Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Lumpiang Shanghai (Meat Spring Rolls)

Every time I will munch on “lumpiang shanghai”, flashes of happy memory will appear on my mind. The scene was a traditional family occasion where everybody is busy cooking and preparing foods. I am still a first grader and happily playing around when I ran through the kitchen area. It is there where I chanced upon this funny looking “lumpia” just slightly bigger than my fingers but unusually longer. Instinct drove me to secretly take one, run and hide. In the hidden corner of the house the inevitable happened: a love at first bite.

Since that day “lumpiang shanghai” has been dearly loved by me. I eat it as viand accompanying steamed rice for meal, “merienda” (snack) that goes well with “pancit” (a top Filipino noodle dish), spaghetti and other pasta dishes, “pulutan” (appetizer) over alcoholic beverages and even on its own over a glass of sparkling soda drink.

“Lumpiang shanghai” is a type of “lumpia” or Filipino pastries similar to spring rolls. The recipe was brought by the Chinese immigrants and became popular where they settled in the Philippines. It has such enduring popularity that one can see at least one variant in almost any set of Filipino festivities. Its distinct taste and ease of preparation has caused it to be one of the favorite foods of the Filipinos.

For this recipe, the fillings will compose of 1 kl ground pork, 1 medium onion, minced, 1 large carrot, minced, 2 stalks celery, finely chopped, 2 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tsp sesame oil (optional), 1 large egg or 2 small eggs, lightly beaten, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp ground pepper, 50 pcs spring roll wrappers and about 1 cup vegetable oil.

The process is pretty simple. You just have to thoroughly combine all the ingredients (except wrappers and vegetable oil) in a large mixing bowl. Continue blending until the mixture is held together by the beaten eggs. Taste the mixture and add some more salt or pepper if necessary.

Take about 2 tbsp of the filling and wrap to about half an inch spring roll. Continue rolling and wrapping until you have a lot of these. You’ll be able to make about 40 to 50 rolls.

Heat oil in a wide frying pan and start cooking your “lumpiang shanghai” in batches. Cook each batch in moderate heat until golden brown. Maintaining the correct temperature of the oil is essential to attain good results. Too hot and it will burn the wrapper, not enough heat and oil will enter the roll. Properly drain excess oil from the cooked “lumpia” using table napkin. Serve hot and crispy along side with your favorite sweet and sour sauce.

You can use other ingredients for the fillings. You can substitute ground beef or minced chicken or a combination thereof. You can also add minced shrimp or use fish meat instead. For the vegetables you can also add mushroom, scallion, leeks or use some jicama (“singkamas”) and water chestnut. Feel free to experiment, until you find the combination that works best for you. Enjoy.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Kithul Treacle and Jaggery, Sweet & Healthy

The beauty of having the opportunity to live in another country is that it widens your perspective and increases your knowledge. As you adapt to a different environment, lifestyle and culture you will tend to discover a lot of surprising things. Some are new and peculiar and some are similar or at least have resemblance to what you already knew, learned or experienced back home.

Aside from the distinct type of banana (“Seeni Kesel”) and citrus fruit (“Ambul Dodang”) I recently featured, another interesting find here in Sri Lanka are their “Kithul Treacle and Jaggery”.

“Kithul” is a Sri Lankan name to a variety of palm scientifically known as Caryota urens that grows in the Asian tropics. It is a species of indigenous flowering plant in the palm family from Sri Lanka, Myanmar and India. They naturally grow in the wild, in forest covers, in fields, in rain-forest clearings and even in home gardens. This palm has been used as an ornamental tree in the Philippines. In fact, our family has one tree growing right in front of our garden which my sister Ines got from a local garden supplier. They are commonly called solitary fishtail palm, toddy palm, wine palm or jaggery palm.

“Kithul” treacle and jaggery are products made from the sugary sweet sap obtained by tapping the young “Kithul” inflorescence according to a traditional methods. This traditional knowledge was a highly guarded and much valued secret, kept within families and handed down from generation to generation with the techniques being unmatched and not practiced in any other country in the region.

