Friday, February 26, 2010

Eat Your Vegetables

Dr. Lee is back with travels and vegetables.

by Dr. Albert Lee
As an avid photographer, I usually have my camera with me whenever I dine out, be it in my hometown or abroad. In the many places that I have visited, getting to the kitchen to talk to the chef and watch him cook is not an obstacle. If the food is excellent, I tell the waiter/waitress to convey the message to the chef. Without fail, the chef will come out of the kitchen and thank me for the compliment. After all, almost everyone is proud of his/her work regardless of their profession.
In Amsterdam, I saw a sign in front of the restaurant that says, "special for today----fish head soup." I was intrigued so I went in to check it out as I am very fond of fish head soup. I later found out that fish head soup is a delicacy among Hungarians, so he said.
In Beijing, I was able to penetrate the kitchen to watch the art of preparing Peiking duck at the Peiking duck restaurant. This restaurant exclusively serve Peiking duck only. What a delight to see a spotless kitchen with charming chefs in their white uniforms. To me, they all looked like surgeons ready to do a major operation. As a matter of fact, the chef will carve the duck in front of the customers like a surgeon taking out a gallbladder----with ease and finesse.
Just a few days ago, I was invited to dine at an authentic vegetarian restaurant in downtown Houston. Looking around, I saw several dishes being served to customers close to our table which arouse my curiosities. I asked to see the chef and was pleasantly surprised by the eagerness of the chef to show me his kitchen. Soon, we were talking like long lost cousins and he was showing me how he prepares the dishes. Oh, what an artist he is! We had a hearty meal and I was able to take numerous photographs of his work.
Vegetarian food must be the healthiest food for humans. A vegetarian diet is nutritionally adequate. A person living on a vegetarian diet can add ten to fifteen years to his longevity. People on this diet has less chances of developing high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, coronary heart disease, cancer, gallstones, obesity and food born diseases. In the United States the total direct medical cost attributable to meat consumption were estimated to be 30 to 60 billion dollars per year for the diseases mentioned above.
The vegetarian food derives its protein from beans and lentils-----kidney beans, lima beans, pinto beans, cranberry, great northern, garbanzo, soy, and black eye peas.
Soy has isoflavones such as genistein and daidzein, which act as phytoestrogens which inhibit tumor growth, lower cholesterol, lower risk of blood clots and lower bone loss. In contrast, grilled, cured and smoked meat and fish produce cyclic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic amines which are carcinogenic.
Broccoli, brussels sprout, cabbage and cauliflower has cancer protective properties.

Carrots, tomatoes, cucumber, grapes, cantaloupe and berries have all their unique benefits. Whole grains, flaxseed, nuts, garlic, turmeric, scallions, onions, chives, ginger, rosemary thyme, oregano, sage and basil are all known to have significant benefits for our body. Mushroom such as white mushroom, sheitake, maitake, oyster and enoki mushrooms are widely available through culture and these add to the flavors of vegetarian dishes.
People on pure vegetarian diets must take B12, vitamin D, calcium, iron and zinc supplements.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Egg Recall

Memories are made of these... Papa was the early riser. A military officer, it was not unusual for him to be up at 4am. He would go out and buy a paper and read until breakfast. I can picture him in my mind, back to the window, enjoying the early morning sun. I would sometimes join him and he would give me the comics page to read for myself.

If it was early enough, he would make me breakfast. Everyone else would be asleep, so it wouuld be just the two of us. He would fry up the day old rice in flavored oil -- no history of heart disease in his family, so he wasn't above using the run-off oil from the rendered bacon.

He would pound a head of garlic, remove the skins and press the garlic cloves flat with the side of a knife and toss this in some heated oil (or butter) He would scrounge around for leftover meat or vegetables to add to the mix. My favorite was when he would put peas in it. Having previously separated the sticky rice, using his fingers, he would then toss this into the wok and keep tossing it around, so that the rice would fry in just a little bit of oil.

When this was done, he would fry up tapa that my mother would have already cured, mixed and flavored.

Last he would fry up an egg. Sunny-side up and flawless. He never liked the eggs burned, even slightly at the edges. He also would instruct the maids never to break the cooked egg.

Breakfast with him was usually a quiet affair, as he was a quiet man. But one practise I remember is how he would first put the egg on his plate, pile on the rice, then slice up the egg through the rice so the yolk would permeate. He would then add salt and pepper and eat this with meat or fish.

