In My Kitchen: Who would have thought taro roots were so slimy?

20130122-192402.jpg If you like sweet coconut treats, you’d probably like this one. It’s kind of like a coconut porridge with sweet tropical fruits, mild root vegetables and in most cases sticky rice dumplings. But before I go too far, yes, I did say root vegetables. Taro root and sweet potatoes to be exact. I guess as a child, I grew up just eating it and since it didn’t taste like any type of vegetable, it didn’t raise my flag that I’m NOT suppose to like it. The other fun part of this dish are the little rice balls, similar to dumplings. In Tagalog it’s referred to as bilo bilo. Made from glutinous rice flour they add a touch of sweetness and contrasting texture to the root vegetables with its tender stickiness. Not to mention that they are fun to eat. My grandmother had shown me the basics of making ginataang bilo bilo, rice dumplings in a sweet coconut stew. Just to be sure I remembered correctly, I googled the recipe for ginataan or ginataang to make sure I wasn’t forgetting any ingredients. I’ve used this basic recipe as an outline and modified it a bit by using light coconut milk and less sugar. I also don’t always add the bananas, but the jackfruit is a must in my book. I also like adding tapioca pearls, the big ones that you see in bubble tea, when I can find them.

So where do I start? It’s a pretty quick recipe once you have all the vegetables peeled and chopped and the Mochiko balls made. I usually start with making the dumplings. Kids can help too. Mochiko is a brand of japanese rice flour or sticky rice flour that can easily be found in most groceries that have an international aisle. I just measure out about a cup of the flour and add 1/3 to 1/2 a cup of water. Just enough to get a “dry” dough. You want it to be dry enough that you can handle, but wet enough that it holds together. When forming the balls, I wash my hands every so often to remove the excess. Otherwise it sticks to your hands making it impossible to form any type of ball. Once those are made, set them aside.

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Peel and chop the taro root and sweet potatoes. Much to my surprise, taro root is pretty slippery… and slimy! Every chop up okra? That’s what it reminds me of. So be careful when handling them so that you don’t slip with your knife!

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For the longest time, I thought jackfruit was pineapple. They are similar in that they have that brilliant gold color and syrupy sweetness along with a fibrous texture. Paired with coconut, it’s phenomenal. Coconut ice cream with jackfruit and crushed peanuts? Mmmmm…. I’ll have to save that for another post. For this I use canned jackfruit in light syrup, chopping up the fruit and saving the sweet syrup as an ingredient to add in place of some of dry sugar called for in the written recipe.

Once all the ingredients are prepared, mis en place, right? 😉 we can put the whole dish together. Simmer the light coconut milk with the dry sugar until it reaches a slow boil. Add the Mochiko balls slowly. They sink, so when you drop them in, be weary that it doesn’t splash back up at you. Gently stir occassionally to prevent the balls from sticking. Next add the root vegetables, jackfruit and syrup and let it simmer for another 10-15 minutes or until the veggies are tender. Serve warm. Yum! I have to be careful to make this recipe just a few times a year. I seriously could eat the whole batch myself! 🙂

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Mai fun, no fun

It’s been a while since pancit (Filipino version of stir-fry noodles) has made it into our dinner rotation. Blessings to whomever had the brilliant idea to mass market freshly roasted rotisserie chickens. With 4 kids in tow and a busy schedule, it has saved me on several occasions. Not to mention, it’s a GREAT shortcut. So with a chicken in my cart, I grab some of my favorite veggies: sugar snap peas, pea pods, red bell peppers. Now no two Filipino families seem to make the same recipe for pancit – which literally means “noodles” in Filipino cooking. From what I could gather from my family is that it’s similar to fried rice, use whatever you have in your refrigerator as your added ingredients to your noodles. For example, I love adding bean sprouts too, but I know it’s not a traditional item added to this dish. I add them anyway. Walking down my local Fry’s grocer I noticed that the international food section doesn’t seem to have any pancit noodles – the yellow ones that look like chow mein but are thinner and flatter and evidently, more forgiving when working with them. Despite the lack of selection, I do happen to see that they at least have mai fun rice noodles. These are often used in Chinese cooking in a dish you probably know as Singapore noodles. While these noodles are very popular, I have one little worry in the back of my mind… I’m thinking that hopefully I cook it right and that these seemingly delicate, cellophane noodles don’t turn to slime. Oh, and just for variety, I went ahead and picked up some chow mein noodles to blend in. Little did I know that my selections would be my teach me a lesson or two!

