Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Bean Stew Secret

A chef at a vegetarian restaurant in Bolivia once told me that the secret to great chilli is to grill the tomatoes whole until the skin burns and ruptures. Cut them in half, sprinkle a pinch of salt on the inside of each piece and let them sit for at least 15 minutes before throwing them in your pan to sauté in olive oil with onion and garlic.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

On Coconut Oil

So there's this article saying coconut oil is very bad for me.

OK. Sure. I can believe that. I get it. It can potentially cause weight gain and cardiovascular problems. But, ultimately, what oil doesn't make us fat and clog our arteries if we consume it in large quantities and sit on our asses all day every single day? I'd say even the purest and "holiest" batch of oil squeezed from olive trees lining the border between Jerusalem and Bethlehem (near that damned wall) would do that. Still, though, I get it. Science says it's not as much of a miracle as it's hyped up to be. But will I stop using coconut oil? Hell to the no!

A: I like it;
B: I make my own because it's easy; and
C: Coconut oil, at least for those in countries like mine, is infinitely more sustainable, ecologically sound and compassionate compared to its most convenient alternatives.

Consider palm oil (E. guineensis, E. oleifera, A. maripa). It's a convenient source of vegetable oil that can be used for various things, but it's also depilating rainforests all over Southeast Asia, pushing orangutans and Sumatran tigers to extinction, and is indirectly inciting violence among humans. Don't challenge me; I've lived in remote villages in the mountains of Indonesia and I have some very passionate things to say about this industry.

And need I say anything about how butter and lard are obtained?

By all means, go ahead and stop consuming coconut oil. I really couldn't care less. But don't you dare insinuate that it's as bad as lard and beef fat because, dear, my body thrives largely on avocado, durian and copious amounts of coconut oil, but I have probably climbed more mountains than your entire Sunday running club combined with your Basic Ecclesial Community's Wednesday prayer meeting group.

And have you seen my mother? She's 51; she can cycle 35km straight; she is a combat proficient martial artist; she has the skin of a 30-year-old; and guess what: she swears by coconut oil.

I can say nothing to discredit any statements by the American Heart Association, an organisation created to warn US citizens against habits that lead to obesity, heart disease and stroke, nor do I want to, but I must say that merely stating that coconut oil's saturated fat content, at 82%, is 20 points heigher than butter's, is hardly a delivery of a groundbreaking scientific finding. The problem is not the consumption of coconut oil or butter or lard; it's our sedentary lifestyles which have, by and large, become the norm for city living.

Eschewing the "evil slime" that is coconut oil will probably only give you an extra week, if you're lucky, before you succumb to butter, canola, lard or freaking Crisco. You're not going to live to be 102 just by dropping the coco loco and retaining all your other unhealthy habits. Who are you kidding?

And, oh! Here are articles telling us of the sheer evils of coconut oil:
- http://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/coconut-oil-bad
- http://www.bbc.com/news/health-40300145

Be afraid. Be very afraid!

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Vegan Laing

vegan adaptation of a traditionally non-vegan Bicolano (North-Eastern Philippines) dish

Savouring a spoonful of my most recent piece of art after it left the saucepan and moved to a serving bowl, I asked myself why I don't make it often. It's effing amazing, but the last time I cooked it was over a year ago. Then I looked at the wall clock and saw that it was 7:30pm--two hours after I had started cooking. I got my answer: It takes super long. And, on top of that, it could get very painful if you're not careful enough.

Taro, as a vegetable, can categorically be considered a risky ingredient. Unlike onions and garlic that will simply turn unpalatable if you mishandle them, this stuff could actually cause harm. Kind of like cassava. Why do we use these ingredients, you ask? Because if you pull things off, they are heavenly and irreplaceable! Also, we Filipinos are adrenaline junkies! We sweat and palpitate as we stir stews in a cauldron, awaiting the very moment when we need to take a sip of the broth during the seasoning process and ultimately find out whether we would be giggling at the dinner table afterwards or bleeding from the mouth in the ER.