Years later, I would cook breakfast for my own kids and teach them to eat the egg with fried rice. Since I would prefer to live a little longer, I use vegetable oil in frying rice and instead of frying, I poach the eggs. But breakfast with at least one of my kids is a tradition of precious moments.

Poached Eggs

Put water in a saucepan and heat until actively boiling. Add vinegar in 1:2 proportions to water. Add salt. When the liquid resumes actively boiling, crack the egg into the water. It usually takes about a minute and a half for a soft boiled poached egg and about three minutes for a hard boiled one. Remove egg from water with a slotted spoon. Repeat with the next egg.

Friday, February 19, 2010


My grandfather, Filimon Lavina (with an enye) was the eldest son of Alejandro who moved to Cabuyao, Laguna around the time of the Cavite Mutiny. Years later, Alejandro's great grandaughter (thats me) would speculate about his participation in that event.
Lelong Andong was a veteran of the Philippine American War, and, like many others of the time, would bring his baon to the battlefield, usually wrapped in banana leaves. During that time, wars were more civilized. Both sides would take lunch and siesta breaks before renewing hostilities in the afternoon. He would also go home at night. At least that is the kwento that got passed on down to me.
Prof. Vic Torres is a historian and professor in a prestigious university on Taft Avenue, who, coincidentally comes from my lolo's hometown. We haven't yet discovered any blood ties, but considering that Cabuyao really is a small town, I wouldn't be surprised.

Memories of Cooking in a Laguna Town)

“In fact, in the traditional Filipino school of
virtuous cooking, known as “mix and taste,”
rote measurements are disdained as inimical
to a true cook’s creativity. One simply knew
how to make superlative sweets from watching
them made in one’s house numberless times;
no one bothered to write down measurements.”
Luning Bonifacio Ira
“Sweet and Sour”

The Cabuyao I remembered in my youth was not the bustling, modernized fastfood lined streets you would see now.

The Cabuyao I knew then was a quiet town of Laguna - a two-hour bus ride from Pasay City where the BLTB bus terminal was. The South Superhighway then reached up only until Alabang. Going to Laguna meant passing through Muntinglupa (where the smell of roasting coffee was in the air near the Nescafe factory) before entering the first provincial town - Biñan.

Going to Cabuyao for me also meant tasting old-fashioned provincial cooking.

Cooking was one of the means of livelihood for my father’s family. Papa once told me how he earned money by selling buko and chicharon in Calamba (which, like the days of Rizal, was the center of Laguna’s economic activity). He would then deposit his earnings in a savings account that he dipped into from time to time to buy personal things. He would proudly point to one of the tocadors in their house saying he bought that cabinet with chicharon.

My father’s ancestral house in Cabuyao was located beside the town school. So they decided to put up a canteen managed by my two aunts. It was a high-roofed room that was annexed to the old house. One side was lined with counters with glass-covered shelves filled with kakanins, short orders and the menu of the day. The eating area can seat fifty students on long wooden tables and benches.

My childhood summer vacation days in Cabuyao meant eating three times a day (not including meriendas) in that canteen. A meal prepared for me by my aunts meant a mound of steaming rice scooped from a large pot on the stove onto a plastic plate and a pile of viands taken from trays in the glass shelves.

Every time there is a family occasion, my two spinster aunts Tita Ising and Tita Siani (Cha Ising and Cha Siani) would begin preparing food early in the morning. Preserves and pickles were made at least a week before. Kakanin was in stock for the two would cook a large batch for the canteen.

It was Tita Ising who woke up at four a.m. to go to the public market in Calamba. At around eight, she would return home with a jeepload of goods. A jeepload meant a lot for the jeepneys then were the extra-long, stainless-steel, twenty-seaters manufactured in Biñan.

A special pasalubong from Tita Ising was butchi - that fried pastry of glutinous rice stuffed with sweetened mongo beans or kundol . She would buy half a dozen pieces for me and my cousins. They came in a paper bag which would soon become stained with the oil the butchi was fried in.

The unloaded goods showed hints of the different dishes to be cooked that day – slabs of fresh pork and beef, chunks of cow’s liver for the pastel hubad (more on this later); bags of vegetables varying from leafy cabbages to sticks of ubod; the saucer-size circles of raw nata de coco swimming in metal tubs of fresh water; a dozen niyogs along with some macapunos; kaengs of green mangoes for the buro; paper sacks of malagkit rice to be ground into galapong – the base for some of the sweetened kakanin.

