Grilled Banana Leaf Wrapped Fish

dinner

I am excited for dinner. My grub partner and I are grilling pompano fish wrapped in banana leaf. This dish brings back good memories. The first time I had this dish was when my grub partner and I went camping together. We prepared the fish the night before we went camping. To keep the fish fresh, we stored them in a Tupperware container filled with ice and frozen sponges. Oh yeah. Let me tell you. We ate good at the campsite. Really good. This dish also takes me back to how my late grandmother (my lola) prepared food in the Philippines. She used banana leaves to wrap food for cooking and serving. My lola also used them for steaming, grilling, and baking. Banana leaves are great for cooking because they also add aroma and flavor to the food.

Getting ready to grill at campsite

Getting ready to grill at campsite

Banana leaves are very easy to get in the Philippines. It is common to grow banana trees in the yard. Since banana trees are not common in Los Angeles County, I usually go to Asian markets for a frozen bag of banana leaves, or to Mexican markets for a fresh bundle of banana leaves.

Now let’s get started on the fish. My favorite fish to grill is the pompano fish. If you don’t like pompano fish, substitute it with your favorite fish, whole or fillet. Knowing my love for seafood, I am super excited for tonight’s dinner and eating with my hands. Yup! No spoon or fork. Filipinos traditionally eat food with their hands, and this has been passed on for generations. Why do Filipinos use their hands to eat? Because it makes food taste better!

Seasoned Pompano fish

Seasoned Pompano fish

Grilled Banana Leaf Wrapped Fish

Ingredients:
2 whole fresh Pompano fish, cleaned
2 bunches of green onions
1 whole lemon, sliced
1 small sized ginger, thinly sliced
salt and pepper
Banana leaves, thawed if frozen

Freshness of the fish is very important. My lola told me that you can check the freshness of the fish through the color of its eyes. If the eyes are red, the fish is not fresh. My lola also taught me how to clean fish but luckily, the Asian market offers a free fish cleaning service. The market cleans the fish inside and out. They will also remove the fish’s head and tail per customer’s request.

Now it’s time to prepare the banana leaf for wrapping. Start by cleaning the banana leaf using a wet paper towel to wipe off white residues. Cut the leaf to about three times the size of your fish. Be careful not to split the leaves. Remember that the fish has to be completely wrapped in banana leaves.

Seasoned Pompano fish

Seasoned Pompano fish

Preheat the grill. Lay the banana leaf on a flat surface. Place the fish in the middle of the leaf. Season both sides of the fish with salt and pepper. Insert slices of lemon and ginger, and a bunch of green onion inside the opening (on the side) of the fish. Lay a few more lemon slices and ginger on top of the fish. You may also use other fresh herbs such as thyme and rosemary.

Securing the banana leaf packet

Securing the banana leaf packet

To wrap the fish, fold 2 sides of banana leaf over the fish to enclose it. Fold in the opposite sides to form a packet. To secure, tie the packet on both ends with strips of banana leaf. You will need about three strips of banana leaves tied together to form one long strip long to secure the banana leaf packet. You will need a total of 4 long strips to secure two fish wrapped in banana leaf. Place the two banana leaf packet on the grill and cook for 15 minutes on each side.

Wrapped in banana leaf

Wrapped in banana leaf

The fish is served with steamed white rice and spicy soy ginger sauce. The spicy soy ginger sauce is a mixture of rice vinegar, soy sauce, pepper, chopped ginger, chopped onions, chopped garlic, and thin slices of Thai chili peppers.

Steamed rice and spicy soy ginger sauce

Steamed rice and spicy soy ginger sauce

Unwrapping the banana leaf gave me an almost orgasmic culinary experience. The steam and aroma escaping out of the banana leaf makes my mouth salivate. I can barely wait to try the fish. Burning my fingers and tongue did not stop me from devouring the hot and steamy fish. There is a ménage à trois of flavors in my mouth from the spicy soy ginger sauce, the fish, and steamed rice. I kept wanting for more. Yes. It’s that good!

Unwrapped grilled pompano fish and steam white rice

Unwrapped grilled pompano fish and steam white rice

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A Unique Twist to a Classic Breakfast: Red Velvet Pancakes

Why are people obsessed with red velvet cake? I’ve never been a fan of the red velvet cake because I don’t like the vinegar flavor in it. My grub partner likes red velvet cake. Although he doesn’t have a sweet tooth, it’s the only cake he will eat. One night, we were watching Cooking Channel‘s Unique Sweets and the Buttermilk food truck was featured on the show. The Buttermilk truck serves red velvet pancake. Oh yeah red velvet lovers! You heard it right – RED VELVET PANCAKES! Of course it caught my grub partner’s attention! I must say the red velvet pancakes looks delicious. I just hope they taste delicious too.

