Monday, November 30, 2009

Pinsec Frito- Traditional Chinese dish with a Spanish name

My 15 year old son had an assignment. His group was to suggest a kind of food that they can serve on International Culture Day. They were appointed to research on chinese food and bring bite-size samples to school. My immediate response was dimsum-- --perfect! However, if my son had his way, he wanted yang chow rice.

Of the 5 suggestions, his team chose Pinsec Frito. It doesn't sound chinese at all like "siomai", or "Bam-i", or "chop suey". Pinsec Frito is as traditional a chinese dish as fried noodles, sweet sour pork and steamed wontons. It is a Spanish term for fried dumplings, part of "La Comida China". And like the pansit, pinsec frito is so much a part of the history of our foodscape.

So last saturday, Miggy and I tested the recipe so we could be ready for the big day.He did the prep from chopping, to mixing, to wrapping. It is so simple, even a younger child can do it.

  • 1/2 kilo finely ground pork
  • 2 t finely chopped or grated ginger
  • 2 t sugar
  • 1/4 c chopped pork fat (optional)
  • 1/4 c finely chopped singkamas (jicama)
  • 1/4 c finely chopped carrots
  • 2 T finely chopped scallions
  • 1 egg
  • 3-4 T soy sauce
  • 1 T sesame oil
  • 1 T cornstarch
  • 1 pack large size wonton wrappers (molo wrappers)
  • Oil for frying

Simply prep all ingredients and mix them well in a bowl. Fill the middle of the wonton wrapper with 1 t of the meat mixture and gather up the sides to wrap around the filling. Try to keep the corners upright so it will "bloom" when deep fried. The difficulty with wonton wrappers is they get easily wet or damp, and stick to the tray or plate, causing it to rip. The trick is to line the tray with a cloth or tea towel.

Heat oil through, but make sure it is not smoking or else you will end up with cooked wrappers but raw meat. Without the benefit of an oil thermometer, I got this easy to follow tip: Dip a barbecue stick in the oil, and when the bubbles run up the stick, it is ready.

Gently drop about 4-5 pieces at a time. Too many pieces will cause the temperature of the oil to drop, resulting in greasy dumplings. What you want are golden brown and crispy bites.

To remove excess oil, place newly fried wontons on kitchen paper towels. Sweet chili sauce is the perfect dip for these crunchy morsels. Just dip and pop them into your mouth. We eat it with yang chow- chinese style fried rice or as my parents would call it "morosquieta". With a side bowl of egg-drop soup or noodle soup.

I was so proud of Miggy as he took his assignment a step further. He not only researched, but tested it himself. I must say, he was successful as we had a wonderful lunch last Saturday.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lemon Meringue Torte

I like many things that has lemon in it... I like it as lemonade... I like it with extra-virgin olive oil as a simple dressing...I love it as gremolata (lemon zest with chopped garlic and basil--heavenly)...I like it squeezed over paella or mussels cooked in white wine... and I love it as dessert.

My version is a cross between a lemon pie and a lemon square. I particularly like the strong tartness of the lemon square because it is more pronounced. The meringue just adds a bit of depth and creaminess to the bite.

I was especially happy when I experimented on this as I was never consistently successful with beating egg whites. I have yet to succeed in making my son's favorite dessert which is sans rival. I was a dismal failure so I will try and try again.
Plus, this time I was challenged to do it by hand and not rely on a mixer ( To be truthful about it, I was just too lazy to bring out the heavy mixer from the shelf in my pantry. To get it was a greater challenge for me at the time.)

I find that this a perfect ending to a heavy meal or a meal that had very strong flavors like beef and pork dishes, or spicy dishes, because it cools the palate. Though sweet, the lemon seems to cleanse the tongue.

This recipe is not intimidating as the crust does not require much skill, except mixing and pressing onto the pan. The zest is really important because I find that this gives the round flavor and it just makes the dessert more appetizing even on the first whiff. The best couple of tips I ever got to beating egg whites to a fluff are: they should be at room temperature and the bowl should be absolutely dry.
Pucker up and enjoy.

