Thursday, April 29, 2010

Dr. Lee on Coconuts

Coconut milk had been condemned in the past decades as deleterious to your health because of the high saturated fat and high caloric content, and it still is. But recent studies have shown that coconut milk has some health benefits as well. Coconut is quite abundant and inexpensive in the Philippines. Many people specially the poor depends on this food product for their daily existence. It's therefore not unusual to see many exquisite dishes prepared with the use of coconut milk as its basic ingredients. The Thais, Indians, Africans, Hawaiians, and of course the Filipinos have a variety of food prepared with the use of coconut milk. As a Bicolano, my taste buds longed for coconut dishes once in while. This is what I prepared two days ago and shared it with four other people with delight. Allow me to just simply call it coconut milk with vegetable because it is more descriptive.

1 can of thick coconut milk
1 dozen of large shrimp with the head on, unpeeled
2 bitter melon, cleaned and sliced into bite-size pieces
4 oriental eggplant sliced into bite-size pieces
1 yellow squash about 2 to 3 pounds in weight, peeled and sliced into bite-size pieces
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 onion, minced
1 ginger root, minced
1 teaspoonful of peppercorn
salt to taste

Heat 1 tablespoonful of canola oil, add the ginger and garlic until it turns golden brown. Add the onion and saute the shrimp for a few minutes, remove from sauce pan and set aside.

Using the same saucepan or wok, boil 1 can of chicken broth and cook the eggplant, bitter melon, and squash until it is almost done. Add the peppercorn, coconut milk and shrimp and allow to simmer until the vegetables are well done. Add salt to taste. For a spicy dish, add red chili pepper according to your taste and desire.

Serve with freshly cooked jasmine rice.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Chinese cooking in the Philippines

I am descended from Sangleys, the Chinese who settled in Cavite. My great-grandfather, Alejandro Lavina left Cavite and settled in Cabuyao, Laguna, in the late 1800s. This was a time of revolution and I strongly suspect that Lelong may have been either fleeing the escalating violence or he was running from the Spanish authorities who may have suspected some kind of Katipunan ties. The latter is more likely, as Lelong later joined the Philippine forces in the Philippine-American war.

But this was indicative of the times. The Chinese were merely tolerated by the Spanish colonizers who never really quite shook off their fear of the pirate Lima-Hong, whose forces successfully breached what they then thought of as the impenetrable Intramuros walls. When Filipinos finally took the reins of power, we were not much different in our xenophobia to the point where laws were enacted specifically targetting the Chinese, whos industry and parimony allowed them to undercut the average Filipino businessman's profits. The Retail Trade Nationalization Act was passed because of this.

Still, despite all that, Chinese culture found its way into mainstream society, and food like pancit, siopao, sio mai and the more modern pearl drinks became part of our own cultural expression.

Perhaps because Chinese food is so integrated into the Philippine cultural experience, cooking schools teach it as a regular part of their curriculum. I learned this recipe in the basic cooking course.

Shrimp on Toast

1/2 k shrimp
1/2 c Chinese rice wine
sesame seeds
sesame oil
3 eggs
1 1/2 c cornstarch
1 t salt
1 t vetsin (optional)

Peel and marinate the shrimps in salt and wine for 3 hours. Pour sesame oil on it after three hours.

Beat eggs, then add cornstarch a little at a time until fully blended. Put shrimp into the egg mixture. Once fully coated, spoon shrimp one by one onto halved bread slices, Top with bacon and sprinkle sesame seeds. Deep fry until golden brown.

1 small can pineapple juice
2 T catsup
1 t tabasco
1/2 c sugar
2 T flour
1 T vinegar
1/2 t salt

Mix all in a saucepan over low fire, until desired thickness.

For an interesting discussion on the origins of allegedly popular Chinese food dishes, check this site:

Friday, April 23, 2010

Pineapple Upside-down Cake

Still on the subject of meryenda. This is an easy cake to make, no need to frost or ice and goes perfectly with coffee.

To make it, one can use instant cake mix for yellow cake and simply add 5 tablespoons of pineapple juice to the recipe and the topping. For those who make their cakes from scratch, however, I've listed everything needed.

