Laing (Taro Leaves in Coconut Milk)

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Freshly harvested taro corm and leaves

I decided my taro plant is ripe for harvesting.  The plant was from a corm I obtained from an Asian store.  This member of the potato family is called many names in different places.  The most famous variety is the Hawaiian taro. In the Philippines, it is known as gabi. In the Caribbean countries, it is called malanga. And yet in other places like Japan and India, it is known as eddoe.

I know that in the Philippines, the leaves and stalks are eaten as well and in Hawaiian cooking, meat or fish are wrapped and cooked in taro leaves.  I have never learned to cook the  gabi leaves and so I posted to my Facebook friends and asked for suggestions as to what to do with the leaves. Apparently, there are two schools of thought on the matter: one is to cook the leaves and stalks when fresh and the other, is to dry them first.  Only one friend, who hails from the Bicol region which I believe is the home of this dish gave a detailed instructions on how to prepare  the fresh leaves.  A good number of friends, said that the leaves should be dried.

To seize the opportunity, I decided to try to cook them fresh first.  I’ll try the dried ones, the next harvest time.

My ingredients:

  • 10 stalks of gabi or taro
  • 2 cans of coconut milk. But since I was out of canned coconut milk, I extracted the cream from freshly grated coconut that I keep in the freezer.  I extracted a total of 2 cups of liquid.
  • 1 T sliced  garlic
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 T thin strips of fresh ginger. My ginger also came from my garden.
  • fresh hot peppers.
  • 3 T fish sauce.  I decided to make it a vegetarian dish so that it can be eaten as a side dish to fish or meat.  Everyone suggested to sauté with either smoked fish or pork.
  • 1 t oil

Procedure:

  • Peel the stalks and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • Cut the leaves in small pieces, about 1/2 inch squares
  • Heat the oil in a pan, stir fry the garlic, ginger and onions for about 3  minutes enough to release the aroma of the garlic and ginger.
  • Add the taro leaves and stalks, coconut milk and fish sauce. Cover and bring to boil.
  • Lower the heat. Simmer  to slowly cook the leaves. Check and stir once in a while to make sure that the bottom is not burning.
  • Cook until the coconut oil is rendered. This takes a good hour.
  • Add the hot pepper any time  you desire to control the spiciness.

The resulting dish resembles creamed spinach. The taste,  non of that bite on the throat that everyone says would result when the leaves are not dried first.  This dish was never prepared in our home in the Philippines. I probably ate this no more than 3 times in my entire life. So I can’t be an expert on this dish.

But my laing is tasty. We just had it for lunch as a side to grilled fish.

Taro Leaves in Coconut Milk

Taro Leaves in Coconut Milk

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Sweet Potato Tops Salad

I am loving South Florida where we now live. I get to plant all the tropical fruits and vegetables and flowers I want, limited only by the quarter acre lot size of our home. I find it so much easier to grow anything on this year-round sub-tropical climate.  A few months ago, I buried in the ground a sweet onion which started to sprout, I just pulled five big onions from that single onion.  I also planted sweet potato from  slips I grew from a store-bought potato.  The young tips of the stems are the ones referred to as tops which has young and tender leaves.  This is a widely used vegetable in the Philippines. I am constantly harvesting the tops of  my sweet potato plant. I use it pretty much  in any dish that calls for spinach. I’d like to say spinach can be substituted to this salad but the texture would be totally different. The yellow tomato is an heirloom kind, Hawaiian Pineapple, and some purple yard long beans, both are grown in the garden. I also added some pickled garlic.

Heirloom Tomato plant: HAwaiian Pineapple

Heirloom Tomato plant: HAwaiian Pineapple

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Tomato and purple yard long beans harvested from the garden.                                                                                             The little green fruits are called calamondin, they are used like lemons.

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Meyer Lemon plant.

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Sweet Potato planted on a pot.

The tops need to be blanched with a little salt. The dressing is simply lemon juice, picked from my Meyer Lemon plant, a little olive oil, salt and pepper. In the Philippines, this is a good accompaniment to fried fish.

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Sweet potatoes harvested from the plant. Recipe would be for another time.

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Sweet Potato Tops Salad with Tomato and Pickled Garlic.

Greek Salad with Penne

Greek Salad with Penne

Greek Salad with Penne

I picked up the idea to add pasta to Greek salad from a local supermarket pamphlet. You can make your favorite Greek Salad recipe and just add cooked pasta to it. Here’s what I did which we brought to last night’s church potluck.