So do yourself a favour if you decide to cook this dish and follow the full detoxification process. Don't take shortcuts. Maybe I overplayed its toxicity a bit in the previous paragraph. I hope that didn't put you off. If you, you daring kitchen diva you, still want to make this dish, read on.

Vegan Laing

If you follow this recipe strictly, granting that this is the only food item eaten for a meal (with rice, of course), you will be able to feed:

- 3 regular sized people,
- 2 large people, or
- 1 very hungry person of any size

You will need:
- 200 grams of fresh taro leaves (100 grams if dried), stalks and main rib chopped off 
- 6 cups of fresh coconut milk, ideally using the coconut water to extract it (use 1½ large coconut or 2 smaller coconuts; 3 cans if you don't have access to fresh ones)
- 4 large sheets of nori, roughly chopped or ripped to bits
- pieces of seriously spicy chilli, ideally 10 pieces of bird's eye or 12 pieces of siling labuyo or 1 ghost pepper, finely chopped and seeds included (you may use more or less depending on your tolerance for spicy food) 
- 1 large onion, very finely chopped 
- 9 cloves of garlic, very finely chopped 
- 3 tablespoons of finely grated ginger
- 2 teaspoons of salted black beans, also known as tau-si, douchi or tochi, mashed with a fork/spoon
- 1 cup of minced tofu adobo or minced vegemeat adobo, meaning marinated in garlic, vinegar and soy sauce, and fried (purely optional; I mean it's so optional that I didn't even use it) 
- 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil (ideally coconut oil; other neutral-tasting vegetable oils will do; avoid olive oil as it has a distinct taste)
- water as needed
- sea salt for seasoning

Traditionally, this dish is not vegan at all. Purist omnivores in northern Philippines would spit on the ground in front of me for forgoing shrimp paste and pork shoulder, but I don't really care.

To replace the oceany taste of shrimp paste, I use a combination of nori sheets and salted black beans. Married, they basically become vegan bagoong.

To replace pork, if one feels that they must, you can use minced vegemeat adobo or minced tofu adobo. I didn't, though. I didn't feel it was necessary.

For best taste, cook this dish in a pot/cauldron made of clay on top of actual wood instead of an LPG stove. Of course, not all of us have this option, so boo-hoo!

First of all, let's make sure the taro leaves are edible before we cook with them:

1.  Put all the leaves in a saucepan. 
2.  Push the leaves down and cover with water about 2 cm higher than the pile of leaves. 
3.  Close the saucepan with a lid and bring to the boil. 
4.  Simmer for 20 minutes. 
5.  Drain the water completely. Rinse the leaves and squeeze out remaining liquid. 
6.  Repeat this process two more times, reducing the simmer time to 10 minutes and 5 minutes, respectively.
7.  After squeezing for a final time, chop the leaves roughly. 

Now, let's make vegan laing:
1.  Heat your pan and pour in 2 tablespoons of oil. 
2.  Maintain medium heat, drop in your chopped onion and chillies together.
Saute until the onion softens. 
3.  Add the garlic and ginger and sautee for 2-3 minutes, stirring continuously. Make sure nothing burns and sticks to the bottom of the pan because, god almighty, that would be a disaster!
4.  Pour in 2 cups of coconut milk. Drop a generous pinch of salt. Add the prepared taro leaves and stir to mix everything well. Bring to the boil.
5.  When it boils, stir in the nori and mashed salted black beans together. Add the rest of the coconut milk. If you elect to put tofu or vegemeat in your vegan laing, now would be the time to drop them in. Stir to mix everything.
6.  Bring to the boil and simmer until the sauce reduces and thickens. When I say "reduce," I don't mean dry up. I mean around the level of the solid ingredients when you can actually see the taro popping up, not swimming but still soaking.
7.  Season with more salt if necessary. Stir. Taste.
8.  Take off the heat and serve. 

