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!

A royal encounter – up close and personal with Crown Princess Maxima

That’s me with the big grin a step behind Crown Princess Maxima

Let me take a break from my Tuscany series of posts and tell you of my royal encounter yesterday with our lovely crown princess. I was lucky to get an invite from my alma mater, the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) to attend the inaugural lecture of Professor Stella Luz A. Quimbo from the University of the Philippines School of Economics following her appointment to the Prince Claus Chair in Development and Equity.

The Prince Claus Chair which is chaired by Princess Maxima was established by Utrecht University and the International Institute of Social Studies in early 2003 in honour of Prince Claus of the Netherlands (1926-2002) who has been deeply committed in promoting development and equity throughout the world.

This was actually my second time to attend this event and the second time to see the crown princess in person. It was just amazing to finally shake hands with her and introduced myself as being from the Philippines. Something to tell grandchildren in my old days that I had this real meeting with the princess (she’ll be queen by then) and finally documented with this one picture. ;-)

These pictures were taken by Piet Gispen, the official ISS photographer and lifted from the ISS Flickr site.

Princess Maxima

Professor Stella Quimbo

Professor Quimbo with the Rector Magnificus of Erasmus University and Rector of ISS

Professor Quimbo with Princess Maxima, the rectors and the ISS faculty

Professor Quimbo with Princess Maxima, the Mayor of The Hague and the rectors

Princess Maxima in conversation with the ISS students

El Nido, our little paradise on earth

El Nido at dusk

With the snow and ice gone, this last bit of winter is just such a drag. There is still more than a month to go before the official start of spring but I can hardly wait to move on into the new season. Even my little girl is already longing for the time when she can go outside and pluck some flowers because at the moment, there is hardly anything of color anymore.

The weather is not helping either to cheer me up. Today it is wet, windy, cold and grey. Thus, I am going down memory lane to a wonderful holiday we had way back in 2006 in the Philippines. This particular place is called El Nido (or the nest) in Palawan and is so-called because of the limestone cliffs that are so typical in this area which are home to a special type of swift, the cave swift that are renowned for building the saliva nests used for the Chinese bird’s nest soup.

This place is special to me and the Mr. because this is where our love story started with a coincidental meeting on its shores over 15 years ago. We call this place our own little paradise for being here is like no other from the wonderful things to see — beautiful uninhabited islands, pristine beaches, scenic limestone cliffs to amazing things to do — island hopping, snorkeling, scuba diving or simply relaxing on the beach listening to the gentle to and fro sway of the waves on the shores and the chirping of the birds and crickets in the trees (or at times being pelted with fruit stones by monkeys who do not like intruders). Add to that the pleasantly warm weather, the friendly people and the relaxed if not lazy pace of life which is a comforting interlude from the busy lives we lead back here in the west.

We enjoyed our almost one week stay in this paradise…island-hopping every day and having our simple meals by the beach. Though I have this fear of the deep water, I was caught up in the magic of snorkeling, oftentimes forgetting the time while observing the amazing world beneath the waters…schools of colorful fishes, beautiful corals, sea turtles, clams, and many more.

My husband when he first came to the Philippines has really made it his goal to see El Nido because Jacques Cousteau has remarked that it was the most beautiful place he ever explored. He described El Nido as having one of the most beautiful seascapes in the world.

I miss El Nido and I look forward to returning one day…that time with the three of us. I am sure that our little girl will in a heartbeat get fascinated by these islands and its limitless charm.

US on one of the many uninhabited islands

Early morning on the shores of El Nido town

El Nido at dusk

Island scene -- pristine beach, wild plants and flowers

Typical feature of the islands - white beach, coconut trees and limestone cliffs

Coconut trees

Mangroves

White sandy beach, coconut trees and limestone cliffs

Sea shell

a local fruit (not sure if edible)

Limestone cliff

Approaching an uninhabited island

Limestone cliff island

A local flower

Coconut trees

Wild orchids growing abundantly on the limestones

Fruit-laden coconut tree

A local plant

a lovely shell

Sea shell

Coconut trees along the beach

The limestone cliff up close

This monkey was maybe not happy with intruders to his world - he kept on pelting us with fruit stones ;-)

Lazy pace of life in the islands

An uninhabited island

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)

Holiday in the tropics: Why it’s more fun in the Philippines

Our own paradise on earth - El Nido, Palawan


Uninhabited island in El Nido


Island hopping in El Nido


“It’s more fun in the Philippines”, goes the new tourism campaign slogan that’s sweeping my home country which has been going viral in the last couple of days. I’m actually very happy that finally tourism is being given a boost. It’s high time for the Philippines to shine as a must-see country in Asia. Thailand has its “Amazing Thailand” campaign and Malaysia has its “Truly Asia” slogan. The Philippines was left out for a long time in the cold when in fact, she has so much to offer.