These were piled on the kitchen counter with the bottles of condiments and sauces. On one side were the plastic packs and cans of spices like pamintang buo, saffron, pamintang durog and rock salt. There were no pre-packed sauces yet. Everything was made from scratch. Vinegar was the pure, fermented coconut water or palm juice and not the chemically-treated ones. If bottled condiments were needed, the two cooks were not particular about any brand as long as everything was mixed properly and the final result tasted right.

Cooking in the canteen kitchen for a family affair meant lighting up six burners: four were from two table-top gas stoves while the other two were from two kerosene kalans with those tanks that you continuously pump to get a blue flame going. There were also open charcoal cooking grills and makeshift hearths in the backyard for the kawas and cauldrons.

The unforgettable flavors that I tasted from provincial cooking were sweet and sour. – sweet from the fruit preserves and kakanins that Tita Ising prepared; sour from the various buros and atcharas that Tita Siani made.

Preserves were a specialty of Tita Ising. I remember the kamias, siniguelas, santol (both pulp and skin) and even watermelon rinds that were collecfted in small plastic basins, waiting to be transformed into delicacies. Tita Ising rolled the kamias fruits with the palm of her hand on one of the wooden benches while pressing down to squeeze out the juice. What was left was a wrinkled, green mass like an elongated, wet prune.

For santol preserves, she peeled the rough santol skin then broke the fruit open to scoop out the pulpy seeds. Both rind and seeds were then placed in separate containers. Slits were cut into the siniguelas fruits deep enough till the knife point touches the seed.

Watermelon rinds required some work. Tita Ising chose the ones with thick skins. After slicing out the pulp (which we kids would greedily eat with red juice dripping from lips and fingers while spitting out the pips on plates or at each other), she then peeled the skin. Tita Ising showed me the greenish-white rind with a thin sheen of red pulp. “Peel it this way,” she said, “Leave some of the red pulp for color.”

The fruits were then soaked for a day in a solution of apog (powdered lime) and water. The measurement of the lime and water is a classic method of “mix and taste” cooking. Asked how much lime is to be used, Tita Ising held out her middle finger and press down on the first digit with her thumb.

“That much,” she said, “depending on the amount you want to cook.” Add a little more if you have more fruit. “Pangkunat lang,” she says.

After pickling in the lime solution for a day, the fruit is washed thoroughly then dropped in a boiling solution of syrup made out of equal cups of sugar and water. The secret is to literally pickle the fruits in the syrup. But not too long and not too short a time. Let the fruits stand in the syrup for a couple of days. Then it is ready.

The atcharas and buros of Tita Siani were easier to do. The secret for its delicious sourness is the timing.

The boiled vinegar must be of the right temperature: not too hot or the bottle will explode and not lukeward or the atchara will not pickle right. It should be just hot enough to semi-cook the vegetables (to remove its rawness) and then pickle it.

It is the same thing with her buros. In this case, it was either mango, mustasa or spring onion leaves. Except for the mangoes, Tita Siani always emphasized washing the leaves first in hugas bigas (rice washing). Then she pours in her vinegar-sugar-salt brew. The measurements were not exact and Tita Siani never mentioned spoonfuls or cupfuls. “It’s all in the taste,” she said. I often wondered how many experiments she made before she got the “taste” right. But the results were unforgettable. Her buros were a favorite sidedish in family reunion meals.

A traditional dish which served as both viand for meals and pulutan for the family drinkers was the pastel hubad (literally ‘naked pastel).”

The dish is almost identical to the Spanish pastel but without its thick, baked crust. The Cabuyao pastel was a mixture of cubed fatty pork, liver, carrots, pickles, soy sauce, tomato paste and the entire bottle of juice the pickles were packed in. No water and no other added seasoning. Just simmer the meat, vegetables and seasonings into a pot until the pork begins to render its fat. Add the tomato paste for color then some pickle juice until a sweetish flavor is obtained. No exact measurements. Again, mix and taste enriches the flavor fo the food.

Aside from the preserves, dessert was a sugary treat consisting of a glutinous rice cake we called sinukmani (biko to other Tagalogs), antala and halayang ube.

These three kakanins were cooked with the skill and care that only old-time cooks knew. The sinukmani and antala were made from malagkit, coconut milk and sugar. The malagkit is boiled in a pot then cooked in a pan with the milk and sugar. Sinukmani is made with brown sugar while antala with white (refinado). It is then stirred over a low fire until it solidifies into a sticky mass. Latik is made from coconut gratings and sugar toasted into brown sweet fragments. This is then sprinkled over the kakanins.