“Kithul” treacle, also called “Kithul honey” is similar to maple syrup and made from pure sap for a unique taste and aroma. Since it is an all-natural, chemical-free products with no additives or preservatives, it is a healthy alternative to granular sugar. In Sri Lanka, treacle is a “must-have” accompaniment to curd and a common ingredient in baking. For me, I have used this in “minatamis na saging” or sweetened banana, pancakes syrup and other sweets.

“Kithul” jaggery is produced by concentrated treacle heated to 200°C until it reaches a consistency similar to that of a thick syrup. It is then poured into moulds and cooled. It is a traditional unrefined non-centrifugal sugar ready to use as a natural sweetener with tea, herbal tea, sweet and savoury dishes, or simply enjoyed on its own. It is also used as an ingredient in both sweet and savory dishes across Sri Lanka. For me, I have used this in cooking "humba", "estopado" and other dishes requiring brown sugar.

In the Philippines, there is also a jaggery locally known as “panocha” or “panutsa”. This block of sweetness is made from concentrated sugarcane juice without the separation of the molasses and crystals. “Kithul” jaggery however is more similar to Philippine’s “pakaskas” which is also a palm sugar. It is produced from Buri palm tree which can be found in the Philippines.

The unique taste is also the same as well as the health benefit. I used to eat it as sweets when I was a kid. It is pack with natural goodness amidst its rather small packaging. Owing to the success of using "Kithul" jaggery in cooking Philippine dishes, I think I have to try "pakaskas" in "estopado" and "humba" on my next vacation. c“,)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Minatamis Na Saging (Sweetened Banana)

There are about 18 types of bananas in Sri Lanka. Since this is also a tropical country, many of the varieties here are also found in the Philippines. While they also have the ash plantain type which they use in various cooked dishes, I believe they don’t the much-loved variety in the Philippines called “Saba” or “Cardaba” which Filipinos cooked in so many ways. I have been here for about 4 years and have not seen one, maybe there is none.

There is one particular variety though that caught my attention right from the start. They call it “Seeni Kesel” which means sweet banana. Just like the regular bananas this is commonly eaten raw as dessert after a meal or snack in between meals. But what makes this banana quite interesting to me is that it has the taste and texture of the Philippine “Saba” or what is known in the US and Europe as Musa Saba. Although smaller in size and more rounded in shape like the Philippine “Latundan” it’s basically “Saba” with an added bonus of extra sweetness making it even perfect for cooking.

I have regularly cooked them boiled (“laga”), fried (“prito”), cooked in coconut cream (“ginataan”), “turon”, banana que, used in pork stew (“linagang baboy”), “balbacua” and of course, very often, sweetened banana (“minatamis na saging”).
You only need a few ingredients to prepare this simple yet so satisfying dessert. For about 15 pcs of bananas (1 ½ kilos) I use ½ cup of sugar (yes that’s enough, this banana is sweeter, remember?), 1 screwpine leaf (“pandan”), 1 tbsp butter, a pinch of salt and of course about ¾ cup water.

In a thick pan, put the water and let it boil. Add the bananas (cut in half), followed by the sugar, salt, butter and finally “pandan” leaf. Don’t mix, cover the pan and let it simmering on low heat for about 15 to 20 minutes.

When the liquid is reduced and sugar & butter starts to caramelize give it a gentle mix. Increase your fire to medium and continue slowly mixing until golden brown. Don’t worry if you will char some bananas a little bit, that will make it even better.

