By Nina Daza-Puyat
The oft lamented statement that “Print is dead” must be qualified. While some broadsheets are noticeably thinner and several glossy magazines have shut down or have transitioned to digital format, the cookbook/food book industry is going strong, and does not seem to be showing any signs of waning. People are still buying and devouring cookbooks despite easy access to thousands of recipes and cooking videos online. Perhaps this observation may only be true for older generations like mine who learned how to cook by following recipes from a printed page or even from a saved clipping from the newspaper.
As a young girl on the cusp on adolescence, while my boy cousins buried their noses in Archie comics and the girls read Nancy Drew and later Mills and Boon, I was leafing through my Mom’s collection of cookbooks. They were my storybooks whose tales were about the food in America, France, Italy, Spain, and China.
As I turned the pages of those books, I saw the names of the dishes as the story title, the list of ingredients as the cast of characters, and the step-by-step procedures, the build-up or “the rising action.” The climax, of course, was when I would admire the photo of the finished dish.
I was not cooking much yet then (except for my “specialty,” which was fried rice tossed in butter, shredded leftover fried chicken, and liquid seasoning), but I imagined the sights, sounds, and smells in the kitchen. I found it fascinating, how cooking or baking could magically turn those random ingredients into a delicious and edible dish.
Decades later, I still get excited looking for cookbooks to buy in bookstores here and abroad, not just to admire the photos, but to actually cook dishes from them. I love books that describe a country’s history and its culinary culture, and how the recipe authors learned to cook and eat based on ingredients available in their local markets and the countryside. Accounts that detail the recipes’ provenance and the stories of the people behind them continue to fascinate me.
Last weekend, while waiting for my favorite four cheese burger from 8-Cuts at The Promenade Mall in Greenhills, I wandered into The Urban Pantry and found a cookbook for sale that immediately caught my eye. Let’s Eat! Recipes from Our Moms, Dishes for Our Daughters is not just a collection of 67 Chinese and Chinoy recipes, but a book that highlights family values and traditions built around the kitchen and the dining table. The book’s look and feel is very intimate and very warm, almost as if you’re being invited to the authors’ kitchens. It was created as a project of the ICA (Immaculate Conception Academy) High School Batch 1992 in preparation for their homecoming in 2017, for the benefit of the Greenhills Scholarship Foundation.
Taking almost three years to complete, the formidable team of ICA alumni coaxed the recipes out of their mothers, amahs (grandmothers), and aunties, and tested the recipes in their home kitchens. The resulting dishes were beautifully photographed by the keen eye of Justin de Jesus. Expert styling by Chichi Tullao added little charming touches, such as gilded teapots and mah-jong tiles, making every page a mouthwatering feast for the eyes.
Later that night, I found myself getting hungry seeing recipes of Chinese restaurant favorites, such as Hot and Sour Soup, Crabs with Sotanghon, Steamed Lapu-Lapu, Chinese Lumpia, and General Tso’s Chicken. Some unfamiliar recipes were also intriguing, like the stew of beef shank with sugarcane and the Snow on Green Mountain, composed of freshly shelled crabmeat, ham, and mushrooms, cooked in frothy egg white atop steamed broccoli florets.
A CLOSER LOOK AT GUE LAI
A thoughtful and charming addition to the book is a full section on gue lai dishes, food that a new Chinese mother is required to eat in order to restore the chi in her body after pregnancy and childbirth. “Many of our friends have been intrigued by the concept of gue lai and have been asking about it,” says managing editor Trixie Suaco Manuel. “We wanted to demystify the dietary requirements of gue lai so many others can reap its benefits.”
TESTING IN MY KITCHEN
After reading the book from cover to cover, I got excited to buy live crabs from Farmers Market the next morning so I could cook the black pepper crabs for our Sunday lunch. The recipe intrigued me because it included butter, which is not often used in Chinese cooking. In the end, I found that the butter added an unctuous umami and silken finish to the sauce. It was such a hit with my family, we were all happily licking the sauce off of our fingers. With their publisher’s permission, I am sharing this recipe with you.
I believe a cookbook’s value truly multiplies when we can find one, two or more reliable recipes to add to the family’s precious arsenal of recipes. These are recipes of favorite dishes that will be passed on to our sons and daughters, who will someday have families of their own. Let’s Eat! was made with the next generation in mind, so that they will still choose to cook at home instead of always eating out. It is teaching them to cherish the love and warmth felt when eating a home cooked meal.
To order the cookbook, contact Sheila at [email protected]
BLACK PEPPER CRABS
By Geevee Go Tian Seng
From Let’s Eat! Recipes from Our Moms, Dishes for Our Daughters
400 to 500 grams crabs
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, crushed
5 slices ginger
1 teaspoon freshly crushed
1/8 cup water
1 Tablespoon oyster sauce
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
½ stick butter
½ teaspoon fish sauce
½ teaspoon cornstarch + 2 Tablespoons water
sliced leeks, for garnish
- Detach the top shell of the crab from its body. Clean crab, trim, and dispose all inedible parts such as the gills, abdominal segment, and mandibles. Detach claws and crack the shell with the back of your knife. This will allow the flavors to enter. Cut the body in half and cut into a further three parts per half.
- Heat wok then add oil. Sauté crushed garlic and ginger, and cook until fragrant and slightly browned. Add the crab and freshly crushed peppercorns. Stir fry for a few seconds then add water. Cover and allow to simmer for around 1-2 minutes. The shell does not have to be completely red at this point.
- Remove cover and add the oyster sauce, soy sauce, and brown sugar. Mix well. Cook covered, for another 2 minutes. Add butter and fish sauce.
- Make a slurry by combining the cornstarch with 2 tablespoons water. Mix well before adding to the wok. Stir and toss and allow sauce to thicken slightly.
- Arrange crab pieces on a plate and pour the sauce over it. Garnish with sliced leeks. Relish the spicy goodness and enjoy with a bowl of rice!
TIP: Thickening the sauce allows the flavors to stick to the crab.
Here’s another recipe that’s easy to prepare. I included some dried Chinese mushrooms, rehydrated in hot water first—with delicious results!
THREE CUP CHICKEN
By Kerwin Go
From Let’s Eat! Recipes from Our Moms, Dishes for Our Daughters
500-grams chicken thigh fillets
4 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons soy sauce
½ tablespoon oyster sauce
½ tablespoon chili bean paste
½ tablespoon black vinegar
2 tablespoons cooking oil
2-inches ginger, peeled and sliced
8 cloves garlic, peeled
1 long red chili pepper
3 tablespoons Chinese cooking wine
3 ½ tablespoons sesame oil
handful of Thai basil, to garnish
- Cut each fillet in 2-3 pieces.
- In a small bowl, mix all sauce ingredients except for Chinese cooking wine and sesame oil.
- In a wok, heat cooking oil and sauté ginger until fragrant.
- Add garlic and chili pepper, and cook until garlic is brown but not burnt.
- Stir in the chicken and cook for 3-4 minutes.
- Pour in Chinese cooking wine and let its alcohol evaporate. Mix in sesame oil and remaining sauce ingredients and simmer until sauce is reduced to half.
- Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with Thai basil.