The Buttermilk Truck

The Buttermilk Truck (image from buttermilktruck.com)

I started google-ing Buttermilk food truck’s red velvet pancake and I learned that they are selling the red velvet pancake mix in some local stores. This is great! I can make them at home. The next day I went to Bristol Farms (they also carry it at Sur La Table) and got the pancake mix.

Buttermilk Truck's Red Velvet Pancake Mix

Buttermilk Truck’s Red Velvet Pancake Mix

I’m excited to make them for my grub partner since it’s the only cake he enjoys eating. It’s easy to make the red velvet pancakes. The ingredients and directions on how to make the pancakes, and the cream cheese frosting are printed on the container. I want to serve and eat the pancakes warm so I started making the frosting first.

Red Velvet pancakes topped with Cream cheese frosting

Red Velvet pancakes topped with Cream cheese frosting

Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Buttermilk Truck

Ingredients:

8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup or 1 stick of butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sifted powdered sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup

Directions:

Using an electric mixer, mix butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add powdered sugar and mix until its well incorporated. Add the maple syrup and mix again until smooth.

Instead of maple syrup, I used agave. I didn’t want the frosting to be too sweet so I only used about  2 tablespoons of agave syrup. To make the frosting spoontaneous, I added chocolate chips. Lightly mix in chocolate chips with the frosting. Refrigerate frosting while cooking the pancakes.

Hot off the pan red velvet pancakes!

Hot off the pan red velvet pancakes!

Red Velvet Pancake
Adapted from Buttermilk Truck

Ingredients:

1 cup of Buttermilk Red Velvet Pancake Mix
1 egg
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 tbsp oil
1/2 tsp cider vinegar (optional)

Directions:

In a bowl, whisk egg with oil and vinegar. Add the pancake mix to the wet mixture and mix until the batter is smooth. Cook pancakes on a griddle at 275 degrees fahrenheit or on a non stick pan at medium low heat.

I used a non stick pan on a low heat to cook my pancakes. Pour or scoop the batter on the pan. Flip pancakes when edges start to rise. Cook each side for about a minute and a half. Serve pancakes while warm. Top with cream cheese frosting.

Luscious Red Velvet Pancakes

Luscious Red Velvet Pancakes

My grub partner can’t hardly wait for the red velvet pancakes. He topped the pancakes with a  generous scoop of cream cheese frosting and blackberry puree sauce. You can make the blackberry (or any fruit of your choice) puree sauce by cooking blueberries, lime juice, and sugar together until the mixture boils and thickens. Squish the mixture through a fine mesh strainer to remove the seeds. Cool the mixture and refrigerate until ready to use.

My grub partner delightfully ate the pancakes with a glass of coconut milk. Now the question is — did I like the red velvet pancakes? No. I loved ’em! Not only they look delicious but they taste delicious! I topped my pancakes with chocolate chips-cream cheese frosting and sliced raspberries.

Oh my sweetness! Red Velvet Pancake

Oh my sweetness! Red Velvet Pancake

I love the mild, and just-sweet-enough taste of the red velvet pancakes.The raspberries added tartness to the rich and creamy frosting. Buttermilk Truck has added a unique twist to a classic breakfast. Now I know why breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Ha-ha! There are so many ways to add luscious flavors to the red velvet pancake. Toppings are endless! You can top them with sliced fruits, fruit puree, chocolate syrup, and whipped cream. Or you can have pancakes for dessert and top them with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Be creative and Enjoy!

Topped with chocolate chips - cream cheese frosting and fresh raspberries

Topped with chocolate chips – cream cheese frosting and fresh raspberries

Sometimes a Pescetarian

Embarking on my journey to eat healthier is challenging. My desire is to eat very minimal meat to no meat at all. With that said, pescetarian is on my mind!  ‘Wondering what pescetarian is? It’s vegetarian diet but it includes fish and shellfish. It’s a challenge to stick to pescetarian diet, especially because I grew up eating lots of meat. Meat temptation is everywhere—market, restaurants, magazines, Internet, and television. And my love for watching food shows and reading food magazines doesn’t help at all. But tonight, I am saying no to meat (hopefully tomorrow night and the following night to, in hopes of making this a habit).

What’s on tonight’s menu? Salad! I love salad. You can do so much with salad. This is my version of the Superfood Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette recipe from Iowa Girl Eats.

