Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Lemon-Garlic Blue Marlin

During most of my weekend market forays in Cavite City one or two fish vendors have slices of blue marlin, whose delicate white flesh is among my favorites in the world. I don't buy often, though, since its cost per kilo is usually double that of the more common fish, and if I stick to my budget we'd run out of fish to cook midway into the week.

And it is just right, for it feels sinful to be frequently indulging in its luscious, succulent flesh. So I buy only for special occasions, or when there had been the same offerings for weeks in a row, just to break the monotony. 

I love blue marlin with lemon-butter and crispy garlic. About a fourth of a bar of good-quality butter (approximately 50 grams) is melted, then mixed with the juice of one lemon. This is good for one kilo of fish - thinly sliced and grilled, then seasoned with salt and pepper. The lemon-butter is poured on the cooked fish, then sprinkled with crisply fried minced garlic, a home-made bottle of which I always have in stock. 
When the blue marlin is particularly fresh I slice it into small cubes and steam - my preferred mode of cooking as it results in buttery-soft morsels that tastes almost orgasmic, and a thousand times tastier than the most delicious pork dish. The same lemon-butter is doused on the cubes and topped with garlic. 


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Enoki

The full name of this mushroom is enokitake (Flammulina velutipes), so I guess the more popular name enoki is just a nickname. It goes by the label golden needle mushroom in English, and the unpronounceable jīnzhēngū (nickname jingu) in Chinese, paengi beoseot in Korean (no nickname), and trâm vàng (kim châm) in Vietnamese. No local name, as it is not endemic in the Philippines.

The English name is apt, as these are very tiny, slim fungi, like pins. The wild ones are reportedly pale brown, like mushrooms found in the country. Cultivated enoki are ivory-colored, looking very dainty.

I've only ever eaten enoki - the cultivated kind - wrapped in grilled bacon in  Japanese restaurants, or as a part of shabu-shabu, until recently. I used to see them in the fresh vegetable section of local groceries, sealed in plastic bags, but always bypassed them because they sold for the price of gold. 

But starting last year small bags were selling for as little as Php30 per 100 grams in the major supermarkets in Metro Manila (SM, Metro, Landmark). At Carvajal alley in Binondo I was able to buy 250 grams' worth for only Php50. All of them had been imported from Korea.

So I've been eating lots of enoki lately. And I'm happy because cooking at home I can forgo the bacon. What I usually do is mix the mushrooms with vegetables commonly planted in Baguio for a sort of chop suey - Chinese pechay (napa cabbage), chicharo (sweet pea pods), thin slices of sayote fruit, and chopped celery and leeks and lots and lots of minced garlic for flavor. The stir-fry is then splashed with dissolved flour or cornstarch for a thick sauce.

Like other mushrooms, enoki is rich in anti-oxidants and protein, so this chop-suey is actually a complete one-pan meal. But I'd like to roast it with other mushrooms for this roasted garlic mushroom sauce. I found small pearl mushrooms -also imported - at the grocery last night, and they would be fun to mix together, probably with fresh button mushrooms, too, if I can find them, though they are mostly available canned.

I'm sure enoki would be great with the dishes I commonly cook local mushrooms in, with papaya, or sayote tops, or in soup. So I'm all set for a meatless Holy Week.



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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Buttermilk Maruya with Langka

Sultry afternoons are forever slick with the grease of fried meryenda crowding a bilao carried on the head of a tia, who sashayed along sidewalks accompanied by tireless, endless hollering that starts as a bass and ends in a clarinet.

I've had buchi, holed donuts, green bean lumpia, turon. And of course maruya, banana fritters dredged in sugar, eaten hot, the cooking oil from which it had recently been spluttering slowly tracing jaw and neck and the insides of my hand and arm.
Immense, rotund, odoriferous ripe jackfruits squat on pavements of market stalls in various stances - whole, slashed, sectioned, quartered, flayed and bagged - their pungent sweetness sitting heavily in the idle air. 
I stand inert, breathing in the scent that paints pictures of kineler (ginataang bilo-bilo) and turon

Turon, and maruya, don't seem to be popular in Cavite. I have yet to come across vendors carrying them, while native kakanin are present year-round. Not that I would buy, of course. There are always bunches of small saba on sale that boil into large thumbs of sweetness, and are particularly dulcet fried. What's more, the ratio of banana-to-langka in the innumerable turon I've eaten I've always found to be unfairly favorable to the saba.

So my home-made turon is pungently aromatic and sweet. And because a friend handed me a section of the sweetest tree-ripened langka from her backyard, I put langka in my maruya, too.  
I hear that in the Bicol region maruya is made with rice flour, which makes the snack unbeatably crispy. So I use rice flour in my maruya, too, but not all the time, because a few hours would irreversibly harden them. 

