Everyday Cooking

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Lasang Pinoy 21- Atsara (Green Papaya Pickle)

Finally, a chance to join Lasang Pinoy, a food blog event dedicated to Filipino fare. I've been keeping an eye out for the latest round's announcement for the longest time. The anniversary theme 'Cooking for Heroes' inspired me to haul myself out of my sick bed, plied with endless cups of salabat and some serious antibiotics, I get on to work in the kitchen. We are talking about our Philippine national heroes here after all. In my own little way, from the heart of my own little kitchen,I shall honour them.

Admittedly, though, my knowledge of Philippine history is a tad rusty. I can rattle off names considered to be 'heroes' but hardly know their story in detail. General Emilio Aguinaldo's is one name I remember well from childhood visits to Biak na Bato, a series of caves in San Miguel ,Bulacan (where both of my parents were born) which the early revolutionaries against the Spaniards used as a place of refuge. The caves later on served as the headquarters of the Philippine revolutionary government. Emilio Aguinaldo became the president of the First Philippine Republic and continued to fight for Philippine independence through to the American occupation.

Thinking of a dish fit for a revolutionary and statesman, the best I thought I could offer is a bottle of atsara. During the days of the revolution, freshly-cooked meals would have been hard to come by. I imagined that dried meat or fish and the occasional produce foraged from the mountains would have been the staple. At Biak na Bato, one of the bigger caves, from memory, is called Bahay Paniki- for the millions of bats that used to inhabit the structure. I dread to think that barbecued 'panikis' were eaten regularly but they would have been a good source of protein for the freedom-fighters. A sweet, sour and refreshing helping of atsara would have made the fighters' meager meals a lot more enjoyable.

Personally, I believe atsara complements a LOT of dishes. From the humble tuyo (dried salted fish) to the special fiesta dishes like lechon (whole roasted pig) and anything fried in between. This relish of green papaya has many variations. When I researched recipes, I found that some people enjoy them as simple as possible with just papaya and carrots while some throw in pineapple or cabbage in the mix. My atsara is similar to those made by an aunt and what I've had from Bulacan- a mix of papaya, carrots, peppers and raisins.
I made half of the batch for immediate consumption, simply pouring the pickling solution over the vegetables in a jar and then refrigerating. The other half, I will be giving away as gifts so I 'pasteurised' in pickling jars with pop lids.


800 g green papaya, grated or julienned
2 medium carrots, grated
1 onion, grated
1 medium red capsicum (pepper), julienned
1 medium green capsicum, julienned
1 c raisins
2 Tbsp salt

2 1/2 c white vinegar
2 c sugar
1 inch piece ginger, julienned
2 cloves garlic sliced thinly
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper

In a large bowl, mix the grated green papaya with the salt. Cover with cling film and leave in the refrigerator overnight.
Meanwhile, the syrup can be prepared by boiling the vinegar and sugar. When the sugar has dissolved, mix in the ginger, garlic and black pepper and let simmer for a further 5 minutes.

When ready, rinse the papaya well. Squeeze as much of the water out as possible by placing the rinsed papaya in a large piece of muslin and wringing it hard. Mix in the rest of the vegetables.
Put the vegetable mix into sterilized jars. Pour in the syrup and remove bubbles by pushing the vegetables down with the back of a spoon. Put lid on jar.

If for immediate consumption, the jar can be put in the fridge and it should last for a week.

If 'preserving', put the jars in a cauldron of lukewarm water, making sure the water level is around 2cm above the jar lids. Bring to a boil and leave on a rolling boil for around 30minutes. Leave the bottles in the cauldron, with water, until completely cool. The pop lids should be flat, meaning a vacuum has been created. Otherwise, repeat the pasteurisation process. This pasteurised atsara should be good in the jar for a couple of months. Refrigerate upon opening.

*Updated 14 Nov
The batch of atsara was well-received by my first guinea pigs:-)
They will definitely make it to this year's Christmas hamper. I am sending this jar over to Zlamushka to put under her tree, as part of the festive event that is 'A Spoonful of Christmas'.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Banana and Jackfruit Slice (or Turon Saba...sort of)

Ahh, to feel healthy again and join the land of the living. Some nasty chest infection kept me out of action for a little while and it wasn't fun. Cooking and even eating were too much of an effort.

Now that the batteries are slowly getting recharged, food is again foremost on my mind. Curiously, I have been craving more Filipino food.

I have recently made kare kare, a rich peanut based beef stew, although we were having summer temperatures. As I type, there's some salted grated green papaya in the fridge waiting to be turned into a refreshing batch of relish (atsara/achara). And then there's this. Banana and Jackfruit in pastry. Technically, this is a 'deconstructed' version of one of my favourite Filipino snacks. Turon saging are bananas (saging, usually the saba variety), slivers of jackfruit and a sprinkling of brown sugar wrapped in spring roll pastry and then deep fried. Oooh, I remember when I used to burn my mouth as I bite into a hot turon, straight from the street vendor's wok. I never did learn my lesson- I could not muster the patience to wait for my turon to cool down.

