Happy Year of the Metal Rat

Earlier this week, I was telling hubby my plans for our Chinese New Year meal when he stopped me mid-sentence and said –

“It is not a 100% Chinese thing. Other countries and nationalities celebrate it too – the Koreans, Japanese, Indians, etc. The proper term is Lunar New Year.”

Ahh, I see.

So… Happy Lunar New Year!

Going back to my plans for our special celebratory meal…

Braised Mushrooms and Scallops… Steamed Glutinous Rice… and (my version) of 佛跳墙 or Buddha Jumps Over the Wall Soup.

My grandparents came from the Fujian province about 80 years ago and resettled here. Over the years, there have been various versions of the soup that I have enjoyed (both home cooked and restaurant bought) the most luxurious version of which is/was the one at the Emerald Garden. But it has been many years and the price has tripled since the last time (before 2015 for sure).

It is said that the “true” dish has thirty (30) ingredients including the most expensive and/or rare such as abalones, Jinhua ham, shark fin, scallops, sea cucumbers, etc. seasoned with at least twelve (12) condiments. But I cannot fathom 30 EXPENSIVE and/or RARE ingredients (or condiments so I make do with what I can get… 18 ingredients, 8 condiments! And while the authentic one is a double boiled soup, I don’t have the equipment for that so I used the next best thing… my slow cooker!

My 18 ingredients –

  1. abalone (2 kinds)
  2. shark fin (faux)
  3. scallops (dried, whole)
  4. sea cucumbers (frozen)
  5. pork tendon
  6. native stewing chicken (whole)
  7. pork leg (1 kg)
  8. dried Chinese mushrooms (15 pcs.)
  9. erynggi (5 pcs.)
  10. abalone mushrooms (1/2 of a large whole)
  11. lotus root
  12. bamboo shoots
  13. taro (1 large piece)
  14. chestnuts (12 pcs.)
  15. quail eggs (2 dozen)
  16. ham (150g)
  17. tofu
  18. Baguio pechay

My 8 condiments –

  1. ginger
  2. red dates
  3. goji berries
  4. onion
  5. cinnamon
  6. star anise
  7. whole peppercorns
  8. leeks

In the “olden” days, (my mom told me) that preparations for the soup began a whole week before! But these days it is a bit easier with frozen foods that are already cleaned and prepped so in my case…

Preparations began 2 days before –

First by making the stock… place all the condiments in the slow cooker pot, as well as the whole chicken and the pork leg (sliced after being parboiled). Set the cooker on high and cook for 3 hours. Set to low and cook another 5 hours.

After the soup has cooled, strain everything and refrigerate the stock. Shred the chicken and pork (set aside half for other use).

Begin soaking the abalones. Change the water every 4 hours. Soak until the abalones are sufficiently rehydrated.

Move them frozen stuff to the refrigerator to thaw them slowly.

One day before –

Prepare the other ingredients that need soaking such as Chinese mushrooms, scallop, etc. Hard-boil the quail eggs, cool then peel the egg shells off.

Slice the taro into large cubes and fry until half done.

For the soup stock, any fat should be solid on top of the stock. Skim off the solidified fat.

On the day itself, start early in the morning by reheating the stock and seasoning it to taste.

Prepare the rest of the ingredients (slice pork tendons into manageable pieces, slice the mushrooms, ham, bamboo shoots, etc.)

When everything has been prepared, start layering the soup ingredients in the slow cooker pot – start with the lotus root, then the taro, then the bamboo shoots, then the ham, then the chicken and pork, then the (3 kinds) mushrooms, tofu, chestnuts, and quail eggs, then the pork tendons.

Lay some Baguio pechay on top and arrange the abalones, scallops (careful so they don’t fall apart), sea cucumbers and faux shark fin.

Carefully ladle the soup into the slow cooker pot only until the stock reaches the Baguio pechay leaves.

Set the slow cooker on low and let cook for at least 8 hours.

Serve and enjoy!

Sukiyaki!

It is undeniable that sukiyaki is one of the most famous Japanese foods.  The usual is beef sukiyaki but since hubby doesn’t eat beef anymore, the one I made is with pork.