1 c all purpose flour
1/2 butter or butter compound
1/4 c powdered or confectioner's sugar
2 large eggs plus 2 yolks
1 1/2 c sugar
Lemon zest, chopped (about 1 1/2 T)
Juice from 2 lemons (about 6-7 T)
1 t baking powder

Prepare a shallow pie pan or tart pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Blend together flour and powdered sugar. Then combine it with softened butter.
Simply press this on the pan. And bake in oven for 15 minutes.
In a bowl, beat eggs and sugar till creamy and fluffy. Add your lemon zest, lemon juice and baking powder. Pour over pre-baked crust and bake for another 15-20 minutes till the top layer is set. Let cool.

To prepare meringue, beat eggwhites with 1 t cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually add 1/2 c sugar and beat continuously until stiff but not dry. Spread on top of pie and bake or broil until it is lightly browned.

Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Fiesta Fare for City Kids

I've had the good fortune of growing up in the best of both worlds (no tribute to Hannah Montana here), where I grew up in the city but spent a sizeable chunk of my childhood vacations in the province. These were in the towns where my parents grew up.

And so I've seen the bucolic countryside, complete with fields, nipa huts, fishing villages with no electricity. Hating the boredom at times... scared of the "tuko", a scary-looking thorny lizard... eating fresh young coconut meat--creamy and syrupy after swimming at the beach... enjoying sugary sweet and pulpy atis (custard apple)...blowing the steam off newly-cooked chicken "gata"(cooked in coconut cream) resting on top of a mound of rice and fried fish on the side...playing under the moonlight and waking up to the free-for-all crowing of the roosters.

My children are city kids who moan at the thought of a blackout after a typhoon hits the country. That meant no TV and no computer. This also meant that they didn't get to climb trees...never swam in the ocean with the help of floaters made out of tire inner tubes ("salbabida")... never caught a gold beetle (salaginto)... nor ate with bare hands with banana leaves as plates while sitting on the seashore with underwear full of sand...

My eldest once said, everything seems to taste better when wrapped in banana leaves. And so for my husband's birthday very recently, I promised a family dinner reminiscent of how it was done during his childhood. An entire table lined with banana leaves and viands right at the center for everyone to pick; to enjoy every morsel with their bare hands.

Now where my parents come from, eating with the hands is an art form: you should only use your fingertips and keep the rest of the palm clean.

The menu was pork belly and pompano fish stuffed with onions and tomatoes, wrapped in banana leaves and grilled over hot coals. Fresh shrimps simply seasoned with salt and pepper, flash-cooked in little water and topped off with a dollop of butter, mussels soup, laing , diced red egg and tomatoes with the all important hot and fluffy rice. Dessert was a bowl of chilled lychees and served with ice.

It was I must say a feast!
We had a grand time. Much as we were nowhere near a farm nor a fishing village, I was just happy that my boys were enjoying this time, having a ball and literally getting a taste of what it was like for me and my husband when we were growing up.

I tell myself there will be MORE of this.
On the practical side, all we did was fold the banana leaves and the clean-up was done!

Charcoal-grilled pork belly (Inihaw na Liempo)
  • 1 kilo of pork belly (about 1/4 in thick), about 6-7 slices
  • 1 c vinegar
  • 1/2 head of garlic finely chopped. Or better yet, pound away into a paste in mortar and pestle
  • 1 T sea salt
  • black pepper

When using a mortar and pestle, put the salt with the garlic to prevent the garlic from jumping out. Mix all the ingredients together and this is your marinade. Keep the pork soaked in this mixture in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Mussel Soup (Tahong na may sabaw)
  • 1 kilo mussels, cleaned and bearded
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1 thumb size ginger, julienned
  • Fish sauce (patis) or salt
  • pepper to taste
  • Optional: handful of chili leaves (dahon ng sili)

In a pot, heat a little oil and saute your garlic and ginger till fragrant. Careful not to burn your garlic as it gets bitter. Simply put in the mussels and add 2-3 cups of water. Add fish sauce or salt to taste. Balance with a pinch of pepper. Turn on high heat to boil.

When all the mussels have opened, this means it is cooked. Turn off the heat. A handful of chili leaves does not add any heat nor spice at all. It just gives a nice touch of fresh frgrance and a mild herb-y flavor to the broth.