Halayang ube is made from ube tubers grated very finely. The violet mass is then mixed with condensed milk and sugar. Like sinukmani, it is continuously stirred over a low fire until sticky.

The difficult task in making these kakanins is the stirring of the sticky mass so it will mix properly. Tita Ising’s arms became beefy through the years of hard stirring she had to do. Aunts, uncles, cousins and even hired help would beg off from doing this. Now I could only smile and think how much good food can come out of hard work.

There were other dishes that graced the family table in Cabuyao. What I write here are the only ones I now remember. Sometime in the early 1990s, I wrote down the recipes of the preserves, atcharas and buros in a small notepad. Unfortunately, I lost the pad, misplacing it among the papers in the house. I managed to experiment on these recipes based on what I remembered and was successful in some especially the preserved watermelon rinds.

True to the tragedies of family recipes, the ones in Cabuyao have almost disappeared. Tita Siani died in 1998 while Tita Ising died in 2003. Almost none of my cousins inherited the perfection of Tita Ising and Tita Siani’s cooking. But from time to time, they experimented. I recently discovered that one of my cousins has duplicated the delicious pastel hubad. I quickly got the recipe from her. There will come a time when I would cook it myself. Maybe to relive a food taste from the past.

I guess it is enough to say food lives on.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Please be careful with my Heart

Dr. Albert Lee's recipe for a heart-friendly dinner in this month of cardiac arrests.

Steam-cooking is the healthiest way to prepare food. Almost all the common vegetables in the market or grocery stores can be prepared by steam-cooking with ease without losing its nutritional values.
Among sea foods, fish is the most popular for steam-cooking. In my opinion, black grouper, flounder, red snapper, golden pompano, and sea bass are best suited for this kind of cooking. If live fish is available, that would be wonderful. Otherwise, the fresher the fish, the better. The best size fish, for practical reasons, would be something weighing around one and half to two pounds in weight. For steam-cooking, one would need a metal or a bamboo steamer.

1 whole fish, cleaned thoroughly.
1 bundle of scallions, cut lengthwise

1 bundle of cilantro

1 teaspoon of sesame oil

1 teaspoon of mushroom soy sauce

1 fresh ginger, cut into strips

3 cloves of fresh garlic, minced

salt to taste
Place the whole fish in a 1 inch deep platter, sprinkle it with salt and add the garlic and soy. Place the platter in the steamer, cover, and steam for about 20 minutes. To find out if the fish is cooked or not, insert a fork on the meatiest portion of the fish. If the flesh is flaky and not stuck to the bones, you know you are done. Otherwise, steam it for another 10 minutes.
Remove the entire platter from the steamer, garnish the fish with the scallions, cilantro, sesame oil and serve immediately. Steamed fish should always be served just before eating. This is one dish you cannot prepare ahead of time. Serve with steaming rice.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Love and Fishes

I learned to cook in summer cooking schools. But I learned to live it, through my maternal grandmother, Paula Espiritu Lavina. She was born in a privileged family (they owned the first model T Ford in Marikina) of the de la Paz clan.

My great grandfather, however, died early before all his children had finished school. He was cleaning his car one day when it was hit from behind by a karitela. He was run over and died of gangrene.

Lola was the eldest daughter. Her older brother went on to become a lawyer, so lola studied and soon became a teacher. She spoke Spanish and played the violin. Her other sibilings finished school too, with her and her brother's help.

But her best achievements (for me) came after marriage to Lolo, Filimon Lavina. Lola's cooking was famous.

I will digress at this point to note that you may get horribly bored at the manner in which I am writing this. It sounds like any other pedestrian who likes to boast of his lineage because he has nothing else to commend him. These people have many stories of how great their ancestors were, how large their lands or holdings or -- this is what kills me -- the fact that they have foreign blood, the most common being Spanish or Chinese.

So as I started writing this, I noticed, with growing alarm that I have become one of those whom I have maligned under my breath. Those people who boast of relations to this or that hero, or of coming from a mestizo family. So I have taken great care to limit the narrations of how great my forebears are. As far as I can tell, I have no national heroes lurking in the family tree unless you count Lolo Imon and Papa's wartime exploits as guerillas. We do have the occasional criminal, failures, priests (I just had to throw that in) and dead ends. But I guess thats a story for another time.

