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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Taste of Velvet - a Recipe for Stuffed Eggplant

Checking my little herb garden this afternoon, I discovered that the small pot of thyme is sprouting two new seedlings below the original stalks that have since curled outward and bent to the side.  This thyme has been quite lush for several weeks now, but I have yet to decide what to do with these beautiful leaves that grow like asters.  As I mulled over their minty and nutty scents, I scoured my vegetable pantry when the shiny purple of eggplants jumped right at me.

What could be more homey and Filipino than Rellenong Talong or Stuffed Eggplant?  If you check out the many articles or cookbooks on Filipino dishes, there is always one about this staple.  It is also a dish that's a standard offering in any carinderia or cafeteria, be it on any sidewalk or wet market eatery or even a hole-in-the-wall place.   In other words, it's a cheap dish - easy to prepare; easy on the budget. 

Thus, this recipe is a generic one.  I don't think there can be any other way of doing it, except maybe substitute one or two ingredients, which I did.  The usual recipe would use minced or ground pork to stuff the eggplant, but I used ground bangus meat or milkfish - a healthier alternative.  Of course, the thyme leaves have a special place here.  It seasoned the eggs (rather than salt) that served as a shawl to each eggplant, giving off the aroma of freshness.  Kain na!

The Recipe

4 eggplants (skin should be firm and shiny)
200 grams (about 1 cup) minced milkfish meat (such as
                    Seaking brand)
1 small white onion, minced
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/8 cup minced carrots (optional)
4 eggs, beaten and sprinkled with fresh thyme leaves
some flour for dredging
salt and pepper to taste
cooking oil for sauteing, and additional for shallow frying
fresh thyme leaves, for garnish

Grill eggplants over open flame of stove until fragrant or about to char.  Turn them each side for even cooking.  Set aside.

Once cooled, open eggplants with fork and fan out flesh without removing the head of each.  Set on a plate.

Heat cooking oil in a pan and saute white onion until fragrant.  Add garlic and saute for another minute before putting in the minced milkfish, followed by the minced carrots, if using.  Cook meat until opaque in color then season with salt and pepper to taste.  Transfer to another plate.

Dip eggplant in beaten egg and thyme, fill fanned area with minced milkfish then sprinkle flour all over to make the meat stick to the eggplant.  Fry in cooking oil.  Turn the eggplant to cook the other side, making sure that both sides are browned.  Transfer to a plate, garnish with additional thyme leaves, and serve with banana ketchup as condiment.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Weekend Dish - Pollo Al Ajillo

I am still feeling the after-holiday kinks. Thus, meal preparations are limited to dishes that require less ingredients, and cooking procedures that are even less complicated.  But to add a bit of warmth from these cool mountain breezes, a Spanish salute seems well in order.

Pollo Al Ajillo, or simply Chicken with Garlic, is an Andalucian dish.  Since garlic is the important feature here, it is most preferable that it should be plump and soft, not the ones that are beginning to sprout shoots.  The olive oil to be used should be golden in color, not the green of the extra-virgin variety since the high temperature from frying would lend it a bitter after-taste.  (Although sometimes, I use extra-virgin for quick sautes).

The Recipe

1 whole small chicken, cut into 6-8 pieces or 6-8 pieces of 
              your choice cuts
8 cloves garlic with only the last layer of peel on, & crushed
1 cup all-purpose flour seasoned with salt & pepper
1 cup olive oil

Coat chicken pieces in seasoned flour and set aside for a few minutes in the refrigerator.

Heat olive oil in a deep sauce pan until you hear a slight hissing sound, then fry garlic cloves until fragrant.  Don't wait for the garlic to brown.

Fry chicken pieces a few at a time.  Careful that you do not overcrowd them to distribute heat evenly and attain a crispy outer skin.  To check if chicken is done, pierce a part near the bone and see if juices run clear, not bloody.

Take chicken pieces out once cooked and set on a dish.  Pour the olive oil with garlic on top of the chicken and serve.

¡Vamos a comer!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Recipe for Savory Pancakes

January obviously speaks of another beginning.  A chance to do something new, or probably a new way of going about old things.  Having lived in Antipolo for a few number of years, January for me also brings in cool, crisp weather that carries well into February, or even March,if we are lucky.  For someone who may be interested in creating a few morsels from the kitchen, I am not so talented in the garden, but here, I manage to grow a few herbs. And the more resilient of them happens to be chives.

Thus, on a new year, thoughts toward being able to use this perennial herb come dancing in my mind setting aside ideas of pairing it with the usual potatoes.  Ah, but I did promise myself to make use of my crepe pan - a hand-me-down from my sister.  And so in the spirit of making use of items readily at hand, here went the wheels in motion for a simple, light, and flavorful meal that befits the season.

Pancakes with Cheese Filling

115 gms (less than 1/2 cup) flour
big pinch salt
2 eggs
300 ml (1 1/2 cups) milk
30 ml (2 Tbsp) chopped fresh chives*
         butter for frying


45 gms. (less than 1/4 cup) butter
2 shallots, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
225 gms. (1 cup) ricotta cheese
115 gms. (less than 1/2 cup) mozzarella cheese, chopped
25 gms. (1/8 cup) parmesan cheese

For the pancakes/crepes: put the flour, salt, eggs and milk in a blender or if using a hand mixer, put it in a bowl and blend until smooth.  

Add the chives, and mix it in.  

Melt a small knob of butter in an 8-inch heavy-based frying pan, or crepe pan (if you have one).  Pour in enough batter to cover the base of the pan. 

Cook the pancake over medium-high heat until set and golden, then turn and cook the other side until golden.  Transfer on a plate and repeat with remaining batter.  This mixture yields 8-10 pancakes.

For the filling:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 deg. C or gas mark 4).

In a bowl, mix ricotta and mozzarella cheeses together and set aside.

Melt butter 25 gms. (1/8 cup of butter) in a small pan, add the shallots and cook gently for 3 minutes, then add the garlic and continue cooking for a minute.

Stir into the ricotta and mozzarella mixture.

Place 1 Tbsp. of the filling at one end of the pancake, fold over the sides, then roll up (like making lumpia).

Place in an oven-proof dish.  Repeat with the remaining pancakes and filling.

Melt the remaining butter and brush the pancakes with it.  Sprinkle top with parmesan cheese and bake for 12-15 minutes until golden and hot.  Garnish with fricassee or other salad greens and a bundle of extra chives.

Serves 4. Good as a light meal or appetizer.

*Note:  You can substitute fresh parsley with the chives, if unavailable.