5 Tips for Tasty Vegetables and an Umami-Laden Green Bean Recipe

Chase William Merritt Still Life with Vegetable
Vegetables were popular with 17th c. Baroque painters but alas, have yet to win over many kid-fans today  (Chase William Merritt, “Still Life with Vegetable”)

My earliest memory of eating vegetables involves my mother chasing me around the living room balancing a plateful of stir-fried spinach and rice in one hand, and desperately trying to shove dinner spoonful-by-spoonful past my uncooperative lips with the other.

I must admit I’ve come a long way since then. In fact, I even consider myself a flexitarian, preferring a larger portion of vegetables to meat (which, by the way, is the Asian way).

I’ve come to love previously abhorred greens such as ladies finger (okra), mustard cabbage, and choy sum (Chinese flowering cabbage). Even spinach, my childhood nemesis, tastes sweet on my adult tongue!

The trick, I’ve learned, is to select the freshest specimens you can find, and to cook the vegetables well. This means no wilty leaves, or brown, mushy spots on your bok choy. And heaven forbid you should overcook your broccoli! These tactics are even more important now that I have a child. As many a parent has come to realize, little people are the most persnickety of vegetable eaters.

I have some tips to offer any mom or spouse with a veggie-cynic on their hands, none of which involve hiding zucchini or Brussels sprouts (a technique I don’t quite approve of). However, I don’t disapprove of embellishing with ingredients that will make vegetables more palatable for naysayers big and small.

1. Roasting can make even the most banal of vegetables as addictive as candy (just think of the roasted kale chips craze). Roasting turns kale, cauliflower, broccoli crisp and crunchy and concentrates their sweetness through caramelization.

2. Pickling vegetables is another great way to get them to slide easily down your child’s throat. My son devours pickled cucumbers and carrots by the bushel.

3. Experiment with umami-laden ingredients like oyster sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce, miso, anchovies, and pickled veggies to amp up the flavor in a salad or stirfry. (My recipe below uses both soy sauce and pickled radish). And trust me, sambal terasi/belacan (shrimp paste and chilies) can transform ho-hum spinach into yum-yum!

salted radish
It comes in a big bag but preserved radish adds such a wonderful flavor and crunch. You’ll use it up in no time in pad Thai, omelets and numerous stirfries! Find it at Asian markets.

4. Toss vegetables like cauliflower, eggplant, okra into curry and they will soak up all that tasty goodness.

5. If all else fails, add bacon.

6. Oh, and here’s one more suggestion: buy Joe Yonan’s latest book, titled coincidentally, Eat Your Vegetables.

What’s your secret trick or dish that has been known to win over the most hardened of vegetable-haters? Please share below!

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Haricots Verts with Preserved Radish

green beans with radish

Haricots verts and preserved radish are an unlikely combination but this dish is a hit with both my 3-year-old son and husband. Read: there are never any leftovers! I adapted this recipe from Steamy Kitchen’s green bean stir-fry recipe. On a whim, I used haricots verts, also called filet beans, the green bean’s slender French cousin (crikey, even their veggies are skinnier!). These beans are very tender and “beanier” in flavor when young but can turn tough if allowed to mature.

As for the preserved radish, you can buy either the sweet or salted kind at the Asian market—it will say on the bag. It doesn’t make too much of a difference as both are preserved with salt and sugar. I know it’s a big bag but you’ll use it up in no time in pad Thai, omelets and numerous stirfries! If you can’t find preserved salted radish, use more garlic or add some chopped shallots.

Time: 15 minutes
Makes: 4 to 6 servings as part of a multicourse, family meal

1 pound haricots verts, trimmed
1/8 cup preserved salted radish
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/8 teaspoon sugar

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the haricots verts and parboil until crisp-tender, 4 to 5 minutes. (You can also microwave (3 to 4 minutes) or steam them for the same amount of time.) Don’t overcook as you will be stirfrying them later. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold running water.

While the beans are cooking, soak the preserved radish in a small bowl of water for a couple of minutes to get the excess salt off. Squeeze them dry then mince.

