A dish from those days when life was simple…”pinangat” or “tinuktok”

Pinangat

Pinangat

You can take the girl out of the province but not the province out of the girl. That’s me, still a “probinsiyana” or “province girl” at heart despite living for many years here in Holland and having seen a bit of the world.

In the Philippines where I come from, I grew up in one of the provinces of the Bicol region back in those days when life was simple. From food to the games we played as kids, I can still remember vividly how almost everything was available locally — fish and crustaceans caught from the river to vegetables and spices that were abundantly grown in the backyard. We played with sling shots fashioned from Y-shaped tree branches, we climbed trees and went fishing with hook, line and sinker in the river. Looking at the life we lead nowadays, there is some sort of nostalgia to those good old days.

On this post, I bring you a dish that fills me with longing of the simple life that I know from way back. I can say that this was a poor man’s dish in those days because the ingredients are all sourced out by a poor man from the river for the freshwater shrimp to his backyard for the coconut, taro leaves, ginger, onions, garlic, lemon grass and chillies. Normally, these ingredients cost him next to nothing. The exact opposite is true for me here in Holland in recreating this dish because all the ingredients being imported abroad cost an arm and a leg.

Many calls this dish “pinangat” but in our town’s vernacular, this is called “tinuktok” which literally means finely chopped. And why is that? It is because all the ingredients from the young coconut to the shrimps and spices all needed to be chopped finely with a sharp knife or cleaver.

This dish is simply lovely with the right mix of flavors and spiciness. It stands apart from the mainstream Philippine cuisine to which the Spanish influence is so strong. Served with rice, be ready to eat with your hands!!!

Ingredients:
½ kg freshwater shrimp, peeled and seasoned with 1 ½ tbsp salt
600g meat of young coconut (about 5 young coconuts), grated
2 onions, chopped
2 tbsp. grated ginger
6 cloves garlic
a few pieces of chillies (I used 2 birds’ eye chillies and would have used more if not for the special request of the hubby not to make it super spicy)
20 to 30 fresh taro leaves (should be intact with no holes)
kitchen string with which to tie each pinangat
6 to 8 stalks of lemongrass (lower white portions only), smashed
3 to 4 cups thin coconut milk

Key ingredients:  Taro leaves, coconut milk and coconut cream, shrimps, ginger, lemon grass, chillies, shallots and garlic.

Key ingredients: Taro leaves, coconut milk and coconut cream, shrimps, ginger, lemon grass, chillies, shallots and garlic.

Fresh taro leaves

Fresh taro leaves

For the sauce/ topping:
2 cups thick coconut cream
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 shallots, finely chopped
2 stalks lemongrass (lower white stalks), sliced
salt to taste
3 to 5 spring onions, finely chopped

Instructions:
1. Combine the shrimp, grated young coconut, onion, ginger, garlic and chillies and chop them together using a large knife or cleaver until the mixture looks like cornmeal. I used the food processor for this task.

Peeled shrimps, grated young coconut meat, chillies, garlic, ginger and onions ready for fine chopping with a very sharp knife or cleaver.  Food processor is an easy option...

Peeled shrimps, grated young coconut meat, chillies, garlic, ginger and onions ready for fine chopping with a very sharp knife or cleaver. Food processor is an easy option…

Finely chopped ingredients resembling a coarse corn meal -- ready for wrapping in taro leaves.

Finely chopped ingredients resembling a coarse corn meal — ready for wrapping in taro leaves.

2. Wrap 2 to 3 tablespoons of the mixture in two (overlapping) taro leaves and tie each with a kitchen string. I did not have kitchen string so I made use of the stalk of the taro leaves.

Two to three tablespoons of the shrimp mixture in two overlapping taro leaves

Two to three tablespoons of the shrimp mixture in two overlapping taro leaves

Pinangat all ready for cooking in coconut milk.

Pinangat all ready for cooking in coconut milk.

3. Line a heavy-bottom pot with the smashed lemongrass and arrange the pinangat pieces on top. Pour the thin coconut milk over the pinangat.