  • 1/2 lb of uncooked penne. Cook al dente following the package instruction. When done, drain, put in a bowl and add 1 T of extra virgin olive oil to prevent them from sticking to each other. Let it cool.
  • 2 cups of sweet peppers, cut into 1-inch square.  I used the mini sweet peppers which come in yellow, red and orange colors
  • 2 cups of diced cucumbers
  • 1 sweet onion, diced
  • 1 chayote, peeled and diced (optional)
  • 1 cup of olives
  • 1 pint of grape or cherry tomatoes, or cut-up regular tomato
  • 1/4 lb  feta cheese, crumbled or cubed

For the dressing: Mix the following in a bowl.  Adjust the salt to your taste.

  • 1/2 cup of white balsamic vinegar or any  wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 T mustard. I like to use the coarse ground with whole mustard seeds.
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper

Put all the cut-up vegetables and pasta in a bowl, except  the olives and cheese.  Add the dressing and mix.  Let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Just before serving, add the olives and feta cheese and mix gently.

I like to serve it on a bed of baby spinach.

Bitter Melon Chips

Sliced Bitter Melon

Sliced Bitter Melon

Our Indian friend introduced us to what she calls karela chips, karela is the Indian name for bitter melon. She flavors the bitter melon with turmeric and other Indian spices.  I made it once with the Indian spices. They are delicious. But today I was inclined to divert from the traditional and try something different. The result is similarly delicious.

Here’s how to make it.

  • Use two whole bitter melons, slice about 1/4 inch thick.  Sprinkle 1 T salt and let stand for 30 minutes. This will draw some of the bitterness out. Rinse with cold water and drain in a colander.
  • In a small container, mix 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp chili powder, 1 tsp sugar.
  • Put the drained bitter melon chips in a bowl, add  1 T of olive oil and gently mix to oil every piece. Add the spices and continue mixing with your hand to distribute the flavor. You may adjust the chili pepper to suit your spice tolerance.
  • Pre-heat the oven to 375 F.
  • Arrange the chips single layer  in a baking pan.
  • Bake for 20 minutes, turn the chips over, and bake for another 15-20 minutes or until crispy.

Knowing what  we know now about the health benefits of bitter melon, I think that these chips can very well be a healthier substitute to crispy fried onion rings or potato chips as sides to sandwiches or even just for snacking.  As I was writing this post, I kept on getting up and reaching over the kitchen counter for  a chip or two.

Baked Bitter Melon  Chips

Baked Bitter Melon Chips

Tofu Steak

My Tofu Steak

My Tofu Steak

Conti's Tofu Steak

Conti’s Tofu Steak

Tofu Steak is another popular dish at Conti’s Restaurant in Manila.  My cousin’s husband is very fond of this dish.  It is basically fried tofu with mushrooms in brown sauce. The taste and aroma of the brown sauce are both very familiar as I often make this Japanese dipping sauce at home.  The taste of Japanese Mirin is unmistakeable.

This is the basic sauce that I have been using. Throughout the years I have learned to make this without exact measurements but for this purpose, I had to refer back to the Japanese cookbook I had originally used for the recipe Agedashi-Dofu or Deep Fried Tofu. The book is Japanese Cooking A simple Art, I purchased in 1981.

My First Japanese Cookbook

My first  and favorite Japanese cookbook

Soy Sauce, Mirin and Dashi

Soy Sauce, Mirin and Dashi

  • 1 1/3 cup dashi (Boil the water and add 1 T powder dashi). I did not taste the dashi on Conti’s sauce, so this may be omitted.  
  • 2 T light soy sauce
  • 2 T mirin (Japanese sweet wine)
  • 1 block of firm tofu
  • 1 cup of vegetable oil for frying
  • 4 pieces of dried shiitake mushroom, soak  in water, squeeze and wash a few times  and slice
  • 2 sprigs of green onions for garnish

In a very little oil, stir fry the sliced mushroom. Add the rest of the ingredients and boil for about 5 minutes. If a sweeter sauce is preferred, add 1 T of sugar.

Slice the tofu. Heat oil and fry both sides until golden brown.

Drain the tofu and add to the sauce. Stir.

If a crispy tofu is preferred, pour the sauce over it when ready to eat. Garnish with sliced green onions or scallions.

Tips:

  • To avoid water splatter when frying, drain the tofu by weighing down with a heavy object like  canned goods. I use a heavy marble mortar.
  • For a crispy outside, soft inside tofu, use a medium firm tofu, no need to drain the water, dredge in cornstarch and deep fry.
  • As a healthier option, I put a small amount of oil on a baking pan and bake the tofu at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until golden brown.
  • When my family was growing up and I was working full time, I would make a really big batch of this into which I  also add 1 whole grated  daikon radish and a knob of grated ginger,   in concentrated form (less liquid) which I then put in plastic containers in the freezer. Whenever I make tempura or fried tofu or eggplants,  I would take a container, add some water and bring it to boil.