Note:  Don't worry, you'll live.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Peanut Butter

a vegan spread

For the 80% raw, 20% cooked food vegan that I am, this, my dear friends, is the epitome of comfort cooked food.  This tops the list!  I eat so much of it so I had to learn to make it myself--if not for economic reasons, then for convenience and sheer awesomeness!  Any why not?  It's simple and you can be absolutely sure there aren't any nasty and harmful substances in it.

I had a conversation with my Dutch friend, Dominik, a few days ago about how I make my own peanut butter.  He asked if I had posted a recipe on my food blog but then I hadn't at the time so I just gave him the instructions.  This posting is for the sake of pictures and for the benefit of the rest of the world.

Hey, Dominik, enjoy making your own peanut butter from now on!

peanut butter
Presenting: My home made peanut butter... and my Chinese visa papers? Hahaha!
I made just a small batch for photographic purposes since I still have a half-full jar in my fridge good for the rest of the week.  This recipe, though, will be good for about a 150-millilitre mason jar.

You will need:
- 2 cups of raw peanuts (off the shells, of course, but skin on or off doesn't matter to me) 
- 2 tablespoons of peanut oil or coconut oil (I use virgin coconut oil.) 
- 1 tablespoon (more or less or none) of agave nectar/maple syrup/honey/sugar 
- ½ teaspoon of salt

To make peanut butter:
1.  You may begin by dry roasting the peanuts or frying them in the coconut oil.  Up to you.  This takes about 5 minutes over low heat, with constant stirring to ensure even cooking. 
2.  Drop everything in a food processor along with all your other ingredients and blend for about 2 minutes or until you achieve the desired consistency.  (Because I only made a tiny batch, I used a coffee grinder instead of a food processor.  It works, too.)

NOTE:  To make chunky peanut butter, reserve a tablespoon of peanuts before blending and add them in afterwards, blending for only 20 seconds to make sure you get chunks.

ANOTHER NOTE:  After making your base peanut butter (i.e. the recipe above), you can take it to the next level by adding cocoa powder or cinnamon or vanilla.  You can even apply this recipe using other nuts like cashew and almond to make other types of nut butter.

Home made peanut butter
Peanuts frying - skin on

peanut butter
blending in a coffee grinder

peanut butter
Voila!  It's fluid at this point because it's hot but it'll turn viscous when it cools.
Those are green tomatoes from my mother's farm in the background.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Vegetable Paella

a vegan dish

I actually cooked this traditional Valencian dish a while back but my companions and I were so hungry that I wasn't able to take pictures of it before we devoured what was in the pan.  Also, what I cooked before had broccoli which turned out not to be a very good idea.  It was tasty but not quite as good as what I just made and took photos of for this recipe entry.

If you cook it right, you (and your guests, if you have guests) will almost certainly be moaning while eating it.

Vegan Paella
Paella - the finished product

If you follow this recipe strictly, granting that this is the only food item eaten for a meal, you will be able to feed:

- 3 regular sized people,
- 2 hungry tall people, or
- 1 very hungry vegan

You will need:
- 1 whole onion (may be large, may be medium, or none—depending on how much you like onions), chopped  
- 1 ½ cup of mushrooms, chopped (Mine were shiitake but you may use any kind you like—preferably ones with considerable umbrellas, considerable size and not very long stems.), fresh is best 
- 1 cup of pumpkin, roughly chopped (You may use any kind of squash such as zucchini.) 
- 1 cup of bell pepper, julienned (Red and yellow are preferred over green.) 
- 4 cloves of garlic, very finely chopped 
- 5 medium sized tomatoes, grated, finely chopped or pulsed to bits in a food processor 
- 1 cup of rice (preferably short grain like arborio rice, bomba rice, calasparra rice or those in the Japonica variety that are not very sticky) 
- 1 teaspoon of fresh thyme (½ teaspoon if dried) 
- 5 leaves of fresh rosemary, ripped to bits (Use only 1 small pinch if it's dried.  Be careful not to use too much since rosemary can be a very overpowering herb.) 
- a lot of olive oil (Just have a bottle ready as it is added almost arbitrarily.) 
- 2 cups of water 
- ½ teaspoon of saffron strands 
- salt for seasoning

Traditionally, this dish is cooked on a large flat pan over a wood-fuelled fire.  This recipe, however, is scaled down to feed 3 people so a considerably big flat frying pan over a conventional stove will do just fine as long as you make absolute certain that there are no Valencian people hanging around nearby.  They will scream at you if they catch sight of you not doing it the age-old, time-tested way.