Lesson #1: Ok, mai fun, yes, no fun when it comes to photographing them. To the naked eye, it’s a delicate yarning of opaque white noodles, which I thought would be an interesting texture to try and capture. My biggest challenge? Well, capturing a shot that wasn’t, simply put, a big white blob. Not to mention, waning afternoon light into the evening was placing undue pressure on me to get a shot, ANY shot that didn’t resemble a glowing ghost mound on my plate. In the end I kept circling my subject, clicking the shutter at varying angles until I got what I was looking for. I switched also from my fixed focus 50mm lens to my macro lens. I think perhaps that the 50mm was letting in too much light and overexposing the subject, whereas my macro didn’t quite yield that same result. Not sure why. I’ll have to dig into the technical aspects of my camera lenses at another time. I also realized that based on the configuration of my kitchen, my stainless steel fridge acted as a nice reflector to casting subtle light onto my subject. Neat little BoNus!
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Lesson #2: Chow mein… no, it’s not the noodle I hoped it would be. Yes, I over did it. I hit it with hot water, thinking that I could just soften them up enough and then toss them in to the pan to be fried. Somehow, I soaked it too long and the noodles at the bottom became one glutinous mess! Ugh. So thinking that I could fix it by breaking it up and tossing them in with the rice noodles…. Uh… well it nearly ruined my fine looking rice noodles as they seemed to be attracted to these yellow “gooey” balls of chow mein. I plucked out what I could. It left my dish with a few little clumps among my otherwise harmonious blend of stir-fried veggies, shredded rotisserie chicken and sea of, yes, non-slimy rice noodles. Hardly noticeable according to my eager eaters – who LOVE stir-fried anything. When I think back about this little project, I’ll remember #1: they (the sampling crew) thought that my little mishap was scrambled eggs in the dish, #2: while nothing was left in the wok, I did get comments that while it was good it simply wasn’t what Lola (grandmother) makes. Oh well! And finally #3: the dish in retrospect tasted mighty fine, just not very food photogenic!

OH my Lumpia!

Two full days. That’s how long it takes me and my 9 and 3 year old daughters to make approximately 400 Filipino egg rolls, otherwise known as lumpia. In this instance, we were making my family’s version of lumpia shanghai. In comparison to the typical Chinese egg roll, lumpia shanghai is smaller, thinner and the filling is comprised mostly of meat with little vegetable ingredients. They resemble little cigars. Light golden brown, meaty filling, packed with flavor. By far, these little egg rolls are my husband’s all-time favorite of Filipino food. They are addictive, as one of our friends described them.  Small enough to pop in your mouth and keep coming back for more without feeling guilty.  That is until you realize you’ve eaten a dozen or so!  I serve them with a sweet chili sauce. Of the 400, approximately 75%, has been consumed within the 1st few days.  Thankfully, I packed away some in the freezer so we could have some another time!  

This photo shoot was an after thought.  We had been so busy rolling the egg rolls and cooking them in the fryer that I almost forgot to take some photos!  As for the picture I chose above,  I like the focal point and the lighting isn’t too bad on the eggrolls themselves. I like that I was able to capture the golden color of the eggrolls… some of my other photos turned out too dark, or too yellow.  The lumpia comes across looking crisp and fresh.  After looking through the shots, my sister suggested that I stage it with a bowl or a drizzle of sweet chili sauce.  Yes, adding the bright orange to red sauce probably would have made for a nice accent.  A good suggestion for the future.  Needless to say, I needed to take the pics quick, as my models kept dwindling in number every time I walked away!