Bamboo Shoots Fried Eggroll

Bamboo shoots are available in Asian stores either canned or in sealed plastic bags. I used to get them fresh in New York Chinatown. The canned type is the least of my preference. Bamboo shoots have a distinct smell, if you can not tolerate the smell, soak the sliced shoots in a quart of water with 2 T white vinegar for 15 minutes. Rinse  in cold water and drain.

What you need are:

  • 1 pack  (25 pieces)  spring roll wrapper,
  • 3  C bamboo shoots, julienne cuts
  • 1 1/2  C carrots, julienne cuts
  • 1/4 C black fungus mushrooms, soak in water for 15 minutes, then chopped.
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Choice of flavor: 1 C shelled, chopped shrimps;  1/2 lb. ground chicken; 2 blocks of tofu, cut into small strips will  make this a wonderful vegetarian dish
  • salt
  • pepper
  • Canola oil for frying

Pre-cook the filling.

  • In a pan, heat 1 T of oil. Saute the garlic and onion until the onion is wilted or clear.
  • Add the choice of flavor and the chopped fungus mushrooms. Saute until cooked.
  • Add the carrots and shoots. Season with salt and pepper according to taste.
  • Cook for 5 minutes, turning over, until wilted. Do not cover as it will generate liquid.
  • Remove from the pan and cool.

Wrap the eggroll.

  • Follow the rolling instruction printed on the package.
  • Put about 1/4 cup filling on the center of the wrapper, positioned on the diagonal.
  • Roll and seal the end with water.

Fry on a heated pan, set to medium heat,  with about 1/2 inch of oil until golden brown. Drain on paper towel.

I serve this with either a spicy vinegar-soy sauce or sweet chili sauce. The sweet chili sauce is available in Asian food stores which I usually dilute in water to cut down the sweetness and lighten the consistency for better dipping. The vinegar-soy sauce is simply a mixture of 2 parts vinegar and 1 part soy sauce. Spice it up with minced fresh garlic and sliced  fresh chili pepper. I usually add some type of chopped green like cilantro, scallions, chives or  Thai basil, depending on what I have growing in the garden.

This is also good to freeze for future use. Fry and serve when you have unexpected guests or even on parties. These make good appetizers or cocktail foods, cut it in half on the diagonal and arrange on a platter with the sauce.

To freeze, place the un-fried eggrolls on a tray and freeze for 30 minutes. Once they are firm, they can be stored in quart size plastic freezer bags and store in the freezer until you are ready to use them.

Banana Blossoms in Coconut Milk. (Ginataan Puso ng Saging)

Ingredients:

  • 2 pieces banana blossoms, available from Asian and Caribbean food stores.
  • 1 – 14 oz  can coconut milk
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 2 pieces jalapeno peppers or long Thai peppers. Using a paper towel to handle, discard the seeds of the peppers to lessen the heat of the pepper. Slice the peppers.
  • 2 Tbsp fish flavoring like patis or fish sauce, bagoong or fermented fish/shrimp fry, anchovy paste or anchovy fillet.
  • 3 Tbsp white vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil

Procedure:

Prep the banana blossoms.

  • Fill a pan with water, add 1 Tbsp of white vinegar or juice of 1/2 lemon and 1 Tbsp salt.
  • Remove  and discard the outer, purple color layers of the banana blossom.
  • Slice the banana blossoms in 1/8 inch thick crosswise. Soak in the prepared pan of water. This will prevent the discoloration of the blossoms and also remove any bitterness. Let it soak for 15-30 minutes. Drain.

Cook the blossoms. This process should take about 30 minutes.

  • Heat the pan. Add the oil. Saute the garlic and onion until the onion is clear.
  • If not using patis for flavoring, now is the time to add the flavoring to saute with the garlic and onion, about 1 minute
  • Add the banana blossoms and 2 Tbsp of vinegar. Saute until wilted. Add the coconut milk. Fill the coconut can 3/4 full of water, swirl to get all the cream left on the can and add the liquid to the pan.
  • If using patis, now is the time to add.
  • Cover the pan, continue cooking for about 5 minutes to soften the blossoms.
  • Add patis if more salt is needed.
  • Spread the jalapeno slices on the top.
  • Continue cooking in low heat until the coconut milk is thick, about 20 minutes.