I keep thinking that sukiyaki is a complicated dish, because it looks that way when we order it at the Japanese restaurant.  It is definitely impressive, so when 2 of my best buds were coming over to have dinner, I wanted to impress!!!

Not that I haven’t tried to make sukiyaki before but it has not been 100% successful… but this time I think I’ve got the right mix.  I based my sukiyaki on the recipe in this book –

While I did follow the recipe to the letter, especially with regard to the ingredient list, I did think that the most important part of the recipe was the soup base – the sukiyaki sauce.

The difficulty I encountered with the previous recipes was that they all required dashi stock… from scratch.  While it is a good idea to make stuff from scratch, I really did not know where to get the ingredients!!!  What I looooove about this recipe is that it used “instant” dashi, which was available at the nearby Japanese specialty grocery!

As for the other ingredients, I used Chinese tofu, enoki, shitake mushrooms, button mushrooms, fish cake slices, Baguio pechay, sotanghon (vermicelli), pork sliced in sukuyaki-style,

As for the sukiyaki sauce, my perfect proportion is 1 part mirin, 2 parts Japanese soy sauce, and 3 to 4 parts water, with sugar to taste (I was actually ok with skipping it) and a couple of pinches of instant dashi granules (although truthfully I’ve also make it without and it was still ok!)

Now, I wanted a prettier presentation but my guests came earlier than expected so I did not manage to arrange the ingredients in organized areas… in the end everything got mish-mashed together… but what counts is that it is delicious, right?

RIGHT!!!

 

Pork Sinigang sa Batwan

Sinigang is a popular sour soup made with pork, beef, fish or seafood (mostly shrimp).  The usual souring agent is sampalok (tamarind), but other souring agents, such as kamias (bilimbi?), calamansi, even green (unripe) mango, can be used.  I’ve even heard of sinigang using bayabas (guava).

But in my mom’s hometown province, they use batwan!  What is batwan???? Mmmm, there’s a few articles of it online – just type batwan or batuan in Google.

I got lucky when A-te J brought some with her when she came back.

Even luckier when she cooked sinigang with it!!!

How is it used as a souring agent in sinigang?  Well, according to A-te J, just throw 5 to 10 pieces of batwan into the pot with all the other ingredients (half kilo pork, water, tomatoes, etc.) and let it boil until the batwan is soft, then lightly mash the batwan to bring out even more sourness…

We usually start by sautéing ginger and tomatoes then stirfrying (cleaned, rinsed) pork rib pieces.  Broth or water is added, as well as the batwan and gabi (taro) if using.  Let the pot boil and add the veggies as desired (sitaw, kangkong, puso ng saging, labanos, etc.).  When the batwan is soft, mash lightly and stir.  The soup will thicken slightly.  Adjust seasonings as desired.  Serve hot!

Bola Bola Soup

Bola is our word for “ball”, so literally, bola bola is 2 balls.  But what it really means is any kind of “meat” balls… so it could refer to meat, fish, chicken, beef, squid, mushroom, etc.

The bola bola that I knew consisted of 2 kinds – the fried one and the processed one that was usually floating in chicken soup!  It was a bowl of comfort!

The simplest kind is the one with fish or chicken stock and fish balls, with chopped spring onions as garnish.  The more elaborate ones have shredded chicken, noodles, pechay, sometimes even mushrooms, and several kinds of balls.

The first thing I always do is boil chicken breast with onions, salt and ginger ti make the stock.  The stock is strained of impurities and the chicken is shredded and put back into the stock.  The stock then is reboiled and the balls are added.  When the balls float to the top, it is time to put in the pechay (wombok).  The soup is ready!

To take it one step further, the soup can be ladled into a bowl with parboiled egg noodles to make noodle soup!

 

Szechuan-style Hot and Sour Soup

My mother made a decent hot and sour soup – and despite my not liking spicy food, it was an exception.  It is unfortunate that I cannot find her recipe, nor can she remember enough to pass it on to me.

The next best thing? experiment and approximate!  But so far that has not worked for me.  Sigh.

What to do then?  Scour the cookbook library!