We make maruya as early as breakfast time, and we make a big batch so the kids, who are home the whole day now with the summer school break, can snack on them anytime they want. So it's imperative that the maruya remain softly chewy until sundown.

I like my maruya in a thick batter, cooking into discs that are like dense, chewy pancakes.  Filled with slices of saba and strips of langka, creamy with a splash of buttermilk and some butter. When cooked, they are sprinkled with brown sugar for a touch of caramel sweetness. A smear of condensed milk  brings in a new creamier level.


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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Pancit Negra

An absolutely meatless variant of the popular Pinoy dish pancit, or stir-fried stick noodles (bihon).

Pusit (squid) in various sizes is plentiful these days in Cavite. Finding some seemingly infant ones at Php40 for a small saucer's worth, I thought it would be nice for some seafood pancit at home, along with a handful of little shrimps.

I like to use "Super Q" bihon, which cook to a soft bite. The noodles are usually pre-soaked for an hour or two.

The shrimps were peeled, the shells, heads and tails steeped in hot water. The hot water was strained into a small pan, the shrimp peelings put into a mortar and pounded. More hot water is added, then again strained into the pan. These steps were repeated until the shells were pounded to a fine pulp.

The squid "plastic" skins were peeled, the plastic "swords" and everything else inside removed. I usually remove the eyes, but for their sizes it wasn't necessary. They were then sliced.

I fried a whole head of garlic, peeled and minced fine. When they were getting all blistery I put in the peeled shrimps, then the squid slices, stirring them around the frying pan. Everything promptly turned black - I wasn't able to entirely remove the squid ink sacs.

I became color-blind at this point, and proceeded cooking. I transferred the seafood mix onto a plate, then poured the shrimp water into the pan, seasoning with patis, ground black pepper, chopped wansoy (coriander/cilantro) and thinly sliced celery stems. When the shrimp broth was boiling, the pre-soaked noodles were added, then stirred until most of the liquid was absorbed.

Stir-fried noodles have to be served immediately. My pansit guisado had turned ebony instead of bronzy. Ignoring gasps from the kids, I twirled it onto a plate and heaped the seafood mixture on top, along with finely minced garlic fried to a crisp and chopped spring onion. For added flavor and crunch, I even mixed in crispy tahong, a pouch of which I bought in Bacoor.

It looked totally unappealing, and the kids shook their heads when offered some. But I had learned from my mother that an extremely frightening mulagat (big eyes) would go a long way in instilling obedience in children, so I applied the technique. The kids ate, tentatively and with eyes squeezed tight.

My kids inherited my love for noodles. In no time at all they were scraping their plates clean. The eldest, who feels squeamish about the texture of squid - I don't know why - asked for seconds. I had seconds, too, for with the fried garlic and a squeeze of kalamansi it was actually, terrifically! good.

Being averse to pork for the longest time I had a hard time eating pancit in restaurants, for most feature fatty slices of pork, and were stir-fried in rendered pork fat. Having eaten pancit choku at revered Asiong's Carinderia I knew my favorite noodles can be awesome without pork, or any meat at all. And now I know we can have it at home, too.   

   
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Monday, March 18, 2013

Mitsuyado Sei-men

There's a Japanese noodle shop I've been frequenting these last few months, bringing different sets of friends to introduce it to. But with the hot months set to prevail upon the country I'm afraid I won't be going back there soon.

The restaurant has a very short menu. And most of the showcase items - noodles in thick, rich, visibly oily soups - seem to have been made for colder climes. It's a Japanese restaurant, after all. 

Occupying a whole page of the 3-page menu is the tsuke-men, claimed to be the current rage in Japan. A sort of deconstructed ramen, it's wonderful with its thick, absolutely chewy noodles that is more substantial than ramen but is short of the ampleness of udon. 

The noodles are served separately from the soup, because they are dipping noodles. The bowl of robust soup, or more appropriately dipping sauce, calls to mind a boiled down kalbi-jim. Richness is cut down by an undercurrent of kumquat, or probably yuzu. So that you come to understand why the noodles have to be cut that fat.
The restaurant prides itself in its soups - so much so that salt is unneeded. You are invited to yield to the layering of flavors. In the myriad of bottles in the condiment tray that entices one to shake and douse and sprinkle, not a bottle of table salt can be found. I tend to hog the chili-sesame oil - heat is mandatory after several spoonfuls of richness.