Swirl the oil into a large wok or skillet and heat over high heat until it starts to shimmer. Add the preserved radish and garlic and stir and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Toss in the cooked haricots verts and drizzle with soy sauce and sesame oil. Sprinkle the sugar and stir and cook until the beans are coated with sauce and heated through. Serve immediately with hot cooked rice and/or a main dish.

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This post is part of the monthly Let’s Lunch Twitter blogger potluck. This  month, we celebrate the launch of Washington Post food and travel editor, and fellow Let’s Luncher, Joe Yonan’s latest cookbook, Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook (Ten Speed Press, August 6, 20123). 

EatYourVegetablescover (1)

For more Let’s Lunch veggie-centric posts, follow #LetsLunch on Twitter or visit my fellow bloggers below: 

Annabelle‘s Farmer’s Market Gazpacho at Glass of Fancy

Cheryl‘s Egg-Drop Broccoli with Ginger-Miso Gravy at A Tiger in the Kitchen

Eleanor‘s Green Beans Two Ways at Wok Star

Grace‘s Vegetable Tempura at HapaMama

Jill‘s Fusilli with Corn Sauce at Eating My Words 

Joe‘s Guaca-Chi at Joe Yonan

Linda‘s Chocolate-Zucchini Twinkies at Free Range Cookies

Linda‘s Gateway Brussels Sprouts at Spicebox Travels

Lisa‘s Totally “Free” Veggie Soup at Monday Morning Cooking Club

Vivian‘s Kangkong (Water Spinach) with Fermented Beancurd, Chili and Garlic at Vivian Pei

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What’s your secret trick or dish that has been known to win over the most hardened of vegetable-haters?

Cold Chocolate and Coffee Rice Pudding (Champorado) and a Cookbook Giveaway

chocolate on top
Breaking up the chocolate bar was easy. Before unwrapping, I just broke it apart with my fingers. No mess!

You might think me crazy for craving rice pudding in the middle of summer. But this past week or two, we’ve had a deluge of thunderstorms here in northern Virginia.

And we all know there’s nothing more comforting than curling up on the couch with a rich, creamy bowl of rice pudding as you listen to the pitter patter of raindrops and spy the occasional flash of lightning above the rooftops. Especially when it’s chocolate rice pudding!

Now rice pudding recipes are as common as golden poppies carpeting a California hillside, but I was delighted to find Marvin Gapultos’s Filipino champorado (Chocolate and Coffee Rice Pudding) in his new cookbook, “The Adobo Road Cookbook–A Filipino Food Journey–From Food Blog, To Food Truck, And Beyond” (Tuttle Books, May 2013). If you didn’t know already, Marvin is the voice behind the very entertaining  Burnt Lumpia blog. And if you haven’t visited his blog, you should!

Marvin's new cookbook is an exciting treasure trove of both classic and modern Filipino recipes.
Marvin’s new cookbook is an exciting treasure trove of both classic and modern Filipino recipes.

More mocha than chocolate since it contains coffee, this rice pudding uses a particular type of rice called “malagkit,” the Tagalog name for long grain glutinous rice. My last encounter with malagkit was when I was making suman with Gloria for my cookbook.

While I was making the champorado, I imagined Gloria standing next to me in the kitchen reminding me to constantly stir the rice. “C’mon, Pat, keep stirring.” I have to admit, without Gloria at my side, I was a delinquent student and only picked up the spoon maybe once every 10 to 15 minutes. Thankfully, the rice didn’t burn and meld to the bottom of the pot (well, at least very little did!).

You are probably thinking, “I’m not going to make rice pudding in summer.” Oh, but you should.

I don’t have a problem eating hot foods in summer–I grew up eating steaming noodles and hot dessert soups in 100 degree F weather. However, as Marvin mentions, you can refrigerate the rice pudding for a few hours and eat it cold. And when the rice pudding gets cold and thickens up a little, you can do fancy things with it.

Et voilà!

cold rice pudding3
Cold rice pudding is a nice change from same ole same ole mousse or panacotta. Add some fresh summer berries and you have dessert for your next dinner party.