The pot lined with smashed lemongrass

The pot lined with smashed lemongrass

Pinangat piled on the bed of lemon grass and ready to be cooked with coconut milk.

Pinangat piled on the bed of lemon grass and ready to be cooked with coconut milk.

4. Cover the pot and simmer over low heat, shaking it once in a while to prevent burning. The pinangat is done when the taro leaves are already soft or when all of the thin coconut milk has evaporated.

The pinangat gently cooking in coconut milk.

The pinangat gently cooking in coconut milk.

Almost cooked...

Almost cooked…

5. While the pinangat is cooking, boil together in a separate saucepan the thick coconut cream, garlic, shallots and lemon grass. Season with salt and simmer until the mixture resembles a thick creamy sauce. Sprinkle the spring onions on top and remove from heat.To serve, arrange the pinangat in a wide platter and top with the sauce.

Ingredients for the topping/sauce:  finely chopped garlic, shallots, sliced lemon grass, spring onions and chillies.

Ingredients for the topping/sauce: finely chopped garlic, shallots, sliced lemon grass, spring onions and chillies.

Cooking the coconut cream to which garlic, onions, lemon grass will be added.  Final addition is the spring onions.

Cooking the coconut cream to which garlic, onions, lemon grass will be added. Final addition is the spring onions.

Pinangat up close...simply so yummy!

Pinangat up close…simply so yummy!

My favorite custard cake

The custard cake


There is no denying to the Spanish influence in Philippine cuisine. Well, 333 years of colonial rule is something so every aspect of Philippine life has bits and pieces of that moment in our history. Too bad that we do not speak Spanish as a major language compared to the Latin Americans but many Philippine words are derived from Spanish.

One of the Spanish desserts that I love so much is the flan or creme caramel. When I was a child, I could only get to taste it at wedding parties or fiestas. The flan is really heaven to me then and even now. I just love that combination of the sweet caramel sauce and the creamy smooth flan, hence, I made it my mission to learn how to make it and master it. I’ve been making flan for a long time and it has actually become one of the most sought after desserts by friends and family. I decided that I need to bring this flan to the next level and that is the custard cake.

I started baking quite seriously only last year. Not that I enrolled in some baking class but just self-taught myself and scoured the internet for recipes. I started with recipes of food I remember from the Philippines and took off from there. I was so happy to stumble upon the site of Casa Veneracion and her recipe of the perfect custard cake. With a bit of experience on the individual components (custard and chiffon cake), I did a bit of tweaking but for the rest, I copied her recipe. What I like so much about this recipe is that the cake and flan are on 50/50 level compared to the ones in the Philippines where the flan is all but a very thin layer. To flan lovers like me, this is the perfect treat! 😉

I made this cake for the first time on my birthday last year and brought it to the office for my colleagues who were stunned. They couldn’t believe that I made this myself. Here in Holland, the tradition is to bring cake on one’s birthday. The Dutch normally brings the apple pie or “vlaai” bought from the baker which are normally oozing with lots of whipped cream. I decided to be different on my birthday, bringing something homemade.

To make this cake, I divided the process into 3 parts: caramel, custard and cake.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius). This cake is baked au bain marie so fill a deep baking tray with half a level of hot water.

Caramel:
Ingredients:
1 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/4 cup water

Instructions:
1. Make the caramel. Place the sugar and water in a thick bottomed pan. Turn the heat to high and bring the water and sugar to the boil without stirring. Then lower the heat to medium-high and continue boiling. After about 8 minutes, the mixture will start to brown. Continue boiling until the liquid is the color of amber.
2. Pour the caramel in your baking tray. I am using a deep Pyrex oven bowl (either the 8 x 8 or the lasagna bowl will do).