Particularly since the specialty of the house is cha-siu - paper-thin cuts of pork belly that all but melts in your tongue like a smear of butter. Good quality butter. It's as creamy, too.
There are several variants of ramen, and you can choose which noodles to come with it. I like ramen, so I order the thin noodles, but they're still broad enough. And that is because the ramen broths are full-bodied, too, with a sheen from the coating of oil. My spicy miso ramen is blood-red, but the heat isn't enough and it soon cloys.  
In February there was a limited run of squid noodles in ramen and kae-soba versions. I tried the ramen, and the broth was black from the ika ink. There were a lot of things going on, on top - sauteed tomatoes, a slice of that cha-siu, silky soft-boiled egg, grated horseradish, chopped leeks and some pickles. 

Sadly, all those things weren't powerful enough individually to contradict one another. The pickles weren't sour enough, the tomatoes bland, the horseradish lacking its characteristic zing. Even the squid flavor, despite all that darkness, was missing. To top it all off, the squid was rubbery. 

Good thing the ika promo has been replaced. Ongoing is a shrimp and salmon kae-soba promo for Lent.

After all the lavish dishes I find comfort in what's simple. Like a plate of simply salted steamed edamame. How I licked those grains of salt! And the crackly chewy gyoza, which must be the best I've tried. I can't remember which gyoza I used to like best, but this now tops the list. It makes me forget all the rest.

That velvety soft-boiled egg can be ordered by itself, along with a side of simply steamed yasai. If I go back these are just what I'd order - I've had enough of luxuriousness for a while.
It's marvelous, though, to step from the street into a place that makes you think you stepped into a hidden alley.  
With a noodle cart, the al fresco ambience is completed by roughly paved floors imitating old Japanese streets. There's a wall of broken tiles - as it was in Hiroshima, perhaps?



Mitsuyado Sei-men, House of Tsukemen
22 Jupiter Street, Bel-Air, Makati City
(632) 511-1390, 511-1759



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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Spinach Amaranth


This is one of five endemic leafy vegetables promoted by the FNRI to be a regular part of the Filipino diet, as they have been found to be extremely nutritious and are mostly organic.
Supposedly known as edible spinach or yin tsai or Chinese spinach (Amaranthus gangeticus), it is different from the more popular Baguio spinach, which has thicker leaves and stems. The amaranth has paper-thin leaves that go limp and wilt in just a few hours, the stems just a tad thicker, like that of the saluyot. The short sprouts are uprooted, so the leaves come to the market still sporting muddy roots.
I've only just seen several bunches at any one time being sold in the Cavite City public market, and only by just one or two vendors. I haven't come across it in the vegetable section of the several supermarkets I frequent, but large bunches of it is available in Divisoria. My lola in Frisco used to buy lots of it from the Balintawak market.

It is not sold year-round. Just a few weeks a year, and one time it appeared just once, then disappeared never to be seen again. I've been buying it for several weeks now, though, so it must be in season.
Before I came to Metro Manila I never knew about this spinach, though I bought Baguio spinach when I went to the mountain city. We didn't eat it, and as far as I know it wasn't sold and eaten in my hometown. I only came to know about it when it was served at the Frisco home of my lola, mixed with monggo in lieu of the more traditional malunggay.
When I attended an organics seminar conducted by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the Department of Science and Technology and learned that, apart from malunggay, there are five local organic greens that are super-packed nutritionally, and that this spinach is one of them, I kept a look-out. So I've been having it ever since whenever I can find it.

And I've just realized I've foregone Baguio spinach in favor of it. It's cheaper by the kilo, since it weighs far less, and it's more accessible when in season. There seems to be no difference in taste, and even in texture. I think what I buy is the white, round-leafed variety.
I've heard some people mix this with sinigang, that ubiqiuitous Filipino soured broth with meats or fish. But I haven't tried it yet. I have difficulty parting with tradition - I have kangkong with sinigang using meats, or kamote tops with fish. I also ever use malunggay or ampalaya leaves in my monggo.

Maybe that's because I like to eat spinach by itself. Sauteed with lots of crushed garlic - as much as a whole head - until wilted to a dark green. For crunch and an additional dose of garlic breath, I sprinkle the sauteed spinach with minced garlic fried to a crisp. Season with salt to taste, but it's not necessary, especially if it's going to accompany some fried or grilled fish or meat.

It can be served hot from the pan, or cold with a generous douse of sesame oil, and some sesame seeds as well.

I think the sauteed spinach and the popular "green soup" or spinach-seafood soup served in many Chinese restaurants, which I order every chance I get, use this variety.  

Amaranth is a rich source of calcium and Vitamin A. It also has phosphorus, Vitamin C and traces of the B vitamins thiamine, riboflavin and niacin. It is a good supplement food for growing children and lactating mothers. Patients suffering from fever, hemorrhage, anemia or kidney problems are given amaranth for its medicinal value.