Anyhow, I decided to experiment making a snack with the turon flavours in a form similar to baklava. In the end, I can't really say that this is a 'lower fat' version for all the butter and olive oil I used on the pastry. Not that I was too worried about that, you don't think of those things when trying to recreate childhood memories and sharing them with your own family. Hubby and the little girl loved these sweet and flaky slices. They were even good cold, staying crunchy after an overnight stint in the refrigerator. I could not find fresh jackfruit in the local Asian shop so I had to settle for the tinned variety, in light syrup.

Banana and Turon Slice

2 large bananas, sliced thinly on the diagonal
1 cup sliced jackfruit
5 phyllo pastry sheets
2 Tbsp melted butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp brown sugar
cooking oil spray

1 c sugar
1/2 c water
1 Tbsp lemon juice

Preheat oven to 180dec C.
Grease a cookie tray with the cooking oil spray.

Cut the phyllo sheets into four and cover with a cloth to prevent from drying out as you work.

Layer 6 sheets of pastry, brushing each thoroughly with the combined butter and oil.
Arrange the slices of banana to cover the top layer. Sprinkle with half of the sugar.

Layer another 8 sheets of greased pastry over the banana. Arrange the slices of jackfruit and sprinkle with the rest of the sugar.

Top with the remaining 6 sheets of greased pastry. Brush the top of the pastry with the remaining butter and oil.

With a very sharp knife, cut into 3 lengthways, but do not cut through the base.

Bake in the oven for around 40minutes.

Meanwhile, stir the syrup ingredients together in a pan over low heat until the mixture boils and the sugar has dissolved. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

When the pastry is cooked, pour the cooled syrup over the hot slice. When cold, cut into squares or diamonds.

Makes approx 12 pieces.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Endive Salad with Honey and Balsamic Onion

There are days when I feel so rushed off my feet, doing one chore after another, running from one errand to the next or constantly cooking but hardly having time to enjoy the meals, that I have to find ways to enjoy some 'me-time' in the simplest ways.

The other day, while the kids were down for a nap, I made myself a 'me-time' salad. It was the perfect midday wind-down meal -- simple, interesting and quite elegant. It's a 'grown-up' salad.

I've only had Belgian Endive leaves before as 'boats' for dips for appetizer. I remember enjoying the slight bitterness and thinking how it can be the perfect foil for a lot of different flavours.

This salad had a lot of interesting flavours I love- bitterness from the endive, sweetness from the caramelised onion, biting saltiness from the blue cheese and the unique taste of macadamia nuts.

Endive Salad with Honey and Balsamic Onion

1/4 c chopped macadamia nuts
1 medium sized onion, sliced into crescents
1Tbsp olive oil
2Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp honey
250g Belgian Endive
crumbled blue cheese *

Heat up a non-stick pan and add the macadamia nuts. Swish around the pan until golden. Put aside.
Pour the olive oil into the pan and when hot, add the onion slices. Cook until well-caramelised, around 10 mins.
In the meantime, prepare the endive by chopping off around 1/2 cm from the stem end. Using the pointed end of a knife, cut a cone shape around 1cm deep from the stem end. Then, cut the 'bulbs' into halves lengthways. Peel off the leaves. The leaves can be cut into bite size pieces but I left mine as the bulbs were not too big. Arrange on a plate.
When the onion has softened considerably, add the balsamic vinegar and honey. Stir around until it has turned syrupy.
Pour the onion mixture over the endive (I liked it warm but I suppose this can be completely cooled down beforehand).
Sprinkle with macadamias and then top with crumbled blue cheese.

*I used King Island Endeavour Blue, which is similar in style to gorgonzola.

The whole lot was polished off by moi and when the kids got up from their nap, I was ready to greet them with a genuine smile.

I am submitting this recipe as a contribution to Coffee and Vanilla's event to celebrate Vegetarian Awareness Month.
Our Mums were right, vegetables are good for us! Keep an eye out for the round up from Margot. It's bound to have a lot of nutritious and creative recipes for enjoying vegetables.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Spicy Eggplant Relish

Perhaps it's the indecisive Libran in me but I enjoy my food best when there is a melange of flavours competing for my attention in the same meal. This is why I love antipasto platters, mezze plates and going to Yum Cha.