Aside from giving you Marvin’s awesome champorado recipe, I’m also giving you a chance to win Marvin’s cookbook. Tuttle Books has generously donated 3 copies of “The Adobo Road Cookbook” so please leave me a comment telling me how you like your rice pudding and any special touches you add. Or just say, “hi!” 

The giveaway ends Friday, July 26, 2013. (Sorry, we can only mail the book to U.S. addresses.)

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Chocolate and Coffee Rice Pudding (Champorado)

chocolate rice pudding5

Marvin writes in his book that Filipinos eat champorado for breakfast, and accompanied with dried salted fish. Being the modern Pinoy that he is, Marvin adds his own twist to with bacon. I, on the other hand, chose to eat it plain. Sorry, Marvin, couldn’t do it! Know that this recipe is so simple and so adaptable. If you prefer to eat rice pudding for an afternoon snack or dessert after dinner, then use decaf coffee. Or leave it out entirely (substitute with water) if you’d like to feed it to your kids. If you don’t have malagkit, use Japanese sweet rice (short grain glutinous rice) or any short grain rice like Japanese sushi rice. Even Arborio will do. You can also vary the type of chocolate. I used a bar of bittersweet chocolate instead of semisweet chocolate chips.

Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Prep: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes

3/4 cup (150 grams) malagkit
3 cups (750 ml) milk
1 cup (250 ml) strongly brewed coffee
1/3 cup (75 grams) sugar
Pinch of salt
1 (6 ounce) bar bittersweet chocolate, crushed, or 1/3 cup (250 grams) semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons coffee liqueur (optional)

Combine the rice, milk, coffee, sugar, and salt in a large saucepan over high heat. While stirring frequently, bring everything to a boil. Reduce the heat to moderately low heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until the rice is tender and the mixture thickens, 30 to 40 minutes. (Be the better cook and stir more often than I did!).

Remove the rice mixture from the heat. Add the chocolate and stir until they are melted and thoroughly incorporated into the rice. Stir in the coffee liqueur if using.

Spoon the pudding into individual bowls and serve warm. Or cover and chill till cold and serve with fresh berries.

Notes: If you’d like to garnish your rice pudding with bacon, cook a couple of slices till crisp, in a pan or in the oven (my preferred method—no splatter). Crumble and sprinkle over your champorado.

Don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to win one of three copies of “The Adobo Road Cookbook!”

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Full disclosure: I tested recipes for Marvin and my lovely quote also appears on the cover of his cookbook. Plus, I received a free copy. However, I am writing this post because I think it’s a great cookbook and you should buy it!

Black Sesame Soba Noodles

soba

Soba, made from buckwheat flour, is prettily packed in bundles about 8 to a package. Note that many sobas are also made with wheat flour so it isn’t a gluten-free food.  Juwari, the finest–and usually most expensive–soba is made entirely of buckwheat, but please please read the labels especially if you are allergic or intolerant to wheat!

Black Sesame Soba Noodles

{Adapted from 101cookbooks.com}

black sesame noodles3

This is turning out to be my go-to recipe for a simple summer lunch. It’s done in 15 minutes, even less if you make the sesame paste ahead and refrigerate. Top the noodles with whatever you have on hand—poached chicken, pan-fried tofu, pickles, your options are only limited to what you have in your fridge!

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 15 minutes

1/2 cup toasted black sesame seeds
2-1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1-1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1-1/2 teaspoon mirin or dry sherry
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch of chili pepper flakes or cayenne
12 ounces soba (3 bundles)
1 small cucumber, shredded
1 small carrot, shredded

Grind the sesame seeds with a mortar and pestle, or in a small food processor, until it resembles coarse black sand.

Stir in the rice vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, mirin, sugar, and chili flakes and mix until a smooth paste forms. Taste and adjust accordingly.

Cook the soba according to package directions, reserving 1/3 cup of the cooking water. Rinse the noodles with cold water and drain.

Thin the sesame paste with the cooking water and toss with the noodles. Garnish with cucumber and carrot and slurp up! This dish is tasty eaten at room temperature or chilled first.

