Friday, December 29, 2006


Suman is another native delicacy that we associate with the festive Christmas season. Or at least in the farming village where I grew up. Rice being abundant in our place, different delicacies with rice as the main ingredient were almost always present on our noche buena feasts--kalame ube, kalame nasi, tibok-tibok, tamales, puto, suman, kutsinta, etc.

This suman I am telling you about is what we call suman tili in Pampango and is made of glutinous rice half-cooked in coconut milk and sugar then rolled in banana leaves. The resulting cylindrical suman - sometimes the size of cigars - are then boiled for hours to complete the cooking process.

Last November, I was just too happy to find the newly-opened Filipino Mart in Lower Hutt selling banana leaves among other Filipino food items. The banana leaves were frozen and cost quite a lot if you're thinking in terms of its abundance where it came from. Yes, banana leaves are readily available back home that we almost always take it for granted. It is only when we want to use it but could not find it anywhere else that we realize how precious this thing is.

Fresh coconuts, are available here in bigger supermarkets, thanks to Samoa and Fiji islands who export the coconut in different forms - fresh, dried, dessicated or in tins. And glutinous rice sold here comes from Thailand.

The ingredients for this suman:

2 cups glutinous rice
1 cup sugar
4 cups coconut milk
pinch of salt (optional)
banana leaves

Preparing this suman is quite fiddly and tedious. First step is cutting and trimming the banana leaves in uniform size before wilting the pieces in fire (or boil them) for a wee while so they do not break when you roll the rice and do the folding. Next, the glutinous rice is washed and cooked with coconut milk in slow fire, careful not to burn the bottom of the pan as this will impart a burnt taste to your suman. Halfway through cooking, add the sugar. This is so because if sugar is added beforehand, the rice will never break and won't get cooked no matter how long you boil your suman. When cooler, a tablespoon or two (depending on the size of your banana leaves), is rolled onto the leaves. This too, needs skill because your suman may get flattened instead of having a nice cylindrical shape when rolling is not done properly. Pile the suman in a large wok or deep pot, add enough water and steam the suman for 30-45 minutes or until cooked according to your desired doneness.

This suman goes well with sabaw ng nilaga or tea during cold and balmy mornings.


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Lasang Pinoy 16: Holiday Food Gifts (Tamales)

Several of my attempts at joining Lasang Pinoy's Food blogging event in the past failed, but this time, I am determined to finish this entry because I am raring to tell you all about our family's favorite Christmas food gift--the tamales. But first let me give you a brief introduction of this Pampango delicacy and its importance to our family.

The tamales is a native rice cake that is popular in Pampanga, especially in Bacolor where, the best tamales, they say, come from. It's an offshoot of the Mexican tamal (tamales is the plural form), which are packets of corn dough with a savory or sweet filling and typically wrapped in corn husk. I surmise that substitution of ingredients through the years, resulted in this Filipino version of the tamales.

Anyway, the tamales is cooked by mixing ground rice and coconut milk and thinned with water, then seasoned with powdered black pepper, anato seed water (for coloring) and salt. The mixture is cooked in slow fire until a certain consistency is reached, then when cooled is wrapped in squared banana leaves, topped with slivers of chicken meat cooked asado style, slices of boiled eggs and ground peanuts. The final product is then steamed for an hour or until it has settled and the tamales has taken shape. A melt-in-the-mouth tamales has a jelly like consistency after steaming, with a hint of green from the banana wrapping.

The tamales has become my mother's 'signature dish' and our Christmas wouldn't be complete without it on our noche buena table. Placed side by side with ham, queso de bola, roasted turkey or chicken on your dining table, the tamales would look very 'out of place', but to us, it is the 'star' of our noche buena feast, something we would always look forward to having during this festive occasion. Let me tell you why.