My point is, it is one thing to establish pride for the past -- our country is glorious with it-- but it is also necessary to keep making successes too. It is also necessary to establish a credible past and one that is not fraught with colonialism. I'm not proud of the fact that my paternal greatgrandmother was probably sired by a priest, but there you have it. One cannot deny the green eyes. Its a fact. But being proud of light skin and a Caucasian ancestor as though it were superior is another thing altogether.

Ok, rant over.

Lola's cooking was well known among relatives. Her kitchen, a 1950s renovation had the best and latest technology, but she also had two wood burning stoves out in the back. The traditional brick and stone open oven and an American style iron one. She would buy the freshest ingredients from the market, opting to have chickens slaughtered in the backyard to guarantee freshness. Fish were checked for eye clarity, smell, plimpness and firmness. The backyard had fruit trees and herbs some of whose bounty went straight into the pot.

Lola's daughters all imbibed this love for cooking, with each of my aunts and my mother developing their own specialties, work schedules notwithstanding.

When I began cooking for real -- no cheating with store bought pre-cooked viands -- it was Lola who provided recipes and took me in hand for a step by step demonstration. And no matter how old I was or how infirm she had become, if I asked for her palitaw, she would find a way to make me some.

What follows is Lola's recipe for tulingan -- mackerel -- known as a Batangas specialty, but one which she perfected. Lola insisted on the real thing.

Clean the mackerel and remove innards. Press the fish flat using a butcher cleaver and salt them individually. Line clay pot with banana leaves. Make a small tray or stand using barbecue sticks woven together and place it on the floor of your clay pot. Line the pot with sun dried kamias.

Arrange fish in clay pot (you may want to wrap each individually) making sure each piece is sprinkled with peeled and pounded garlic, pork fat and pepper corns. cover with more kamias.

Add water enough to cover, top with banana leaves and cover with clay lid. Boil slowly with low heat until 80 oercent of the water evaporates. Add more water and allow to evaporate again.

Some serve tulingan by lightly frying first, to seal in the flavors. The remaining liquid may be used as a fish sauce.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Love Pie

We do know that Adam was tempted by Eve with an apple. Though archeologists would tell us that isn't likely to be so. Since the tale originated with the desert peoples/civilizations, Genesis' fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was probable a fig. Apples would not find their way to the region until much, much later.

Still, given that its heart month, the apple does look like it could be an ideal aphrodisiac. Its red, sweet, juicy and thus by salacious association, fulfills the main premise of Valentine's that love=sex. Hah. Women know better, though, they let men suffer the illusion until after marriage. Now, where was I? O yes, apples.

Nutritionally, apples aren't bursting with vitamins as most fruits are. But they do contain antioxidant phytochemicals. Dr. Barry Sears in his book, "The Top 100 Zone Foods" says "Apples are a good source of soluble fiber especially pectin which helps control insulin levels by lowering insulin secretion."

Wiccan traditions hold the apple in special reverence since it can be used in various spells. Think Snow White and her poisoned apple. However, I have known some grimoirs that consistently use apples for love spells. The simplest one goes thus:

Enchanted Apple Spell

Pick a half green/half-red apple when the Moon has waned three days. Breath upon its green cheek, rub it with a scarlet cloth, saying:Fire sweet

And fire red,

warm the heart

And turn the head.

Kiss the red half, put it later in another's hand. Who holds it shall weaken, who eats it shall be yours as long as you can keep them.

The Philippines imports all its apples, primarily from China, thus making the saying, "As American as apple pie" a dinosaur in a globalized economy,  But, since apples easily deteriorate in a tropical country -- they require refrigeration -- many Filipinos enjoy apple in pastries and pies.  This one is my favorite.
Apple Pie
2 C flour
1/4t salt
2/3 C butter or butter compoound (cold)
5 large apples sliced (not too thinly)
1t cinnamon
1t nutmeg
1/4C white sugar
1/4C brown sugar
1T flour
Sift flour and salt together. Cut butter into flour until it forms pea sized balls. Spray with cold water and form into a ball. Knead very lightly only until the mix sticks together in one ball. Divide ball into two. Roll each ball flat and line pie pan, Reserve the other half for the top portion of the pie. Puncture with small holes or cuts, Keep cold.
It is important not to knead the pastry. This is not a bread. For the pie crust to be light and flaky, you will need an equally light touch. Remember to work quickly since butter melting into the flour will cause the pastry shell to be tough or hard. While doing your filling, keep the pastry in the ref.
Mix all dry ingredients together. Put a single layer of apples in pastry lined pie plate, sprinkle dry mixture over it. Alternate layers of apples with the mixture making sure all apples are covered. The top layer should be covered with dry mixture.
Cover with top pastry and seal the sides with your fingers or a fork.  Make generous cuts in the top pastry so that the excess water will evaporate gently and preserve the flavors in the pie.
Bake in preheated oven at 400deg for about 40 minutes or until pastry is evenly light brown in color.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Valentine Opiates

