Sauteed Green Beans with Diced Pork

Here’s my DIY recipe in last week’s issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer: sautéed green beans with diced pork.  It’s a simple dish you can do in a hurry and it uses an amazing sauce that adds an appetizing flavor to the beans.

ONE OF MY BEST FINDS last year was a bottle of sauce in the condiments section of a supermarket that was simply called Wok Sauce. At first I was wary about buying it.  Would it be too salty, too sweet, too spicy or too bland?  Nevertheless I took the risk of buying a bottle and was soon experimenting with it in my kitchen.

IMG_8329

Wok Sauce

It was a risk well taken, as it turns out.  Such an unpretentious brand name belies the numerous uses this sauce offers.  A product of Thailand, it’s made with spices, sugar, soybean oil, coriander and rice vinegar (among other ingredients) and has a mildly sweet flavor.  Best of all, it has none of the dreaded MSG.

I have since used this sauce to stir fry beef, chicken, pork and vegetables—and it has always made the dish more appetizing.  Better than trying to figure out the right combination of sauces, Wok Sauce is like having just the right flavor in one bottle.  It has, in other words, simplified my cooking. I’ve even used it to cook ampalaya because its sweetness cuts the bitterness of the ampalaya, making it more palatable.

Here’s a dish that I’ve recently cooked using this amazing sauce:  stir-fried green beans with diced pork.  This is a dish you can easily cook when you’re pressed for time. And because of its appealing flavor, it may yet persuade the kids to eat their vegetables.

Sautéed Green Beans with Diced Pork
IMG_8120: DIY Stir-fried green beans with Wok Sauce

4                      tbsp cooking oil, divided

¼                     kilo diced pork

1/2                   small onion, chopped

3 – 4                cloves garlic, chopped

¼                     kilo green beans or sitaw, cut into 2-inch pieces

Salt

½                    c Wok Sauce (see tips)

¼                     c water

Heat two tablespoons of the oil in a wok or skillet to medium.  Add the diced pork and sauté until pork is cooked through.  Remove the pork from the pan and transfer to a clean plate.  Add the remaining two tablespoons oil to the same pan. Over low heat, sauté the onions in the oil until the onions are tender, around two minutes.  Add the garlic and continue sautéing until the garlic becomes light golden brown.

Stir in the green beans and season with salt.  Return the diced pork to the pan. Pour in the Wok Sauce and water and stir-fry just until the beans are tender but still crisp.  Transfer to a serving plate and serve while still hot.   Makes 3 – 4 servings.

Cook’s tips:

  • Trim the beans of any stringy parts that are found on the side.
  • Aside from diced pork, you can add small (peeled) shrimps.  Sauté the shrimps just until they turn evenly pink in color.  Add the shrimps to the green beans together with the pork.
  • If desired you can enhance this by adding grated chicharon on top of the dish just before serving.
  • You can find Wok Sauce in the condiments section of large supermarkets.

PLUS:

  • IMG_8328The brand of the Wok Sauce I used for this recipe is Thai Heritage.  It’s sold in Landmark Supermarket Makati, SM Supermarket and Rustan’s Supermarket (some branches).
  • To make this dish more appealing, you can top the dish with pork floss, chicken floss or beef floss just before serving.  These finely shredded pork, chicken or beef (also called mahu) are available in Chinese groceries and in some branches of Aji-Ichiban.

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Dining in a Dragon’s Pavilion

Marco Polo Hotel in Ortigas is like an oasis in the middle of an asphalt dessert.  What a delight to be in its cool, well designed interiors and to dine in its restaurants.  Here’s my story on Lung Hin, its fine dining Chinese restaurant, plus a recipe for Sichuan Prawns, published in last week’s (June 18) issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

IF THERE REALLY WERE DRAGONS in this world, how would their pavilion look like?  It would be an elegant restaurant, if Marco Polo Hotel Ortigas could have its say.  And it would serve fine Cantonese cuisine prepared by experienced chefs flown in from Hong Kong.

IMG_8059: Marco Polo Ortigas Lung Hin Restaurant: Interiors

Lung Hin Chinese Restaurant in Marco Polo Hotel Ortigas

Such is Marco Polo’s fine dining Chinese restaurant called Lung Hin, which is Cantonese for dragon’s pavilion. Like a true dragon’s lair, it towers way above mere mortals, 44 floors above the ground to be exact.

: Marco Polo Ortigas Lung Hin Restaurant: Interiors

Cozy nooks beside picture windows shows views of the distant mountains and hovering clouds.

IMG_8032: Marco Polo Ortigas Lung Hin Restaurant: Chicken with Smoked Tea Leaves

Chicken smoked in tea leaves

Panoramic views of distant mountains and hovering clouds therefore come with the territory, views that look almost dream-like from the cozy dining nooks strategically arranged beside tall glass windows (from where one can also see the buildup of traffic along Ortigas Avenue).