Boiling the granulated white sugar and water to make the caramel

The sugar on its way to caramelization

Cooking the sugar until it turns amber

The caramel poured onto an oven proof bowl to cool down

Custard:
Ingredients:

5 large (or 6 medium) eggs (yolks and whites)
1 can condensed milk (397 gram)
1 can skimmed or full milk (397 gram)
1/4 cup white sugar
Finely grated rind and juice of 1 mandarin or 1/2 orange or citroen

Instructions:
1. In a bowl, beat the eggs.
2. Add the sugar, condensed and skimmed milks.
3. Add the mandarin or orange or citroen juice and the finely grated rind.
4. Pour on top of the cooled caramel.

The eggs

The custard poured over the caramel

Chiffon cake:
Ingredients:

3 large eggs, yolks and whites separated
1/4 cup minus 1 tbsp. granulated white sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tbsp. canola oil
3/4 cup sifted cake flour
1/4 cup skimmed milk
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
1/4 cup minus 1 tbsp. granulated white sugar

Instructions:
Cake mixture:

1. In a bowl, beat the egg yolks with the 1/4 cup minus 1 tbsp. sugar until smooth and lemon colored.
2. Sift the flour and baking powder.
3. Add the milk and flour alternately, mixing after each addition.
4. Add the oil and beat thoroughly.

The cake mixture

Meringue (egg white mixture):
5. In another bowl, add the cream of tartar to the egg white and with the hand mixer, beat at high speed until the egg whites turn foamy.
6. Add yhe sugar little by little and continue beating until the egg white mixture is stiff.
7. Slowly fold in the cake mixture using a rubber spatula. Do this slowly until the cake and meringue are well blended.
8. Pour the combined cake and meringue mixture over the flan. The cake mixture is light and airy so it will float over the custard mix.
9. Baked au bain marie at 350F (177C) for 50 to 55 minutes or until a toothpick when inserted at the center of the cake comes out clean.
10. Allow to cool down and then chill in the fridge.
11. To serve, using a knife, trace the side of the cake. Take a plate that can hold the cake and place it upside down on top of the oven bowl. With one hand under the oven bowl and the other hand on top of the plate, invert the cake onto the plate.

The meringue (stiff egg whites) about to be mixed with the cake mixture

Folding the cake mixture into the meringue

The custard cake being baked au bain marie

Cooling the custard cake

Cross-section of the perfect custard cake - 50/50 flan and cake

Bicol express: one spicy Philippine dish named after a train service

A cold snap is currently chilling Europe these days and the mercury has dropped and stayed at sub-zero levels in the last couple of days. At times like these, there is nothing that I like more than to eat something hot and spicy, something familiar. What came to mind was a very special dish from the Philippines (my home country) and specifically from the region where I come from, Bicol. This dish is called “Bicol Express”, coined from the train service that runs from Manila to the Bicol region. What makes this dish special even in the Philippines is its spiciness and use of coconut milk because in general, Philippine dishes are not spicy but lean more to the Spanish influence due to the ties with Spain which colonized the country for over 300 years.

The Bicol Express


When I first came to Holland, I didn’t know that making this dish will be a big thing to my in-laws, friends and colleagues. I made it for myself then for comfort especially when I start to pine for things back home. After introducing it to the people here, it became the most anticipated dish whenever we had gatherings.

The dish is simple and had very few ingredients which in many ways, make its taste pure compared to spicy curries for instance.

For this dish, I used the following ingredients:

700 grams pork belly cut in cubes
2 tin cans of coconut milk (I would have used coconut cream but didn’t have that on hand)
6 cloves garlic
1 onion, sliced
6 pieces long chillies, sliced
freshly ground pepper
Salted tiny shrimps (This provides the special flavor and if not available, can be substituted by shrimp paste but salt should be added.)

The chillies used for the Bicol Express


The ingredients: pork, chillies, garlic, onion, coconut milk, salted tiny shrimp

Cooking instructions:

Sautee the garlic and onion

Add the pork meat

Add the coconut milk

Let the stew simmer for a while

Add the salted tiny shrimps, check the taste as this is the seasoning used. No need to add salt.

When the dish is almost done, add the chillies

Let it cook for a short while

The Bicol Express

Serve with steamed/boiled white rice and some vegetable (boiled broad beans in this case)