Father’s roots were from Bacolor, hence his fondness for tamales. When he and mother got married, they settled in nearby town, Sta. Rita. Mother knew how much Father missed the tamales. For love of him, Mother, who was the youngest among 12 siblings and who knew nothing about cooking, decided to learn how to make the tamales. But since it's such a tedious and fiddly job, she would only make them on special occasions like Christmas and included them on our Noche Buena feast.

However, the first Christmas she tried to make tamales was a disaster. Since she relied only on calculation for the ingredients, the resulting tamales were soggy and salty. Out of politeness, father ate the tamales and appreciated her efforts and good intention.

The following Christmas after that first attempt, she was armed with the measurements courtesy of her eldest sister. This time, there was an improvement. The tamales had the right taste, but were too firm, looking more like kalamay-wrapped-in-banana leaves instead of tamales. That was because she used newly-harvested rice. That was another lesson learned.

Since she would make a lot of tamales every time (five gantas of rice would yield 80-100 pieces of medium sized individually wrapped tamales), she would offer them to our relatives who would come visiting on Christmas day, and sometimes would send some more to those who did not come.

Determined to make the perfect tamales, mother would make her attempts Christmas after Christmas, and each year, registering an improvement. Until finally, she was able to come up with neither salty nor soggy, but melt-in-the-mouth and really delicious tamales. By this time we have become accustomed to having tamales on our noche buena feast, not to mention we have acquired the taste for this native kakanin. Even our relatives who come visiting would also ask her for more tamales. Every year thereafter, she would make lots of them a day before Christmas, anticipating more of our kins and later, some of our neighbors clamoring for her tamales. And thus, started a tradition of giving tamales as a Chirstmas food gift.

Five years ago, mother left us to be with our father who went ahead seven months earlier.

The very first Christmas as orphans was the saddest Christmas for all ten of us, their children. Needless to say, the first Christmas in years that the tamales was not on our dining table, and no tamales to offer to visiting relatives and friends.

Two years ago, our eldest sister, decided that we have to bring back the tamales tradition in remembrance of our mother. So, all of us women siblings set to work for that one goal--tamales on our Noche Buena feast. We were confident that years of observing mother cook tamales has taught us how to do it ourselves.

Unfortunately, our first tamales two Christmases ago, were soggy and salty.

Last year, our tamales were soggy but no longer salty. This Christmas, as I celebrated Christmas away from home, I tried to make some, but these too were not perfect.

Next Christmas, I will be home in Pampanga, and we are determined to make the perfect tamales for us and for our visiting relatives, the way Mother did them, with so much love and patience.

Lasang Pinoy 16

Lasang Pinoy, which could mean ‘tastes of something Filipino’ or short for ‘the Filipino taste’ is a monthly food blogging event to promote Filipino food. It is a product of e-mail brainstorming sessions of several Filipino food bloggers who thought it was time for a Filipino event in the tradition of Is My Blog Burning. The blogger organisers of Lasang Pinoy and participants strive to make the events reflective of Filipino culture.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Zucchini Fritters

Zucchini Fritters

We had a good harvest of fruits and veggies from our garden last summer so I had to freeze most of it. So glad I did because fresh veggies are quite pricey during winter if they are available at all.

Anyway, now is the time to dig the freezer and make an inventory of frozen veggies for immediate use. Problem with frozen veggies, your choices of how to cook them are limited as they get really soggy when thawed. But that is a non issue.

So, first to come out from down under the cold were the grated zucchini and I decided to make zucchini fritters for lunch. Served warm with your favorite chutney, this dish will surely warm your cold, cold days.

Here's how to do them.

1 1/2 cup grated zucchini
2 tablespoons minced onion
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
Vegetable oil for shallow frying

(If you're using fresh zucchinis, you don't have to thaw anything). So you can now squeeze the grated veggie using a clean cheesecloth to remove as much water as you can.

Mix together all the other ingredients except the oil to make the batter.

Heat oil in a skillet. Spoon batter--2 heaping tablespoons per patty--into skillet. Brown both sides.

Serve warm with your favorite chutney. Enjoy!
posted by Mel @ Wednesday, July 12, 2006