Instead of fire emanating from a dragon’s lungs, however, the fire in this dragon’s pavilion is in the kitchen, where a team of Hong Kong chefs prepare traditional as well as contemporary Cantonese cuisine:  dishes like the dainty siomai dumplings crowned with slivers of truffle, which we had for lunch last week, and the mahogany skinned chicken gently smoked with tea leaves.

IMG_8038: Marco Polo Ortigas Lung Hin Restaurant: Fish Lip Soup

Fish lip soup

The fish lip soup with dried scallops was thick and flavorful.

IMG_8036: Marco Polo Ortigas Lung Hin Restaurant: Diced Beef with Goose Liver

Diced beef with goose liver

The diced beef, on the other hand,  glistened on a nest of green vegetables, and was enhanced by cubes of goose liver discreetly layered on one end of the platter.

The barbecued pork buns, which seem to be all the rage these days, look like unprepossessing pan de sal, until you bite into them and discover the morsels of diced pork subtly sweetened by an enigmatic blend of sauces and spices. Then too, there was the stir-fried squid, with steamed salted eggs incorporated into its crisp golden batter.

Dessert choices in Lung Hin include the standards in Chinese restaurants: mango pudding, for instance, and buchi, balls of glutinous rice studded with sesame seeds.  But there’s also almond soup, a milky concoction upon which floats a sticky ball filled with lotus bean paste.

IMG_8050: Marco Polo Ortigas Lung Hin Restaurant: Sichuan Prawns

Sichuan prawns with candied walnuts

Although Cantonese cuisine is its specialty, Lung Hin also serves other regional dishes, like Fookien fried rice and the Sichuan prawns with a spiciness balanced by sweet candied walnuts.

Here, Lung Hin’s recipe for the Sichuan prawns, which I’ve kitchen tested and adjusted for the home cook.

Lung Hin Chinese Restaurant:  44th Floor, Marco Polo Hotel, Meralco Avenue and Sapphire St., Ortigas Center, Pasig City.  Tel: (632) 720 7777.

Sichuan Prawns

16 – 20                                    pieces king prawns

Iodized salt

2 – 3                             stalks celery, trimmed and cut into six-inch lengths

2                                  tbsp cooking oil

2                                  tbsp chili garlic sauce (bottled)

Ground black or white pepper

2                                  tbsp  sugar

1/3                               c sweet and sour sauce

¼ – ½                           c candied walnuts

Peel the prawns and remove the heads and tails.  Slit open the backs of the prawns and remove the veins.  Season the prawns with salt.  In a medium saucepan boil the prawns in one cup water for about five minutes. Add the celery and let simmer for one more minute. Remove the prawns and celery from the pan.

In a separate pan, heat the cooking oil and sauté the chili garlic sauce and pepper. Add the prawns and celery.  Stir in the sugar, sweet sour sauce and candied walnuts.  Heat through. Remove from heat then arrange the dish in a serving platter.

Cook’s tips:

  • Bottled sweet and sour sauce and chili garlic sauce are available in the condiments section of supermarkets.
  • You can substitute candied pili nuts for the walnuts
  • For a spicier dish, sauté some dried chilies together with the chili garlic sauce and pepper.

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Bananas on Ice

My recipe for last week’s DIY column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer was bananas on ice.  In this easy recipe native saba bananas (similar to plantain) are simmered in a mixture of brown sugar and water until they’re tender and the liquid becomes thick and syrupy.  They can be eaten as is, but they’re even more delicious when served with crushed ice.

Here’s the recipe for bananas on ice.

Bananas on Ice

2                      cups brown sugar

4                      cups water

12                    ripe saba bananas

1                      teaspoon vanilla

Crushed ice

Milk (optional)

Combine the brown sugar and water in a large saucepan or casserole.  Let boil, then lower heat to a simmer.  Let simmer until the sugar dissolves, around five minutes.

Meanwhile slice the bananas in halves.  When the sugar dissolves add the bananas and the vanilla.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the bananas are tender and the liquid becomes syrupy, around 25 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl to cool.

When the bananas and syrup have cooled, crush some ice in a blender or ice crusher.  Spoon the crushed ice into individual bowls then apportion the bananas and syrup.  If desired add milk. Makes around 6 to 8 servings.

Cook’s tip:

  • If the bananas are large, you can cut each into three pieces.
  • If you want softer bananas, simmer them a little longer (around 30 – 35 minutes)

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Churros, in a Centuries-Old Chocolateria

Churros!  Who would think that such a simple combination of flour and water can taste so good?

In Spain, churros are sold everywhere.  In fact they even have a name just for shops that sell churros: churreria.

During a recent visit to Madrid, my daughter Clarissa and I enjoyed the churros in the centuries-old (since 1894) Chocolateria San Gines.  Both the churros and the hot chocolate were excellent.  To taste them is to dream of returning to Madrid—and to Chocolateria San Gines—once more.

Here’s my story on that visit and a recipe for churros, published in Philippine Daily Inquirer on June 4.