There is no lover like chocolate. He is sweet, dark, sometimes dangerous. He whispers softly as I unwrap him. He caresses my tongue and gently juices flow.
I smell him and he fills my mind. My blood races. Month after month, I crave him. Sometimes he comes with gifts, sweet cherry liquid, soft caramel, almonds...
I have no lover but chocolate...

Chocolate contains chemicals that reproduce the effects of marijuana. The combinations also produce a euphoric feeling sort of like falling in love.

Ellen Kuwana of the website Neuroscience for Kids says "Researchers at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, Emmanuelle diTomaso (she's now at Harvard University) and Daniele Piomelli (he's now at the University of California, Irvine) looked into the chemical components of chocolate. They found three substances in chocolate that 'could act as cannabinoid mimics either directly (by activating cannabinoid receptors) or indirectly (by increasing anandamide levels).'"

No small wonder then that chocolates form an intrinsic part of the Valentine's rituals. Although I must warn the readers that chocolate has a limited effect. The chemicals are not sufficient to produce actual marijuana-type "highs" or "euphorias." Maybe the flowers are contributory, and you need all the ingredients for the full effect. Nevertheless, I would not suggest a Valentine celebration without both chocolates and flowers.

For those who intend to stay home, though. One can be consoled with chocolate recipes. The way I see it, if there are enough cannabinoid-like compounds in your food, who needs a date?

This is my favorite brownie recipe -- no it has no opioids other than cocoa powder! Its pretty easy, I've been baking this solo since I was nine.


¾ cup butter (room temp)
1+½ cup sugar
2 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs
¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch of salt (optional)
1/2 cup chopped nuts (cashew, pecans or walnuts) optional
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream butter and suger. Add eggs mix well, then add vanilla. Add in all dry ingredients except nuts and mix well. Add nuts if any.
Grease a 13x9 inch pan. Pour in mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 to thirty minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool, dust with powdered sugar, if desired.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Sweet Tooth, Duck Eggs and Churches

There is no truth to the rumor that Prof Vic is known as Torres the Terror to his students. In fact he's a sweetheart. Or at least, we know he must be partly made of sugar -- local, not imported. Today he shares his leche flan recipe.

Leche flan is a dessert I always love to cook. This is a recipe that my mother taught me using a bit of a shortcut method. The original recipe called for three eggs only and sometimes included the white of one of the eggs as a “binder.” However, the white leaves the custard looking like Swiss cheese so I shifted to using egg yolks only. Friends and family who had tasted it said it was better. I don't use grated dayap rind (although some say it gives the leche flan a bit of a bite) But then again, to each his own taste.
Modern technology has brought the steamer and the rice cooker to the kitchen which made cooking leche flan easier. If there's no steamer or rice cooker, I use a large deep pot in which I place an upside down ceramic or metal bowl inside to put the llanera on then pour in a glass or two of water. However, this takes a longer time to cook and one has to guard the pot constantly to prevent the water from totally evaporating.
Unfortunately, the two best brands of condensed milk in the market (Alaska and Carnation) seems to have cut costs and their product only comes out in small cans now. But I still use the medium-sized cans (300 ml, I think it was) of different brands of condensed milk and, so far, the taste was not affected.
By the way, don't ask me what I do with the egg whites. Never did figured out what to do with it. I am not in the middle of building a house or church anyway so there's no mortar to mix it with.
Take six eggs. Separate the yolks from the white. Store whites in the ref. Beat the egg yolks until a bit bubbly then pour in one medium-sized can of condensed milk. Stir until well-blended. Instead of adding water or additional milk, what I do is just I put a little water in the condensed milk can then stir to get the residue then pour it in the mixture.
Get a llanera then put in a couple of tablespoons of white sugar. Caramelize the sugar over low flame. Be careful not to burn the sugar or it will taste bitter. (Burnt sugar in leche flan is yucky.) Remove from flame and pour in egg and milk mixture before the caramel stiffens. Place llanera in steamer. If you are using a rice cooker steamer, use the measuring cup of the rice cooker to pour a cup and half of water inside the pot. Steam until a knife inserted in the custard comes out clean.
Loosen leche flan from llanera with a knife then turnover on a serving dish. Enjoy.