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Munchie Mania: Sausage Rolls

When I was a little girl, I was quite the snacker (who am I kidding, I’m still a snacker!). Although potato chips and Planters Cheez Curls were readily available, I went for more “local” snack items like Chickadees and Twisties, or perhaps chili-coated tapioca crisps.

As a tween, I realized I required heftier munchies to sustain me throughout the day and that’s when I turned to curry puffs, fried fishballs on a stick, and my all-time favorite, sausage rolls.

one missing

Sausage rolls may sound like a strange snack to grow up eating in Singapore but it’s no doubt a colonial legacy. In fact, when we lived in England for a couple of years, sausage rolls and Devon cream teas were both staples in my diet, much to the detriment of my waistline. Sausage rolls used to be sold at just about every school canteen and roadside snack bar. Sadly, on a recent trip to Singapore I couldn’t spot them anywhere.

A few years ago, I picked up the “Singapore Heritage Food” cookbook and was excited to find a recipe for sausage rolls in there. However, the resulting product was not up to par with my taste memory—or perhaps nostalgia just made it murky.

Thankfully, my mother came to my rescue. Mum is good like that. Since we’ve moved to the U.S., she’s managed to recreate just about every childhood favorite (I’m talking about dishes that we used to go out to eat) from mee siam to chili crab. And every dish has been just as tasty, or even tastier.

One day, after I lamented about the disappointing sausage roll recipe, she decided to experiment and came up with a winner. Unlike the many sausage roll recipes I’ve seen, she uses nutmeg (it’s an Indonesian-Dutch thing) and lots of sugar to satisfy our Javanese taste buds I assume. Plus, she cuts them into smaller two-bite pieces so one is less likely to overindulge, a sensible precaution since it’s hard to stop at one. You have been warned, they are mighty greasy!

I don’t recall what my childhood sausage rolls taste like anymore. Nor does it matter as Mum’s version makes my family and I very happy–perfect for whenever we have an attack of the munchies. Amazing how fickle those taste buds can be!

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Mum’s Sausage Rolls

close up

Pork and puff pastry—I can’t imagine a more sublime marriage. My mum uses the Pepperidge Farm brand of frozen puff pastry but for some reason puff pastry isn’t always stocked at the neighborhood grocery store. I ended up buying Dufour brand at Whole Foods and that set me back a pretty penny–$10 for 14 ounces! Granted it’s made with real butter but still … That’s definitely an incentive to make my own puff pastry next time. If you have a good recipe let me know.

Makes: 20 pieces
Time: 20 minutes, plus cooking time

2 slices white or whole wheat bread, torn into small pieces
1/3 cup (2 percent or whole) milk
1 pound ground pork or chicken
3 to 4 teaspoons sugar (my family likes it sweet so add less if you prefer)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon white or black pepper
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg (I use freshly grated, and feel free to substitute with a different spice, say sage)
1 (14 to 17 ounce) package puff pastry, thawed completely
Flour, for dusting
1 egg, lightly beaten, and diluted with a tablespoon or two water
Black or white sesame seeds for sprinkling, optional

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.

Soak the bread in the milk. Combine the ground pork with the sugar, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a medium bowl.

Sprinkle some flour on your work surface and unfold the puff pastry, rolling out if necessary. Cut into half to form two rectangles measuring 8 x 24-inches.

Add the soaked bread to the pork mixture and mix with your hands.

Divide the pork mixture into half and shape a mound of meat (like a mountain range) along the horizontal of each puff pastry rectangle, leaving an inch or so on either side.

meat on dough

Brush the long edges of each rectangle with the egg, then fold the sides up and pinch together to seal.

wrapping dough

Turn the rolls over so that the seams are on the bottom. Brush generously with the egg, then sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Cut crosswise into 1-1/2 inch pieces.

sprinkle sesame seeds

Arrange the rolls on a lightly greased baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.

cut into pieces

Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F and bake for 10 more minutes, or until golden brown. (If using a different brand, adjust temperature and time according to package directions.) Remove to a cooling rack and leave to rest for a few minutes but devour while still warm!