Your dessert is ready...... mouth watering......but be careful, It’s scorching hot.........Hotter than Megan Fox. :-)

This sweet is perfect after a dinner of fried fish and vegetables. I should know, I have my proof below. Enjoy. c “,)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Filipino Pancit Bihon (Thin Rice Noodles with Soy Sauce)

It there is one noodle dish Filipinos can easily be associated with it is, no doubt, Pancit Bihon. It is so common that probably second in popularity to rice in the Philippines. You will find it in every restaurant, cafeteria, canteen, small eateries and in everyone’s dining table during birthday celebrations, family occasions or even simple gatherings. While it is actually a snack meal (“merienda”), Filipinos eat them with practically anything: rice, sliced bread, rice cake (“puto”), spring rolls (“lumpia”), steamed buns (“siopao”), pork barbeque and a lot more. It goes very well with another Filipino favourite Pan de Sal (“pandesal”) (Filipino bread roll) for breakfast.

Pancit Bihon or normally just called "Pancit” or “Pansit” is of Chinese origin. This food is similar to Japanese-style-fried noodles yakisoba. The noodles called Bihon (sometimes spelled Bijon) is a very thin noodles made from rice. It is stir fried with soy sauce, some variation of sliced meat (or sometimes shrimp), chopped vegetables and splattered with calamansi or lemon juice before eating. The exact composition depends on someone's recipe and available ingredients but usually, chicken or pork meat, meat balls (“bola-bola”), cabbage and carrots are the common.

For this preparation we shall need ½ kl bihon noodles and about 300 grams chicken (or pork). It is important that you use a good quality bihon. My mom cook this excellently but only if she will be the one to buy the bihon or at least buy her favourite type. Sometimes the method that works best for a certain brand of bihon does work well in another. Mastery of the dish can be attained if constantly using a particular brand you are satisfied with.

You have to soak the noodles in water for about 5 minutes to soften and boil the chicken (or pork) in slightly salted water until tender. A good pancit starts with a good broth so I usually add crushed garlic, bay leaf, quartered onion, peeled carrot, whole pepper corn and some celery in boiling the meat. I find the tendered meat even tastier and the resulting broth exquisitely good. But you are free to just use water instead. My mom does it.

The other ingredients are 3 tbsp vegetable oil, 2 tbsp garlic, crushed and minced, 1 onion, peeled and sliced, ½ cup leeks, sliced diagonally, 1 pc carrot, julienned, ½ cabbage, sliced into strips, ¼ to ½ cup soy sauce, about 6 cups of chicken broth (use in boiling the meat), 1 tsp ground pepper, salt to taste, 2 stalks celery, chopped and 6 pcs calamansi or 1 lemon, sliced.

This is a regular sautéing method of cooking but first brown the strips of meat in hot oil in a large pan. Remove and set aside. On the same pan and with the remaining oil (add some if needed) sauté garlic and onion. Return the strips of meat, stir fry and follow with the vegetables: leeks, carrots and cabbage. When the vegetables are half cooked add the soy sauce and continue stir frying for a minute or two.

When it starts to smell wonderful, pour your broth slowly. Let it boil again, put the ground pepper and salt and adjust the soy sauce and seasonings according to your preference. It should be a little salty to compensate for the noodles later on. The level of broth should be just enough to fully cook the noodles but not make it soggy. Scoop out about 1 to 1 ½ cups of the meat and vegetables and set aside.

Add your drained noodles, thoroughly mix and cover. When it boils again continue mixing. Do this until your pancit is cooked.

That’s it, lovely and delicious. Transfer to a serving platter and top with the meat and vegetables set aside earlier. It will make it looks like a work of art and better than those sold from your neighbourhood eateries. C“,)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Steamed “Alimango” (Mud Crab)

We were supposed to buy sea crabs (“alimasag”) yesterday for our regular Saturday seafood dinner. However the supermarket only had a few which didn’t look and smell fresh. Not wanting to pass the day though without the much awaited seafood meal, I suggested we check the seaside stores which sometimes sell sea crabs and shrimps. It proved to be a very wise decision indeed; we ended up with a better find - live mud crab (“alimango”).

The seller informed us that the mud crabs were freshly caught from the nearby mangrove forest. From the stores location you can actually see the thriving mangrove area which happens to be adjoining part of the alignment of the highway project we are constructing.