Vic's consternation over what to do with the remaining egg whites, notwithstanding, I couldn't resist reproducing this article I wrote for the, two years ago.  However to those who do want something to do with the egg whites, I will be adding in a recipe soon for blitz torte, a merienda cake I learned from Mrs. Ruth Guingona, former Second Lady of this Republic.


An Omelet Heritage

A country without a memory, is a country of madmen. -- George Santayana

If all uninformed tour guides are to be believed, our churches are held together with cement and egg white like the confections they are. In my former life as NCCA’s legal conservationist, I’ve had some side-ripping tourist moments as some enthusiastic guide with more guesswork than research attempted to explain their history factoids with gossip and superstition.
Philippine churches are primary tourism targets and a booming industry surrounds them. Unlike many of their European counter-parts, these churches remain in use, and are thus showcases of continuing history. Over thirty of them have been declared national cultural treasures and World Heritage Sites.
Because of renewed interest in these structures, the informality of accreditation systems for tour guides (not to mention the downright politics of some of their appointments) and too few sources of information on the histories of both the locales and structures, too many have taken up occupations as “tour guides” using savvy business sense and not much else. The result is a disastrous mish mash of misinformation that often bewilders the educated and damages the uninformed.
A common theme among these guides is a small but significant footnote in the construction methods of these churches. Too many times, I have heard a guide say that the churches are made of adobe and were put together using egg whites, which gave rise to local delicacies like the leche flan. To my consternation, this was uttered during a local government-sponsored tour of Iloilo. The guide was referring to the sandstone Miag-ao Church, a World Heritage Site, which has no record of being built with egg whites and is nowhere near a source of adobe. We do know that it is held together with a lime plaster.
Lime plasters were mixed with various materials, according to the Philippine expert on ecclesiastical heritage, Ricky Jose, among them crushed shells, sand, lime, water, animal blood and yes, in some instances, duck eggs. National Museum restoration engineer Orlando Abinion adds that animal manure was also used in some instances. It is the duck eggs that perhaps led to the belief that egg whites were used.

Jose however says that the records are unclear on whether the whole duck egg or just its egg white was mixed in with the plaster. While there is no clear correlation between the building of the churches and delicacies made of egg yolk such as yema, tocino del cielo and leche flan, it’s certainly a tantalizing idea. This is not enough, however, to say that all churches are built of adobe and egg whites.
In fact, not all churches were built of adobe. Their locations usually determined the material to be used. Churches in Manila and some from the Southern Tagalog regions were made of adobe, which can still be sourced in these areas, the best of which still comes from Bulacan. When the Intramuros walls were being restored in the 1970s, new blocks of adobe were cut to fill in portions of the walls that had been removed. To ensure authenticity, the stone masons were trained to cut the adobe stone in the same manner as the original stone of the walls were cut.
In the Visayas and parts of Mindanao, many of the churches are made of coral stone, save for others like Miag-ao’s Sto. Tomas de Villanueva, which is of sandstone. Others are made of volcanic rock and still others were built using river stone held together with the lime plaster. Others were built with a combination of these materials and locally produced brick, such as those beautiful churches in Northern Luzon. If one looks carefully, the remains of the large hornos (ovens) in which these bricks were baked can still be seen on church grounds. The Tumauini Church is a symphony in various sizes of brick made for the purpose.
However, if we must insist that our churches were built with eggs, the records say that the dome of the Church of the Immaculate Conception, the former parish of the Intramuros now better known as the Manila Cathedral, was sealed in 1780 with a mixture of lime, powdered brick, duck eggs and bamboo sap, again according to Ricky Jose. Two hundred duck eggs are also said to have to have been used on a convento in Imus.
As far as old churches go in various places in the country, I hear many local tour guides who love to boast that their church is the oldest in the Philippines. However, if the church is not located in Intramuros, then it’s not likely to be true. According to curator of the San Agustin church museum, Father Pedro Galende, OJA, two churches were built at the time Miguel Lopez de Legazpi occupied the area that was Raja Matanda’s former fort, now known as the Intramuros.
These two churches were San Agustin and what is now the Manila Cathedral. The original church of San Agustin, made of wood and nipa, was built in 1571. The structure burned down in 1574 after the raids directed by the pirate Lima Hong. The structure that was rebuilt also burned down in 1583, when the draperies caught fire during the wake of Governador Ganzalvo Ronquillo. After the structure burned down again in 1586, the Agustinian provincial met with his council and they passed a resolution ordering the building of a stone church.
This stone church, whose construction began in 1591 was finished in 1607, is the same structure standing in

Intramuros today. It was declared a World Heritage Site and acknowledged as the oldest church in the country.
This bit of history notwithstanding, the funniest tour guide comment I have ever had the privilege to hear is this nugget from a Northern Luzon guide: “Our church is the oldest church in the entire country. Even before the Spaniards came, it was already there.”