Note: You can freeze the sausage rolls to keep them fresh for a later date. Just reheat them in an oven at 325 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes or in a toaster oven. I find this a good strategy as gobbling too many too quickly (and you will!) may be hazardous for your health.

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This post is part of the monthly Let’s Lunch Twitter blogger potluck. This  month we pay tribute to “The Marijuana Chronicles,” an anthology that  features Cheryl Tan’s short story. For more Let’s Lunch “Munchies” posts, follow #LetsLunch on Twitter or visit my fellow bloggers below:

Annabelle‘s Scallion Pancakes at Glass of Fancy

Anne Marie‘s Pepper-Stuffed Tater Tot, Fried Pickle, Cheese Whiz and Garlic Bread Burger at Sandwich Surprise

Cheryl‘s Spam Fries with Key Lime Mayo at A Tiger in the Kitchen

Emma‘s Homemade Pizza Rolls at Dreaming of Pots and Pans

Grace‘s Fry Sauce, with an Asian Twist at HapaMama

Linda‘s Sam Sifton’s Trinidadian Chinese Five Spice Chicken at Spice Box Travels

Lisa‘s No-Time-To-Wait Nachos at Monday Morning Cooking Club

Vivian‘s Spam Bacon & Kim Chi Sandwich at Vivian Pei

Iced Avocado and Coffee Drink (Es Alpukat)

201/365 - Avocado
Avocado (Photo credit: djwtwo)

In the U.S., avocados are most often eaten in savory dishes, sliced to adorn salads or made into guacamole.

As a little girl, my mum would make us a very simple snack–she’d halve an avocado, drizzle some palm sugar syrup (made by melting gula jawa a.k.a.  arenga palm sugar) over each half and hand us a spoon. I’d scoop out the flesh bit by little bit, making sure I got a good dose of caramelly syrup with each spoonful of creamy avocado.

I still eat avocados this way once in awhile but I’m more likely to make es alpukat, a light and refreshing that satisfies my craving for something sweet on a hot summer day.  Es alpukat (literally iced avocado) is ubiquitous in Indonesia, available at just about any restaurant or at a street-side stall, but it’s easy enough to make at home.

The name makes no mention of it but coffee is usually added to the drink. You can always leave it out or substitute with chocolate milk.

What’s your favorite way with avocados?

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Iced Avocado and Coffee Drink (Es Alpukat)

avocado drink3

Es Alpukat is the perfect dessert if you are following a heart-healthy diet. The rich, creamy flesh of avocado gives this drink richness and body but it contains “good” mono and polyunsaturated fats, is naturally cholesterol-free as well as being chock full of nutrients like Vitamin E and folate. So you can drink up guilt-free. The Indonesian way is to serve it over ice and scoop out the avocado chunks with a spoon, but you can blend it like a milkshake–and add ice cream!– if you prefer.

Makes: 4 (1-cup) servings

1 large ripe Hass avocado
1/3 cup espresso plus 2/3 cup water, or 1 cup strong brewed coffee, cooled
2 cups whole or 2 percent milk
1/4 cup Pandan Syrup (see below)
Chocolate syrup (optional)
Ice cubes

Using a tablespoon, scoop avocado flesh in bite-sized chunks  into a medium bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

To serve, squirt the chocolate syrup to coat the insides of 4 tall, clear glasses. Divide the mixture equally. Add ice cubes and sprinkle with ground coffee  just before serving.

Pandan Syrup

All this is is a rich simple syrup steeped with pandan leaves with a 2:1 sugar-to-water ratio so you can adjust amounts according to your needs. Use one pandan leaf for every cup of sugar. The cooled syrup can be bottled and keeps in the refrigerator for up to two months. You can use the syrup to sweeten teas and other mixed drinks too.

Time: 15 minutes
Makes: 2-1/2 cups

2 cups sugar
1 cup water
2 pandan leaves, trimmed and tied into separate knots

In a medium (2-quart) saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and stir continuously until the sugar dissolves, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Remove the leaves and pour the syrup into a jar or bottle. Refrigerate for up to two months.