Quinoa Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

Ingredients:
1/2 cup dry quinoa, cooked and cooled
1/3 cup red onion, chopped
1 orange, peeled and segments chopped
1 avocado, chopped
1 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup peaches, chopped
1 cup red bell pepper, chopped
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
salt & pepper to taste

For the Lemon Vinaigrette:
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
sweetener, agave
salt & pepper to taste
6 tbsp olive oil

Directions:

For the Lemon Vinaigrette: Whisk together lemon juice, garlic, dash of agave, salt and pepper in a bowl. Drizzle the olive oil while whisking constantly. Combine quinoa with red onion, orange, avocado, beans, peaches, red bell pepper, cilantro, salt and pepper.

Ingredients

Pour Lemon Vinaigrette over the salad and stir. The original recipe calls for pomegranate arils and corn. I used peaches, since it’s in season right now, and red bell pepper instead.

You can add chicken or shrimp, or any meat you like in the salad. Since I’m avoiding meat, I topped my salad with sauteed shrimp. I marinated shrimp with garlic powder, salt, pepper, and chili flakes. You can marinate the shrimp with your favorite herbs and spices. Cook the shrimp with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Don’t over cook the shrimp! Take the shrimp out of the pan as soon as it feels almost firm. You want the shrimp to stay juicy!

Quinoa Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

Quinoa Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

It’s a healthy and delicious meal. As my dad would say, “it’s chow time!”

Quinoa Salad topped with Sauteed Shrimp

Quinoa Salad topped with Sauteed Shrimp

Life is better with popsicles!

It was a chilly August night. My feet were itching to go out. I decided to check out the 626 Night Market, held in my neighborhood at the Santa Anita Race Track in Arcadia, CA. 626 Night Market is an Asian food themed night market that offers Asian culture and food. Its inspiration comes from the evening markets in the streets of Asia.

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626 Night Market in Santa Anita Race Track, Arcadia, CA.

I would love to talk about the different Asian food at the night market but my experience was a bit disappointing—most of the food that I had were bland. The event was packed with people walking and people waiting in long line to get their food. I didn’t have the patience to wait in line so I tried food from vendors with a few people waiting in line. Bad idea! Food were not so tasty. Shortly after I got there, I lost my appetite to the stench of stinky tofu. It smelled like horse manure (at the race track, so could it be actually the horse manure?). I couldn’t stand the smell any longer. I was ready to go home. As I was walking back to the parking lot, I passed by a food stand selling gourmet popsicles. I love popsicles. I would try them but of course I didn’t bring enough cash with me—another addition to my disappointment. I guess I was to blame for this experience too. No cash and no patience to stand in lines (good food = long line of people waiting).

Now, I’m stuck on the popsicles. It brings me back to the time when I was a kid growing up in the Philippines, where it’s always hot and humid. My lola (grandmother in Tagalog) would make batches of ice candy. Ice candy is a frozen fruit juice in a long plastic bag that is tied at the top. Lola would make ice candy avocado, sweet corn, coconut, orange, mango, and melon. They were perfect to snack on, especially in the tropical weather.

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Ice candy photo from my sarisari store

As homage to my lola, I made my version of her ice candy into gourmet Popsicle (with a twist!). I love mangoes. I eat slices of mango with lime juice and chili powder every chance I get. Sounds like a yummy combination for popsicles. My mouth waters thinking about it! Here is the recipe for homemade Mango Chili Lime Popsicles.

Mango Chili Lime Popsicles

Makes about 6 popsicles

Ingredients:

3 sweet mexican mangoes, peeled and diced

Zest and Juice of one lime

Simple syrup to taste

Cayenne chili powder to taste

Water

Instructions:

Peel and diced the mango flesh. Set aside about ½ cup small dices of mango. In a blender or food processor, puree the remaining diced mangoes with lime juice, lime zest, simple syrup, and cayenne chili powder. Adjust to taste. Add about 3 tablespoons of water, or more if the puree is too thick for you. I used less water as possible because I don’t want the popsicles to have ice crystals when frozen.  The less water the better the popsicle texture.

In a small bowl, combine the small dices of mango with cayenne chili powder and lime juice. Start with a pinch of chili powder and a tsp of lime juice. Adjust to your taste.

Fill the popsicle molds with mango chunks and puree. I filled them in this order—chunks of mango on the bottom of the molds, pureed mango on top, and topped with more chunks of mango (if there’s any left over). Gently tap the bottom of mold on the kitchen counter to make sure the mango puree settles over the chunks of mango. Insert the popsicle sticks and freeze over night.

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Chunky Mango Chili Lime Popsicles

The mango chili lime popsicles were delish! My favorite part is biting into chunks of mango with chili powder. There’s a perfect balance from the sweetness of the mango and heat of cayenne chili powder. These homemade popsicles made up for my not-so-great experience at the night market. Yes, life is better with popsicles.

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