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Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Mt. Makiling Trek

It's almost the summer season, but not just yet! Department stores have undressed their mannequins, and the many colorful swimsuits make me want to crash-diet. But no, the skies have been thick with low clouds, and the winds still blow cold in the evenings. And PAGASA said summer is still a week away.
So we took advantage of the lingering cold by submerging ourselves in the restorative waters of Mt. Makiling. We were in one of the many hot spring resorts in Pansol, Laguna for an overnight swimming party to celebrate a birthday.
We were up early the following morning, since an overnight booking is only until 6AM. In a totally unprecendented and unplanned moment, we found ourselves on the slopes of the inactive volcano, right at the start of a long-used trail, in nothing more than our pajamas and slippers.
We were three families with ten kids from five to eighteen, and not a squeak was uttered against an early morning trek despite little sleep and much physical exertions the night before, and practically no breakfast. Andito na tayo. 
It boded well, and foretold the general atmosphere of the entire adventure. And it was undeniable proof that the kids were our very own.  For these friends with me were my companions during numerous weeks-long travels across the country, and months-long tramps around the globe, in our own youth. Two generations of kaladkarins.
The asphalted trail, which is actually a two-lane road, goes up to the summit of the believed-to-be-enchanted volcano. Obviously we were not appropriately prepared for that hike, but less than a kilometer on, which is the trail's Station 2, a small trail approximately 900 meters long forks from the main one, leading along steep slopes and thick foliage to a granite chasm carved by a shallow but ebullient brook called "Flat Rocks."
Along the way it began to drizzle, and the otherwise manageable trail started to get muddy. The light rain persisted throughout our trek, letting us truly experience a rain-forest.
Back to the main trail we checked with everybody for the next leg – an uphill hike of more than four kilometeres to the location of a mud spring. Unexpectedly nobody complained, and the kids grouped together and went ahead, traipsing and hopping  and bouncing every which way. 
a stand of majestic narra trees


The adults straggled along, while another mother and I brought up the rear with the three bunsos, who tarried posing for photos amidst hedges of blooms, inspecting leaves in primary colors, taking a pause to listen to cawing monkeys invisible in the canopy of giant trees, looking for walking sticks, and finding rocks to sit on to rest their short legs. 
At the 4km mark, at Station 7 by the rainforest garden, were three huts where we stopped for fresh buko.  The juice was unbelievably sweet, but expensive at Php15 apiece. They also uncomfortably filled our bladders, and it was unfortunate that the only comfort room was at the start of the trail, 4 kilometers back.
Various -silogs were also on offer, served no less on sizzling plates with bottles of spiced vinegar, soy sauce, cracked black pepper, and an outstanding chili sauce that looked homemade. 

When I arrived with my little group I found out my elder daughter had gone on ahead to the mud spring trail 700 meters on with two kuyas without stopping to eat or drink. When I did get on the trail (Station 8) with the little ones I dared not think how my elder kids were faring, or my heart would have stopped.
For like the earlier trail, portions were just slope edges held by large hardened tree roots, and brambles barred the way in several places. The right side fell to deep ravines  for most of the way. It was best to go as fast as can be managed, and not think. 
But the trails are well-cared for. Parts were paved with large river stones, and thorns had been trimmed.
And our goal was nothing short of breathtaking. The mud spring is actually a mudpot, a pool of bubbling hot mud made from volcanic ash and clay. Due to the rains it was filled with water, and it became a bubbling hot pond. A thick mist from the vapors sat on it unmoving. It was eerie. It was spectral.

The temperature was 80 degrees C, and I wondered how it would be were we able to wade and sit in it. We could not, however, for it had been fenced off, with a warning not to go near it.
The rains poured at that point, so we stayed for a while huddled under the trees. Some from our group scooped the water spilling from the pool that ran out of the fence, and rubbed it onto legs aching from the hike.
The walk back seemed shorter since it was downhill. But we took our time, marveling at hanging huge-leafed vines and the soft carpet of fallen leaves at our feet. Intermittent groups of bikers going uphill and back passed us by with greetings of a good morning and an "ingat po."
Other groups of hikers were also coming up. But some were in high-heeled wedges and dainty sandals, and I pitied them for being so foolish as to dress up for a muddy hike. More's the pity that they won't be able to go through the trails.
Maybe Mt. Makiling is really enchanted. We were fatigued, and we were drenched, but nobody came up with even a little sign of a cold. Not even a delicate little sneeze. I had been worried, for we lacked sleep, and we were able to change clothes five hours after starting the trek. But mud spatters on the back of our legs and mud on our feet were all that blemished us. 


UPLB College of Forestry
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