In your cake pan, spread 1/2 c butter (I use butter compound) on the pan floor. Lightly grease the sides. Add 1 cup brown sugar and spread it evenly. Add and arrange about 8 slices of canned pineapples, drained. Note that if you put in too many pineapples the cake will not absorb the brown sugar topping, so I would adives one not to go overboard with the pineapples.

Yellow Pineapple Cake
2 c All purpose flour
1 1/4 c white sugar
2 1/2 t baking powder
1 t salt
1/3 c shortening (I use butter compound)
1 c milk
1 t vanilla
1 egg
5 T pineapple juice

Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the shortening and 2/3 of the milk. Beat at medium high speed constantly scraping the sides. Add remaining milk, pineapple juice and egg. Beat well then pour over prepared pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for about thirty minutes or until the knife inserted into cake comes out clean.

Turn pan upside down onto cake plate while still hot. Serve.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Leilani, a reader and friend has an interesting blood mix in her family: Filipino/Hungarian/Chinese/American/Syrian

To accomodate the various tastes, by necessity she must be creative. Here is one of her concoctions.

Slice a head of onion
8 or more gloves of garlic, in chunks
2 med sized tomatoes, chopped up
6-10 anchovies from a jar or can
Fresh & thin asparagus. cut up
Slice grilled tofu into strips
Extra virgin olive oil or vegetable oil

Saute the lst four ingredients, adding the anchovies when tomatoes

are nearly cooked. Add the tougher end of the asparagus to allow it

to cook sufficienty. When halfway cooked, add the top part of the vegetable. Add the tofu slices and spinach, fold in gently with the mixture. Allow spinach to wilt, keeping its bright green color...Serve up with rice or potatoes.
Kain na po!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Blitz Torte and Meryenda

Meryenda bridges the hunger between lunch and dinner. Inappropriately called a "snack" by the less evolved, it is more of a small meal for most Pinoys, something akin to a British high tea. In these modern times, they can be sandwhiches and juice combinations for children, while the more sophisticated have cake or pastry with afternoon coffee.

When I was younger, lola would make palitaw for me, or banana fritters that my yayas would call maruya. On Holy Week she would make pospas for the pabasa singers, and of course for me. While Lola had a modern gas oven in her 1950s remodeled kitchen, she also had -- not one, but two -- wood fired ovens in the back. One was the traditional horno made of brick and mortar, where she would do the heavy roasting or the light baking -- think bibinka for meryenda even when it wasn't Christmas. The other was what she termed an "American style" upright metal oven that looked like a lightweight steel safe without a dial. She said she used this during the war years.

But it was Lola, and later on my mother who firmly established the meryenda as a mini-meal, to be shared and prepared for with as much fanfare as the family dinner. But my mother had more modern tastes, so meryenda was usually something freshly baked, like her special honey raisin bread that only needed the faintest spread of butter for full enjoyment.

As I settled into a larger home and my law practise became more routine (if one can call kidnappings and murder cases, routine) I now have more time to spend making meryenda time reminiscent of lola's or Ma's. For meryenda, I bake cakes, like this one I learned from Tita Ruth (Guingona), called blitz torte. Its a light meryenda cake that will still allow you just enough room for dinner.

1/2 c butter
1/2 c sugar
4 egg yolks
1 t vanilla
3 T milk
1 t baking powder
1 c all purpose flour

6 egg whites
3/4 c sugar
cinammon powder
chopped almonds

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy but grainy. Add egg yolks one by one beating thoroughly in between. Add milk and vanilla. Then add dry ingredients. Set aside.

With an electric mixer set on medium high, beat egg whites until slightly frothy. Add sugar a little at a time, beating continuously. Keep beating until stiff peaks form.

Pour batter into two greased removable bottom pans. Pour merengue mixture on top. Top with chopped nuts, sprinkle with cinammon and sugar. Bake in 350 degree pre-heated oven until the cake portion tests done.

Cream Filling:

2T butter
1/4 c sugar
3 T conrnstarch
1/8 t salt
1 c milk
2 egg yolks
1 t vanilla

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir continuously until thick.  While hot, spread between two layers of the torte.

Note when the cake is baked, remove one layer from the pan and set on a serving plate merengue side down. Spread filling on top,  then top with second layer, merengue side up.
Others, however, serve both layers merengue side up as shown in the picture. Your choice.