Now, make sure you use proper judgement when cooking this dish.  If you're an absolute novice, I recommend that you drag along someone with considerable knowledge to help you because the process is rather intricate and imprecise.  However, please note that the order in which the ingredients go into the pan must be abided by.

Let's make vegan paella:
1.  Heat your pan and pour in about 3 tablespoons of olive oil.  You don't have to be precise.  You can add more. 
2.  Maintain medium to medium-low heat and drop in your onions.  Sauté for about 30 seconds. 
3.  Add the mushrooms and sauté for about a minute. 
4.  Add a couple of small pinches of salt to bring the liquid out of the mushrooms.  
5.  Add the bell pepper and sauté for another minute. 
6.  At this stage you will want to add about 2 more tablespoons of olive oil.  Don't worry about precision because as a Spanish lady once told me, "You can never go wrong with too much olive oil in a paella."  
7.  Add the squash and sauté for a minute. 
8.  Stir in your rosemary and thyme. 
9.  Add another small pinch of salt and stir the pan for about a minute. 
10.  Sweep the vegetables to the sides and empty the centre of the pan. 
11.  Add a teaspoon of olive oil. 
12.  Drop in your garlic and sauté on its own for 1 minute. 
13.  Stir everything together to mix. 
14.  Add in your rice plus 2 more tablespoons of olive oil and stir. 
15.  Stir continuously for about 4-5 minutes.  This is done so the rice absorbs the flavours of the vegetables.  Add olive oil (about a tablespoon or 2) if needed. 
16.  Stir in your tomatoes in thirds for about a minute each. 
17.  Add in about 2 more tablespoons of olive oil. 
18.  Add in another pinch of salt and stir continuously for about 3 minutes. 
19.  Pour in your water.  You used a cup of rice so you add 2 cups of water.  Your standard measurement for water is twice the volume of rice.  First stir in a cup and mix for 2 minutes, and then stir in your second cup. 
20.  Add in your saffron strands and stir to mix everything well. 
21.  Stir continuously for 2 minutes and then taste the broth.  Season with more salt as needed.  Make sure you don't over season as the taste will become more defined when some of the liquid evaporates.  However, since most of it will be absorbed by the rice grains, make sure to season well.  Use wise judgement (or, if you're a kitchen novice, consult that friend of yours who knows a thing or two about the basics of cooking). 
22.  Level your paella so that it is distributed evenly throughout the pan.  Maintain a medium-low to low fire. 
23.  Leave it cooking for about 15 minutes (about 7 minutes covered and 8 or more minutes uncovered).  Allow a bit more time to cook until the rice is thoroughly done (as in, the grains don't crunch when you bite into them) and the paella is no longer swimming in broth.  While cooking, periodically check the bottom by rubbing it gently with a spatula or spoon to be sure it's not burnt.  However avoid stirring your pan because you want the paella to settle.
24.  Turn off the heat and allow the paella to cool for at least 3 to 5 minutes. 
25.  Serve on its own or with a drizzle of lemon.  I like mine with some chopped fresh coriander.

Note:  You know you did it right if the rice caramelises a little at the bottom of the pan without burning.  Photo below.

vegetable paella
right after stirring in the Japonica rice

vegan paella
halfway done, right before leaving to cook for 15 minutes

vegan paella
The encircled parts are some of the areas where the rice caramelised at the bottom of the pan.  In Spain, it is called socarrat, and it is said that people would kill to eat this part.  Figurative language, of course. 

