Monday, December 26, 2016

Holiday Soiree: Nochebuena

The Holiday: Nochebuena(Spain, Latin America, the Philippines)
Nochebuena, or "Good Night," is the celebration of Christmas Eve in Spain and other countries who have been colonized by Spain. It usually consists of a gigantic family meal, after Mass, depending on the country. The country I focused on for this holiday, was the Philippines. The traditional food for this meal is roast suckling pig, but that was a bit much for one person in an apartment to deal with, so I picked some other traditional Filipino foods that I have always wanted to try, but never had a chance to. Researching through the internet and speaking with one of my coworkers led me to feel confident that I had picked out appropriate foods for this meal. 

The Food: Lumpia, Pancit, and Suman Malagkit
All of my recipes come from the internet, so I am going to post links to them and share pictures and explanations, rather than type out the recipes here.
First up, is Lumpia.
Lumpia is the Filipino version of eggrolls, and it shows the influence China has had on the Philippines. I have heard about the amazingness that is lumpia for years, but have never had a chance to try it, so I was really excited to make these. I had planned on doing the Philippines when I was doing my Countries of the World project I scrapped, so I had purchased a package of lumpia wrappers several months ago when I was at one of the local Asian markets and they've been in my freezer ever since.

My simple camera doesn't have a panoramic setting, so here are a couple pictures showing the grand total of ingredients used in all the recipes! As you can see, it's a lot! This is what I have noticed about most Asian recipes. They utilize a lot of ingredients and require a lot of prep work. Based on the time and effort it takes to put into it, I can see and understand why it can cost so much money to buy it at a restaurant.

 This is the lumpia filling. It's missing the onions because I forgot to add them. I did remember the green onions, though.
 Here is a pre-rolled and rolled version of the lumpia. They are bigger than they should be because the wrappers were freezer burned and they all stuck together. Each lumpia has about 3 wrappers for each one because I couldn't get them apart. They're more like egg rolls or miniature burritos, but lumpia should be much more delicate and small than mine ended up being.
 Here they are frying in the pan. Technically they should be deep-fried, but I found pan-frying in a lot of oil worked just as well. These have been turned over but should be a little darker than this.
Here is the delicious final result. They are as amazing as they were promised to be! I feel sad that it's taken this long for me to have these in my life. I will hopefully have lumpia much more often now! I might try out some of the varieties I've seen in the frozen section of the grocery store.

Next up is, Pancit.
Pancit is akin to chow mein, but generally it uses rice noodles instead of wheat noodles. According to my coworker, this dish is pronounced "Pahn-sit," and I'm glad I asked because I was saying it differently. So, now you know too!

This dish cooks in several steps. First is the meat and vegetables. It starts out like a basic stir-fry. Then you add the liquid and seasoning and simmer for a while. The meat and vegetables are then removed from the pan and you add the soaked noodles to the liquid to continue cooking over heat. I found the best way to soak the noodles, which as you can see in the very top picture, the package with the shrimp on it, are very tall, is the cut the top of the package off, fill the package with cold water and let it sit in the dish drainer for a while. Every few minutes, I pushed down on it to get the top of the noodles to get them into the water too. This worked really well.
 Once the noodles have soaked in the cold water, you remove the vegetables and meat out of the liquid and put the drained noodles into it. Let them cook until they turn translucent and then add the meat and vegetables back to it. Most of the liquid absorbed into the noodles and I found I would have liked a bit more. I halved the recipe, but if I make it again, I'd probably do 2/3 of the liquid instead of half.
This is what the final product looks like. This is a nice one for people who need to have a gluten-free diet. Most noodle dishes are prepared with wheat noodles, but this is just rice. The flavor and texture is awesome and I couldn't stop eating it!

Those two dishes made a filling and delicious meal and I was running late that night, so I held off on the dessert until the next day. My choice for dessert was Suman Malagkit. This looks really complicated, but it's actually quite simple. The most complicated step is finding the ingredients. The banana leaves can be found in the freezer section of most Asian markets and I had some leftover from my cities in America project, so I didn't have to buy more. The cool thing is, because they're a byproduct, they're super cheap. They are also gigantic, so be prepared when you work with them that you will be dealing with a leaf that is nearly as tall as you are.
 Here is the rice and coconut mixture on the stove before it's heated.
 Here it is after it's been cooked and has absorbed all the coconut milk. It's not fully cooked at this point.
 I cut down the banana leaf to a reasonable size and used small strips of them to tie it up.
 The rice sticks together really well, but I tried to spread it out a bit.
 Folded up like a little present.
The strip has been used to tie the package together and keep it from opening up in the steamer.
 Here they all are in the steamer.
 You can see how the leaf gets darker as it steams. It imparts a slight banana flavor into whatever food you cook in it.
The finished product. You can see it's akin to a tamale, except it's made of rice instead of corn. The texture of the rice is great and I liked the flavor, except it was too salty for my tastes. I think if I was to make this again, I would either cut the amount of salt in half or leave it out altogether. I liked the coconut flavor mixed with the slight banana flavor. The rice is very tender, sort of like a rice pudding. This is also gluten free.

I have never had Filipino food before, and this just makes me want to keep exploring it. I love learning about new cultures through the food they eat. It's a very intimate way to get to know people. Maybe next year I'll have to make some of this for my family's Christmas Eve dinner...! We can call it Nochebuena too!

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