Monday, February 1, 2010


Dr. Albert Lee is back with pulutan, having gotten a craving for it after reading Drink of Angels.
The doctor is in!
Becher-de-mer, the fancy French name for sea slugs or sea cucumbers, are marine animals used in oriental cuisines. it's called namako in japan, and balatan in the Philippines. In china, it is also called sea ginseng because of its "medicinal values." It is considered to be an aphrodisiac by some believers (I ain't one of them). It's a "yang" food (as in yin and yang). Sea slug dishes are usually served along with the other high-end Chinese food in banquets such as shark fin's soup, bird's nest soup, abalone, Peking duck etc.

When I was growing up in the town of Sorsogon (now a city) in Sorsogon province, Bicol region, Philippines, my cousins and I would go down the ocean floor during low tides looking for live sea shells, crabs, and sea cucumber. These items were in abundance then. I heard that nowadays this is no longer the case because of pollution. Peoples have destroyed the very habitat for a food source that have sustained them for generations. Many other places are suffering from the same fate. The Philippine coral reefs, so important in marine ecology, is partially damaged and will take decades for it to recover.
Sorsogon city has a pier called rompeolas where ships from Manila and other places docks and unload their cargo. On their return trips, they carry hemp and copra for export to America and other countries. The pier was also our favorite fishing spot where we used to catch rock lapu-lapu (grouper). We would spend hours fishing and dreaming about taking long voyages to far away lands. I wonder if the descendants of those fish are still living in those craggy rocks around the pier.

One does not need to wander very far outside Manila to see the ravages of human pollution. Look at the Pasig river that divides Metro Manila into two. The river used to be an important transport route during the Spanish occupation but is now so polluted it is considered dead by the ecologist. Ironically, the river is right in the backyard of Malacanang Palace, the seat of power, where, with political will something could have been done to remedy the problems during previous administrations. Rhetoric about rehabilitation was aplenty in the past but nothing was ever carried into actions. It is only recently, with public outcry, that rehabilitation is being taken up.
Sea cucumbers are usually harvested, dried and traded in places like China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea,and Japan. In Palawan, Philippines, sea cucumbers are being cultured and sold to the different countries mentioned above.
For home consumption, sea cucumber can be purchased dried or the re-hydrated type ready for use. Let's stick to the re-hydrated type for our home cooking because the dried ones will take days to prepare and I don't want to discourage anyone from trying to prepare this dish because of time constraint.

There are only a few basic items you will need to prepare this dish. Be adventurous and do it at least once just for the fun of it. If you have never eaten sea cucumber before, you may want to try it in a restaurant to see whether you like it or not before attempting to prepare it yourself. Gelatinous food likes cooked pork or beef tendon is also an acquired taste. I know of many friends of mine who don't care much about eating such stuff.

This recipe calls for the following:

1 kilo of re-hydrated cucumber

1 can of abalone, set aside the juice. Slice the abalone into thin slices

6 pieces of dried black Chinese mushroom, pre-soaked, ready for use

scallions, minced

1 tablespoon of soy sauce

1/2 cup of cooking wine

salt to taste

garlic, minced

Slow cook the sea cucumber in 4 cups of chicken stock for 1 hour or until it is tender, adding more stock if needed. Bring to a boil, then add the mushrooms, soy, cooking wine, salt, garlic and the juice from the canned abalone. When the sea cucumber is tender enough, you will notice that the juice will become gelatinous. For a thicker juice, add a teaspoon of tapioca flour dissolved in water. Put the dish in a platter lined with leafy lettuce (for good presentation only), place the sliced abalone on top and garnish with the scallions. You may also want to arrange the mushrooms around the platter for good appearance or some pre-boiled baby bok choy as the sapin. Serve with white rice. Sea cucumber is rich in iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc. Some people claimed it is good for people suffering from arthritis.
Kain tayo!