Monday, 6 January 2014

Mixed Vegetables Soup

a vegan soup

This is my way of educating people on the basics of soup making.  Anyone can make soup but the question of taste is always a concern.  In this recipe, I will explain the rudiments of how to adjust ingredients and what the basics are to making it work.

vegan soup
right before cooking

This particular recipe will give you a bowl good for 2 people (eating only this dish as a full meal) but you can adjust it proportionately so you can make more.

There are various kinds of soup and a wide variety of ingredients you can use.  For this one, I used:
- 2 standard-sized potatoes 
- 3 medium tomatoes 
- 1 cup of chopped broccoli head 
- 1 cup of chopped broccoli stalk (without the hard outer layer) 
- 2 whole onions, roughly cut 
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed 
- 1 teaspoon of dried marjoram (oregano) leaves 
- water 
- salt and black pepper for seasoning (after cooking)

Tools necessary are a sauce pan and a food processor or blender.

The process is very simple:  Put all ingredients in a sauce pan; add a couple of pinches of salt; cover with about 3 to 4 cups of water (depending on how viscous or fluid you want it); bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes.  After simmering, transfer to a food processor or blender and pulse to liquefy.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and then serve.

simmering vegan soup

vegan soup
served with a garnish of cooked chopped broccoli head

Depending on the available ingredients and your taste buds' preference, you can adjust what the soup contains.  For example:  You can use just one onion or half.  You can use only one or two tomatoes, or five if it pleases you.  You can omit the marjoram or use thyme.  Better yet, add coriander and parsley.  You can omit the broccoli and use pumpkin instead.  The possibilities are endless.  Just don't go crazy.

If something isn't desirable eaten in a salty scenario, don't use it—or if you have to use it, don't use too much.  Take carrots, for instance.  It's a good vegetable but I think it makes soup cloying if you use a lot.  Don't use too much of ingredients that are strong unless they have a necessary appeal like tomatoes.  They are lovely and most of us wouldn't mind a lot of them in soup.  Heck, you can even make them your primary ingredient.  Onions, as well, are great—as in French onion soup.  More than three cloves of garlic, however, in a bowl of soup that serves two people, is not very palatable.

Your choice of herbs will affect the taste, too.  Coriander, marjoram, thyme and parsley are great for soups.  You can add lots of parsley and coriander but not really thyme and marjoram.  They're very imposing.  So are other herbs like tarragon, basil, mint, rosemary and sage.  While they are acceptable in small quantities, they might give you the feeling that you're drinking an infusion rather than eating soup if you use too much.

Experimentation is necessary in the art of soup making.  You'll find that the more mistakes you make, the more you get better.  Mistakes are how I came up with these guidelines.  Make soup making a habit and you'll get the hang of it as the days come by.

Sunday, 5 January 2014


a vegan sauce

To be completely honest, although I do consume a fair amount of Tahini, I'm not a huge fan of it on its own.  The real reason I make it is so I could then proceed to making hummus—an awesome Middle Eastern food item that requires it.

Hummus is actually the Arabic term for chickpeas.  What we're dealing with here is called ḥummuṣ bi ṭaḥīna in Arabic—meaning hummus with tahini.  It is the non-sweet cousin of peanut butter that is commonly consumed in the region where Jesus Christ and Mohammed lived.  Whether or not you adhere to an Abrahamic religion, you'll probably love this.

Following this recipe will fill up a standard peanut butter jar or, in my case, again, a plastic container.

You will need:
- 2 cups of cooked chickpeas (or garbanzo beans, as they are otherwise called) 
- 2 tablespoons of tahini 
- 1 clove or garlic (or 2, depending on the kick you want in it) 
- ½ cup of the stock from cooking the chickpeas 
- 4 tablespoons of lemon juice (or lime juice) 
- 1 teaspoon of salt (or ½, depending on the strength of your salt) 
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil

To make it, just blend all the ingredients in a food processor until you come up with a smooth paste.

Serve with a light sprinkle of ground black pepper and paprika and a good drizzle of olive oil.