I’ve got a long way still way to go with my Loire Valley castles blogs but what the heck…let me blog about the many fun things to experience and see in my beloved Philippines. I’ve seen those gorgeous pictures of must-see places so let me show you this country through the eyes of my Dutch husband who really see the fun part of the Philippines like any tourist would.

The financial district of Makati in the distance


There’s no denying that just like any developing country, the Philippines has high poverty incidence which exists side by side with enormous wealth. Thus, it is normal to see high-end cars alongside rickety buses and cars on the highway, to view shanties in the metropolis with the high rise buildings of the financial district in the backdrop. The drive from the airport to the hotels in the more opulent areas like Makati will mean passing through congested areas with ambulant vendors selling anything from “balut” to household merchandises, beggars asking for small change, flimsy built shops that offer vulcanizing services, cellphone charge loading, etc.

Meeting friends mean eating and more eating


To holiday in the Philippines is a combination of fun, pleasure and discomfort (to those who never experienced brownouts for instance). When meeting family and friends, expect that to be a marathon of eating after eating. Being invited for a snack means finding ourselves guests to huge parties so there are times when the hubby would ask if it is possible to meet my friends just over drinks and no more food ;-)

The hubby and the jeepney


My husband and I are unconventional travelers. We hate organized trips so we always take the off the beaten tract kind of adventures. We’ve traveled by plane, buses, tricycles, jeepneys and motorcyle to reach places that we want to see. I remember a time when we were in Camiguin and we wanted to see a waterfall. We were told that the way to go there was either to hike for 5 kilometers or go by motorcycle. To our surprise, there were 7 of us in that motorcycle.

Hidden Valley, a tropical rain forest resort in Laguna which is south of Manila


Hidden Valley Resort


We were last on holiday in the Philippines way back in 2006. It was for 2.5 weeks with half of the time visiting family and friends. We stayed a few days in Manila, then off to Lucena City where I used to be assigned as a bank officer to meet up with friends and former colleagues, then to Bicol to see my family and then off to El Nido, Palawan (that place which we would never miss for the world).

Riding a carabao


Driving a jeepney


Meeting friends in Lucena was fun. My husband was able to satisfy his wishes of riding a carabao and a scruffy horse and then driving a jeepney. He thought it was so easy to ride a carabao as he see very young boys on top of carabaos but realized that some things were easier thought of than done. Then it was off to driving a jeepney which he thought was also a very cool thing to do but realized that it was not built for his size and comfort. He struggled with the drive because the jeepney did not have even the standard direction indicator, the steering was tough and he could barely see what was in front of him because his sheer height means that his eye level was far higher than the small Filipino driver behind the wheel.

Island hopping to uninhabited islands


Having this place all to ourselves, what more can we ask for?


Grilling tuna for lunch


Freshly grilled tuna, island-style


Fun with children who serenaded us with lovely local songs


Our holiday was capped by a trip to El Nido, Palawan, the place where our love story started way back in 1996. We were then both backpackers who met on the beach with that excellent view of limestone mountains. We remained true to that memory of our first meeting, backpacking again and stayed in a simple cottage by the beach. We enjoyed our glorious days in this island paradise, island hopping every day and having picnic on the beach. We saw the guests of the exclusive resorts in El Nido also visiting the uninhabited islands where we were — they were ferried by speed boats and the resort staff would set up table for them with the finest table cloth and the finest china and were served posh meals. We, on the other hand, far enjoyed our meals of barbeque and grilled tuna with the boatmen with us.

Transporting a pig, Palawan-style


We felt so sorry to leave the island as during our stay, we developed an excellent rapport with the people we met there. Some evenings we were serenaded by the children who were just so happy to regale us with their stories. My husband cannot think of any best place to be for holidays. The best holidays are those filled with happy memories, with inconvenient experiences that stick to memory long after the holiday like our stay at a pension house in Taytay where we stayed awake the whole night because the bed was just filled with bed bugs.

Market scene that we really love


We saw and experienced a lot of things that we will forever cherish. Most of all, what makes the holiday more fun in the Philippines is the friendliness of people we met everywhere.

More pictures here:

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