Lemongrass Tea-Poached Chicken

Lemongrass
What to do with those lemongrass tops?? (Photo credit:Wikipedia)

Several recipes I learned while writing The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook are still in my everyday cooking repertoire.  Mochiko Fried Chicken (pg. 187), Japanese-Style Hamburgers (pg. 153), Deep-Fried Tofu Simmered with Tomatoes (pg. 123), just to name a few.

And an all-time favorite–Caramelized Chicken with Lemongrass and Chilies (pg. 179).

Seemingly simple at first, this is one recipe that takes practice to perfect. Over the years, I’ve managed to improve the final outcome bit by bit.

I confidently caramelized the sugar to the point where it turns a rich mahogany and hovers on the bittersweet, and doesn’t burn. I know that the quality of the chicken is very very important to this dish. The chicken has to be fresh and definitely not plumped up with water. The extra liquid released during cooking turns the chicken pieces into mush, far from the nicely bronzed outcome you want. Now, I can make this dish with my eyes closed (well, almost!) and it turns out delicious every time.

But I am always left with one conundrum: what to do with the lemongrass tops?  I’ve tossed the tops into a pot with tea. I’ve made lemongrass vinegar. And then it came to me–why not poach chicken? It would make an excellent addition to a mixed green salad, my Harvest Rice Salad, and for a summery chicken salad for your next picnic.

The chicken turned out soft and tender, and was imbued with a delightful lemony scent and flavor. The remaining stock was so fragrant I was almost tempted to stick my head over the pot and breathe in the aromatherapy “fumes!”  I decided to save it for another dish instead.

What do you do with your lemongrass tops?

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Lemongrass Tea-Poached Chicken

poached chicken

I used boneless chicken thighs for this method (I wouldn’t even call it a recipe!) because that’s what I always eat but you can use breasts too if you prefer. You can put the tea leaves into a cheesecloth sachet but I find that the tea leaves can be easily scraped off. If you only have tea bags, use one tea bag and remove it once  the water comes to a boil, unless you want a stronger tea flavor. Try adding other complementary herbs to the mix like Thai basil, ginger, or green onions.

Time: 20 minutes

2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon good quality looseleaf black or green tea
Tops from 3 to 4 stalks of lemongrass
3 smallish boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 3/4 pound)

Fill a heavy (2-quart) pot about halfway full with water, just enough to cover the chicken pieces. Add the salt, tea, and lemongrass tops, and bring to a boil. Add the chicken and bring it back to a simmer. Turn off the heat, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and remove the pot from the stove (important if you have an electric stove). Let sit for about 15 minutes (thicker pieces may take longer) or until the chicken is no longer pink inside (cut into a piece to check). If it is, put the lid back on and wait another 5 to 10 minutes.

Let the chicken cool a little then put it in the fridge overnight to cool completely. Remove the chicken from the liquid and shred with two forks or cut into slices.

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Mango-Banana Bread–A Perfect Post-Nap Treat

mango chunks
Mango chunks add tropical delight to a simple banana bread recipe

My parents aren’t natural storytellers (perhaps I should ask more often?) but every once in awhile a gem from their childhood pops up. Like this one story my mum recently told me: Ma remembers always waking up from her afternoon naps to the intoxicating aroma of freshly-baked-or-cooked something wafting in from the kitchen. To get her and her siblings to fall asleep with the least amount of fuss, Popo, her mother and my grandmother, would promise her and her siblings a treat when they woke up. The post-nap delights ranged from roti bakso (savory meat-filled buns) to kue mangkok (“cup”cakes), and all were delectable.

While Ma and my uncle and aunts wriggled restlessly in their beds anticipating what lay in wait for them when they woke up, I envision Popo (whom I only know from photos) hard at work in her tropical kitchen. As she rolled and flattened soft balls of dough, she’d occasionally wipe sweat from her brow with a hanky she stuffed into her bra strap. Taking a teaspoon in hand, she’d scoop a mixture of pork, candied winter melon, and green onions into the middle of each dough disc. Gently, she’d bring the dough edges together and wrap it up into a neat oval package as she listened for rogue sounds coming from the children’s bedroom.