IMG_6178: San Gines, Madrid

Chocolateria San Gines, in Madrid

IMG_6157: Churros in San Gines, Madrid

Churros, served in Chocolateria San Gines

A RESTAURANT THAT HAS BEEN SERVING the same food every day for over a hundred years must really be doing something right.  Such is the case with Chocolateria San Ginés, an artisanal restaurant in the Spanish capital of Madrid. Tucked in a narrow street near Puerta Del Sol, Chocolateria San Ginés has been serving a scrumptious combination of churros and hot chocolate since 1894.  That’s 121 years of churros and hot chocolate, through war and peace, through rain or shine, through thick and thin.

IMG_6159: Churros in San Gines, Madrid

Churros con chocolate in Chocolateria San Gines

Then as now, people come at all hours of the day and night to order this traditional snack. And no wonder.  The light, airy golden strips of churros crackle with every bite and maintain their crispness no matter how often they’re dunked into the cup of hot chocolate that accompanies them.
IMG_6165: Churros in San Gines, Madrid
As for the hot chocolate, San Gines serves it amazingly thick, certainly dense enough to cling to the tips of the dunked churros, yet it’s also fluid enough to be sipped occasionally.   It also has just the right blend of sweetness and creaminess. Apparently the kitchen has divined the magic formula that makes their churros and hot chocolate irresistible.

IMG_6176: San Gines Boxes of Chocolate, Madrid

Boxes of San Gines's own artisanal chocolate, for sale in the restaurant

Just as I was wondering how on earth I can recreate this ambrosial experience back home, my daughter Clarissa noticed a phalanx of boxes on their wall.  Each 200-gram box contains a mixture for making one’s own hot chocolate at home.  A box would be enough to make four servings of hot chocolate. I quickly bought half a dozen boxes.

Back in Manila, I lost no time in preparing the hot chocolate.  The instruction said to boil a liter (four cups) of milk, then to stir in the mixture.  Luckily I decided to make half of the recipe first, using two cups of milk and half of the mixture.  The hot chocolate came out really dense, so dense it was almost like a chocolate bar. I had to add about a half cup of milk to thin it a little.  A few days later, when I cooked the remaining mixture, I knew to use a little more than the recommended amount of milk.

To go with the hot chocolate I also made some churros.  But though the churros and the hot chocolate were satisfying enough, it was only half the experience.  My dining room certainly didn’t have the ambience of San Ginés, with its marble topped tables, its copper samovar, its mirrored walls.  I guess there’s nothing like having this traditional treat amid the Old World charm of San Ginés in the heart of Madrid.

Here’s my recipe for churros.  You can serve it with your own favorite hot chocolate recipe, or just dust it with sugar and serve it with coffee or tea.

Chocolateria San Ginés: Open 24 hours daily Pasadizo de San Gines 5, 28013, Madrid, Spain.  Tel: +34 913-65 65 46          

Churros

1                      c water

¼                     tsp salt

1                      c all-purpose flour

¼                     tsp baking powder (optional)

3                      c cooking oil (preferably corn oil)

Sugar, for sprinkling

Combine the water and salt in a saucepan and bring to a brisk boil.

Meanwhile, sift the flour into a heat-proof bowl. If  desired, add the baking powder.

As soon as the water boils, pour it immediately into the flour.  Stir flour and water together just until no flour is visible. The batter should still be a bit lumpy.

Spoon the batter into a piping bag fitted with a star tip.  Pipe the batter into about six-inch lengths on a baking sheet covered with nonstick baking paper.  If you’re using a large star tip, this recipe can yield around 10 pieces.  If using a thinner star tip, the yield will be around 20 pieces.

Heat the cooking oil in a frying pan or large wok.   When the oil is hot enough, use about two heat-proof spatulas to carefully lift the shaped batter and transfer them into the hot oil, about five at a time.  Do not overcrowd the pan. Let the churros cook in the hot oil until evenly light golden brown in color.  Transfer to a plate lined with absorbent paper.

Repeat with the remaining churros.

Sprinkle with sugar before serving.  Or serve with hot chocolate.

Cook’s tips:

  • It’s preferable to use corn oil for this recipe because it helps make the churros crisp.
  • Do not overcook the churros so they don’t become brittle. Cook them just until they turn  a light  golden brown.
  • Brush the spatulas with oil before using them for transferring the shaped batter into the hot oil so the batter doesn’t stick.
  • You can shape the batter into longer lengths.  However longer churros may be more difficult to cook in the pan.  A six-inch length churro is more manageable.

PLUS:

  • Don’t overmix the batter (the flour and water).  Mix it just enough so there’s no visible speck of flour.
  • The baking powder helps to make the churros light and airy. But you may omit it.
  • If you know someone in Spain, ask him/her to buy you a churrera.  This device makes preparing churros easier—and much more fun.  I bought my churrera years ago in El Corte Inglés (a department store chain) but  it may be available in other places too.

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