshing as well as very filling that I could just eat it the whole day and let summer go by without any misgivings about the heat.