It is a bonus then when a number of distinctive flavours sing so harmoniously together in the one dish, making every bite magic!
This is one such dish. I came across a recipe for Tunisian Eggplant one time but ended up with a completely different recipe using what ingredients I had at home. This is the result. Well, I should really say this is one version of the result. I have made this dish so many times, using different mixes of spices and I kept getting asked for the recipe. I have alternately used garam masala, chermoula and sometimes just cinnamon and cardamom- depending on what I have handy. Each time, the dish comes out tasty and I think this is all thanks to the humble eggplant. I just love this vegetable for being so accommodating of flavours one chooses to infuse it with. Whether it's just the delicate aroma of olive oil or a hodgepodge of robust spices, eggplants take them equally well.

Eggplants (or aubergines, as they are known in Europe) are from the same family as tomatoes and peppers. Though most of us are most familiar with the glossy, teardrop-shaped, purple-black variety, eggplants also come in striped and white varieties, and in various shapes like the lady's fingers or the perfectly round ones used in Thai cuisine. Eggplants are not particularly high in vitamins but rich in minerals like folate, potassium and also contain compounds which are good antioxidants. The plant has been cultivated for centuries and the fruit (which they are technically) are widely used in Indian and Meditterenean cooking.

This eggplant dish is quite rich in flavours but the freshness is lifted by the addition of mint. This is one useful and popular herb when you think of the products it lends it's flavour to- from toothpaste to room fresheners to mint jellies. Originally used for medicinal purposes, a potted mint is a handy plant to have on the kitchen window sill. It can be used infused in teas, in salads, stir-fries and much more.

I am submitting this recipe as my contribution for the second year anniversary of Weekend Herb Blogging. This fun and informative event has reached yet another milestone and it's such fun to be participating. Don't forget to check out the round-up at Kalyn's Kitchen for fabulous recipes and congratulate Kalyn for starting a one-of-a-kind food blogging event.

*My favourite way to eat this dish is by mopping up the eggplant and juices with cut-up Lebanese or pita bread.

Spicy Eggplant Relish

1 large eggplant (around 400g)
1 red capsicum (sweet pepper, approx 250g)
1 large red onion (approx 250g), cut into crescents
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp minced ginger
1 Tbsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 Tbsp cinnamon powder
1/2 tsp dry chilli flakes (optional)
1tsp chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) root
1/2c chopped mint leaves
1/2 c chopped coriander leaves
150mL white vinegar
2 Tbsp brown sugar
salt and pepper
sesame seeds for garnishing
3 Tbsp olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 200dec C. Cut eggplant length ways, keeping the stem intact. Halve the red capsicum. Put the the eggplant and capsicum halves on an oiled baking tray, cut-side down. Bake for around 25mins or until soft. When cooled down, scrape the flesh from the eggplant halves. Discard the skin and chop the flesh into very small pieces. Peel the skin off the capsicums and also chop into small pieces.

In a saucepan, heat up the oil and add the onions. Stir around until very very soft, then add the spices (coriander, cumin,cinnamon and chilli flakes). Stir around, making sure they do not stick to the pan. Then add the coriander root, ginger and garlic. Stir for a couple of minutes.

Add the eggplant and capsicum. Stir around to coat with the oil and spices. Add the vinegar and sugar. Let simmer on low heat for around 30 minutes. Stir frequently to avoid sticking to the pan. If the mix seems too dry, add around 100mL of water.
Add half of the coriander leaves and half of the mint leaves. Season with salt and pepper. Leave to cook for a further 5 minutes.

Let cool (I like to serve this at room temperature). Just before serving, mix in the rest of the coriander leaves and mint leaves, reserving some to garnish on top. Sprinkle on some sesame seeds.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Midweek Quickie#2- Pesto-Crusted Salmon

This is a quick and tasty favourite, not a bad way to get our weekly dose of Omega 3. My little girl loves salmon and usually enjoys this dish with some sweet potato chips (baked in the oven) and broccoli florets.

This time around, I served the fish with some vine-ripened tomatoes which were baked alongside the salmon, and some boiled french beans.

The recipe was adapted from Delia Smith's How to Cook, Book 2. In the original recipe, pecorino cheese was used for the topping. I used the same parmesan that was also in the pesto.

Pesto-Crusted Salmon
serves 2

2 pcs salmon fillets (approx 150g each)
squeeze of lemon juice
2Tbsp basil pesto
2 Tbsp bread crumbs
2 Tbsp grated parmesan
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
oil spray

Pre-heat the oven to 220deg C.
Line a baking tray with foil and lightly spray with oil. Place the salmon fillets on the tray and season with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Mix the pesto with 1Tbsp of breadcrumbs to form a paste. Spread this over the fish. Sprinkle the remaining breadcrumbs over the pesto paste. Lastly, scatter the parmesan over the breadcrumbs.
Cook the fish in the oven until the topping is golden, around 10minutes.