When Ma and her siblings woke up in a couple of hours, the buns would be out of the oven and ready to be grabbed by little hands and devoured with squeals of delight.

All this I see in the sepia tones of my mind’s eye, imagining what my mom’s childhood was like and what Popo was like.

Inspired by this perfect anecdote, I decided to recreate this experience for my son with my own post-nap treat.

One Tuesday afternoon after Isaac goes down for his nap, I busy myself in the kitchen. I want to bake banana bread but I only had two bananas (three at first but one was so ripe it fell splat on the floor when I accidentally dropped it). Desperation incites innovation and digging around my kitchen, I discover two bright yellow mangoes, ripe and ready to eat, in my fridge.

Bananas and mangoes are both tropical, I convince myself, they’ll couple very well in a quick bread recipe!

mango
The easiest way to peel and chop a mango is to first slice off the flesh, skin and all, on either side of and as close as possible to the seed. Holding the skin-side down in one hand, cut a grid into the flesh without slicing through the skin. Then turn the skin inside out and pop the cubes off the skin.

As I prepare all the ingredients, I hear a squawk. My heart sinks, it’s been barely 30 minutes since Isaac went down! Sure enough, the little guy emerges from his room, his disheveled hair in a post-nap Mohawk. I panick for two seconds before realizing, wait, he can help me bake! All kids love to measure ingredients and mix batter don’t they?

Isaac has never really shown much interest in helping me in the kitchen and I’ve never forced him. But this time, I drag his stool into the kitchen and try and talk up the mother-and-son baking experience.

“This is going to be so much fun! You can measure the sugar, flour and butter, and mix everything together. Come help mommy in the kitchen.”

“I don’t want to. I want to watch TV!”

“But baking is so much fun! Don’t’ you want to help mommy?”

“I don’t want to! I want to watch TV!”

A few volleys back and forth ending with a promise of “Thomas the Tank Engine” later, Isaac steps up onto his stool. He starts by scooping sugar into the mixing bowl. Then he helps me add the butter and proceeds to “cream” the mixture with a wooden spoon. After two or three turns around the bowl, he declares, “I’m done!” He hops off the stool and goes off to play with his airplanes.

Isaac mixing
Isaac took some time out from the laborious task of creaming butter and sugar to smile, or rather grin, for the camera

Nothing I can say henceforth can cajole him back into the kitchen.

Feeling dejected, I finish mixing the batter and shove the loaf pan into the oven.

As I sit down to wait for the bread to bake, I realize how silly I was for getting frustrated. Did I really expect everything to go according plan? Hah, it was definitely wishful thinking on my part.

If there’s one important lesson to take away from raising a toddler, it’s that you should always expect the unexpected. It builds character and encourages a flexible outlook on life. And sometimes results in a new favorite recipe!

~~~

Mango-Banana Bread

mango banana bread vertical

Simple and straightforward, the original banana bread recipe came to me on the back of a bag of flour many years ago when I was in college. It’s been my go-to recipe ever since. Over the years, I’ve mixed it up a little: varying the ratio of white to brown sugar, using a combo of all-purpose and whole wheat flour (I add some applesauce or yogurt to moisten it up), substituting butter for shortening, etc., etc. And the sweet smelling loaf—crusted in a shiny mahogany veneer–comes out lovely every time!

Time: 10 minutes prep, 50 minutes baking
Makes: 1 loaf

3/4 cup granulated raw sugar or brown sugar (I really like Wholesome Sweeteners brand)
1/3 cup butter, softened
2 eggs at room temperature
1-3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 very ripe honey (Altaufo) mango, peeled, seeded, chopped and mashed (about 1 cup)
2 large bananas, mashed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan.

In a medium mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs and beat well.

Sift flour, baking powder and soda and salt and add to the creamed mixture. Stir in the mango and banana and mix until just blended. It will be lumpy but don’t fret.

Pour the batter into the greased pan and bake for 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool in the tin for about 10 minutes before turning the loaf onto a wire rack to cool completely before slicing (if you can wait!).

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