While southern Sri Lanka has vast mangrove reservation forest, it is quite surprising to seldom see these mud dwelling decapods crustaceans being sold in the market or even along seaside stores. I am suspecting restaurant owners have pre-arrangements with local fishermen to directly buy the daily catch. Why not? They are among the top orders by tourists’ diners even it’s often times pricey.

Since they are everybody’s favorite, we didn’t think long to buy all six crabs weighing a little less than 2 kilos at a very reasonable price (way lower than in Manila). We headed home smiling. Our dinner is assured to be special. The crab’s claws (chelae) will finally meet its match, they will be the ones to be gripped and crushed. C”,)

Basic preparation for mud crab does not require special knowledge or skill. Like shrimps, its delicate meat taste superb even without adding anything. You can practically just have it cooked in boiling water, steamed or fried in a little oil and it will taste good. But of course, with the correct amount of a few select ingredients, the taste will be enhanced to make it extra special.

For our crabs, we will prepare it the way most Filipinos cooked and enjoyed them - steamed. It’s simple, easy and foolproof. Yes, my 12 years old son Naven can cook it this way..:-)

First you have to clean the crabs thoroughly. You know where they live and you don’t want traces of its dwelling in your food, right?

You will need about 2 tbsp garlic, crushed, 1/2 tsp ground pepper (optional), ½ cup sprite or seven up, 3 tbsp vinegar, calamansi or lemon juice and 2 tbsp butter.

Arrange half of the crabs in a large pot. Sprinkle half of the crushed garlic and ground pepper on top. Mix sprite and vinegar and pour half over the crabs. Add the rest of the crabs and remaining garlic, ground pepper and sprite-vinegar mixture.

Steam tightly covered until crabs turn bright red, about 20 or 30 minutes.

When cooked, remove immediately from pot and serve. Make sure to have a lot of steamed rice ready.

Melt the butter and mix with calamansi (or lemon) juice for a wonderful dunking sauce. Others like calamansi + soy sauce + chili. My mom only likes calamansi + sea salt. My sister Cha likes the crab even without sauce at all. :-)) Whatever dips you like, it will come out as truly tasty but a little messy meal.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pangasinan: Tarlac Anglers' Little Paradise

Among the favorites and probably the healthiest fishing spot frequented by the Tarlac Anglers is the one secluded by lush greeneries of the Philippine province of Pangasinan. The hole, considered as their little angling paradise, is not easily accessible due to restricting natural terrain and undeveloped roadway. It was secretly introduced to the group by some friends from Dagupan Anglers who accidentally discovered it while attending a fiesta (feast) celebration. It has since then became the fishing playground of both clubs during weekends and holidays providing them with countless memorable angling experiences.

Whenever members of the Tarlac Anglers will converge in their home base at Tarlac City (Philippines) during special gatherings or occasions, hitting the waters of that little paradise is in the top agenda. Be it bottom fishing, jigging or trolling, known fighting gamefishes like wahoo (“tanigue”), yellow lip emperor (“camasuhon/bugsi”), barracuda (“barakuda”) and dolphin fish (“dorado”) among others are always ready to provide adrenaline-pumping adventures (fighting the fish) and unforgettable moments (landing the fish).

Regular catch also includes the delicious red grouper (“lapu-lapu”), the tasty picnic sea bream (“bitilya”) and the beautiful but bland & somewhat repulsively smelling trigger fish (“papakol”) in multitude of colors and sizes.

For as long as the sea condition is right, one can expect coolers filled with abundant harvest which will help convince the wife that coming back is worthwhile, rewarding and necessary. C”,)

For Tarlac Anglers, like all other fishing groups, the next trip is usually planned while devouring the catch over a bottle of favorite drinks. On which time, the wives keep cool but vigilant, for they know, after drinking one too many, the fish is always caught by the mouth.:-))


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