And, this recipe is good!  (although, as usual and always, I “personalize” the recipe – )

1.5 liters chicken stock
100 grams chicken breast fillet, julienned
8 pieces fresh shitake
handful of fresh shimenji
cloud ears, reconstituted
1 pack (50 grams) enoki mushrooms
2 blocks tofu, drained, cubed

Seasonings:
1/2 tablespoon salt
pinch of sugar, optional
1 tablespoon each light and dark soy sauce
3 to 4 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 t0 1-1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
(chopped labuyo)

2 tablespoons cornstarch, dissolved in 1/4 cup water

2 eggs, lightly beaten
wansoy

I like to simplify things (read as- I am lazy) so I boil the chicken stock and dump the chicken, mushrooms and tofu.  Season with salt and soy sauces (I skipped the sugar) and the rice vinegar and black pepper (I substituted part of it with chopped chili-labuyo).

Thicken with cornstarch slurry.  Slowly pour the beaten eggs into the soup, stirring at the same time to break the eggs.  Garnish with wansoy.

(Adjust and modify as you like!)

Patola Misua Soup

This soup, sponge gourd and thin wheat noodle soup, is one of my favorites, as well as a comfort food for me.  It is usually cooked with ground pork, but chicken strips are used as well, and, if a more decadent version is desired, with shrimps.

In my household, we always use a combination of ground pork and shrimps.  But depending on the state of the local treasury, the amount of pork and shrimp used vary!

00_misua patola

My recipe:

1 large patola (sponge gourd)
2 to 3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small onion, minced
50 to 100 grams ground pork
12 pieces shrimp, trimmed and cleaned
40 to 60 grams misua, or thin wheat noodles, or as desired
3 to 6 cups shrimp stock, or water
salt and pepper, to taste
toasted garlic bits or chips, optional

Begin by preparing the sponge guard.  Peel the skin off and slice the gourd into thin rounds.  Rinse and dry.

If desired, the shrimps can be shelled and diced.  The shells and head can be used to make shrimp stock, which can be added to the soup for more flavor in lieu of water.  Otherwise, use chicken or vegetable stock.

Saute the garlic and onion.  Add the ground meat and shrimps.  Stir fry several seconds.  When the ground meat and shrimp are cooked, add the stock, or water.

Let the mixture boil.  Add the wheat noodles, simmer a couple of seconds until the misua is softened and cooked.  Season with salt and pepper, as preferred.

Garnish with toasted garlic bits or chips, if desired.

 

Pork Spareribs and Cogon Grass Soup

Once in a while we go to Chinatown.  In our last trip there, we found some fresh cogon grass.  When A-te J saw them, she asked what they were for and I replied it was for a medicinal soup that’s common in Chinese cuisine, particularly Cantonese cuisine.  She held back a laugh saying that where she comes from, the cogon grass was used for burning not for eating.  I laughed along, commenting the weirdness of things – one man’s trash is (quite literally) another man’s treasure!

cogon grass

Anyway, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, this grass (Rhizoma Imperatae, 茅根 ) has cooling properties, aiding to dispel heat and helping bladder function.  It has a sweetish taste.

I was told that the cogon grass can be simmered with water to produce herbal tea but this I haven’t tried.  I am more familiar (and comfortable) with the soup version of it

The recipe:

1 bundle of fresh cogon grass (about 30 to 60 grams)
or 15-30 grams dried cogon grass
6 to 8 cups of water
400 to 500 grams of pork spare ribs
1 small onion

Clean the spare ribs, remove the fat.  Blanch.

Wash the cogon grass and blanch.

Boil the water.  Add the onion, cogon grass and pork.  Simmer for 3 hours (or use the magic cooker).

This recipe has alternate and/or additional ingredients:

1 chinese pear, sliced into large cubes and 4 honey dates, soaked in lukewarm water for 30 minutes.   Add the pear cubes and soaked dates together with all other ingredients.  This results in a sweeter tasting soup.

The pork spare ribs can be substituted with 1/2 chicken or 1 whole native chicken or even black chicken.  In which case, a thumb of smashed ginger should be added to the soup too.