Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Turon (Banana Spring Rolls)

Turon (banana spring rolls) would have to be my all-time favourite Filipino dessert. I literally had it everyday during a recent trip to the Philippines (thanks to Mr J). At the end of it I still wanted more.

Making turon is a simple enough process. You wrap slices of banana in spring roll wrappers. You then fry them in medium hot oil. There’s really nothing to it.

But what makes this such a unique dessert is the type of banana used. Saba bananas (Musa x paradisiaca) is not that uncommon in Australia. You can get packs of par-boiled frozen sabas from your neighbourhood Filipino food purveyor. There you’ll also find jars of sweetened sliced saba used for halo-halo (mixed fruit/bean iced dessert). Fresh saba though is seasonal and very rare. You have to be in the know to get a hold of them as I’ve never seen them sold in major Asian shops. We get ours from Mom who sources hers from a tiny shop east of Brisbane. Apparently, their flown in from Darwin when in season.

In a lot of recipes I’ve read plantains are always recommended as a substitute. I’ve never actually used plantains so I can’t really tell you if it’s any good. You might still be better off using the frozen variety for a more authentic taste.

Saba is starchier and less sweet than other bananas. Brown sugar is commonly added for sweetness and texture as it also coats the dessert with crunchy toffee.

Slivers of jackfruit are also added as its taste complements that of the saba banana.

Turon (Banana Spring Rolls)
6 Saba bananas (halved or quartered lengthwise)
Spring roll wrappers
Oil for frying
Brown sugar (optional)
Slivers of jackfruit (optional)

There are several ways you can add sugar to this dish. You either mix the sugar and the sliced bananas together or sprinkle them before wrapping. You also melt sugar in oil halfway through or after you’ve fried the banana spring rolls.

1. Heat up lots of oil for frying. Keep this at medium level.
2. Wrap the (sugared) bananas and jackfruit (optional) in spring roll wrappers.
3. Fry them.
4. Add some brown sugar to the oil (half-way through the cooking process or after cooking the spring rolls). You then spread this melted sugar onto the spring rolls to create that crunchy toffee coat.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Trang, West End

I love Vietnamese cuisine. I like the balance they have in their dishes. Fresh herbs and salad go together with rich soups and stews. But there’s a lot more to the Vietnamese gastronomy that I’m yet to explore. The rest would just have to wait when I get the opportunity to visit the country itself. For now I’m limited by restaurant offerings.

I Love Food Awards finalist

Whenever I get a hankering (7 days a week that is) for Vietnamese food I only go to one place, Trang at Brisbane’s West End. Among all the Vietnamese restaurants I’ve tried Trang stands out for several reasons:

Bun Bo Hue (Spicy Beef & Pork Soup)

1. Food is delicious & consistent

We tend to order almost always the same menu items. Naturally, we expect the food to taste like the last time. Otherwise, we might as well select something else.

It annoys me a whole lot when a dish tastes different from one day to the next depending on who’s manning the restaurant. This is never an issue at Trang where food is consistently delicious.

the classic pho (beef soup)

2. Food is authentic

A Vietnamese friend introduced me to Trang. That says a lot about the authenticity of the food on offer. You don’t get a “watered-down” version which is pretty commonplace in Australia.

com chien (fried rice)

3. Family Friendly

With four kids in tow it’s quite a challenge to find a restaurant where one feels “welcome”. Trang has established itself as a “family-friendly” restaurant where everyone goes away satisfied.

mi ga chien don (crispy fried chicken noodle soup)

4. Warm and friendly service

The staff are friendly but not in your face. As “regulars” we’ve done away with the menu as the staff know exactly what we want.

sam bo luong (mixed drink)

5. Price is reasonable

To top it all Trang’s prices are exceptionally reasonable. They’ve recently pushed them up but for what you get you’ll be willing to fork out more. A satisfying bowl of pho, for example, will still only set you back less than $10.

kem chien (deep fried ice-cream)

My original intention was to include Trang in my “cheap eats” series. But that would be doing them a disservice.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Spaghetti with Broccolini

Broccolini looks like a cross between the regular green broccoli and the Chinese vegetable kai lan. The florets are similar to that of broccoli (although much looser) while its slender body is very much akin to kai lan. The three are related but are totally distinct vegetables.

It is currently in season. I use it to make a simple pasta sauce that is healthy (vegetarian almost if you take away the anchovies) and quick to cook. Orecchiette (small ear pasta) is what’s commonly used to make this but I think spaghetti works just as well. And instead of broccolini the Italians prefer rapini which has a similar but stronger flavour than broccolini.

Spaghetti with Broccolini

350g spaghetti (cooked al dente, reduce packet instruction by a minute or so)
1 bunch broccolini
Extra virgin olive oil (lots of it)
2-3 cloves garlic chopped finely
5 anchovy fillets
Chilli flakes (to taste)
Sea salt
Black pepper
Parmesan cheese grated

1. Prepare the broccolini by removing the florets and discarding the woody parts of the stems.
2. Cook the spaghetti al dente. You probably need to reduce packet cooking time instruction by a minute or so.
3. Heat some olive oil in a large pan. Add the garlic, chilli and anchovies. Sauté for a couple of minutes.
4. Add the broccolini. Season to taste.
5. Drain the pasta and add to the pan. Coat the pasta well. Add a bit of the pasta cooking water for a saucier result.
6. Serve with parmesan cheese.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Gladstone and its hidden Gems

In the past I have been quite unfair to the city of Gladstone by making remarks about it that were less than complimentary. Being an industrial/mining town you go to Gladstone for one thing alone. As a result the population is largely itinerant. After you’ve done your time you head to a more “beautiful” destination.

But during a recent trip I made it a point to find something that is both beautiful and possibly unique in this harbour city. And I didn’t have to search far and long to find what I was looking for.

I’ll let the photos tell the story.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Lanzones (Lansium domesticum)

I was pleasantly surprised at the abundance of lanzones in the markets during our trip to the Philippines in July. In Laguna, where I grew up, we normally do not see this exotic roundish fruit till much later in the year, mainly the beginning of October. But we are genuinely grateful that they were there. Like the santol in the previous post it is not available in Australia. The last time I had them was probably over a decade ago. The timing of our previous trips were always not in the lanzones season.

Again, like the santol, I struggle a little bit to describe lanzones to the uninitiated. It’s got creamy latte coloured leathery skin. Inside you’ll find translucent segments that can be intolerably sour to very sweet depending on the ripeness of the fruit. Be warned though, if a segment has noticeably large seed make sure you do not bite it. It is extremely unpleasant and might put you off this tropical fruit for long time.

It doesn’t have a very long shelf life. The skin turns brown a few days after picking or when bruised. Everyone in my household seem to be aware of this fact as kilos of lanzones quickly disappear soon after they’re laid on the table.