Jan 29, 2015

Chop Suey

Chop Suey
Chop Suey is one dish that I resolve to prepare myself every time we have a gathering in the church. Simply put, Chop Suey is a dish made of a variety of vegetables, all half-cooked and delicately flavored with a little meat stock and oyster sauce. There is a plethora of antioxidants there as the veggies and herbs come in many colors -- and we know from this article that antioxidants are simply plant pigments that also function as neutralizers of free radicals that cause inflammation in the body.

See, gatherings in our church (and really in most anywhere) usually serve meaty, fatty, greasy foods -- high in fats and carbs and low in fiber, nutrients and antioxidants. Couple that with softdrinks and sugar-laden desserts and you have a sure-fire pro-inflammatory menu that is often the reason why strokes and heart attacks rise after Christmas season or feasts.

And see, I am not preachy when it comes to health. I don’t go around speaking up about health. I do not delight in being a party-pooper, pointing out the demerits of a dish. Truth be told, this blog is the only venue where I talk about health and apart from my immediate family, you, my blog readers, are the only ones who can take a peek into my brand of health nut-ness.

Now back to Chop Suey: This is a dish that is classy enough to land on a gathering menu. It is not too homely and plain like pinakbet, and it has a wonderful color palette that would look good on a table spread. But really, Chop Suey is a good way to counteract the artery-clogging effects of most party foods. In short, Chop Suey -- along with fresh fruits and vegetable salads -- may just be the saviour of an otherwise unhealthy meal.

A little history
Chop Suey is, of course, of Chinese origin and has a strange history. The term Chop Suey comes from the Mandarin adjectives “shap” and “sui” which mean odds and ends -- really fitting nomenclature when you consider that it is a merry mix of many ingredients.

chicken meat and chicken liver for chop suey
I break down Chop Suey into the following big groups of ingredients:
You can really use any kind of oil. Coconut oil is my favorite but sesame oil is a better-tasting oil.
You will often hear me say this: Do not scrimp on the herbs. I like the play of garlic, white and red onions, green and red bell pepper and a stalk of fresh celery.
You can use pork, beef tenderloin, chicken, chicken liver, gizzard, shrimp, quail eggs and tofu. In this recipe I used chicken meat and chicken liver but I also like to add in a handful of shrimps. If you’re vegetarian, go for tofu or mushrooms.

herbs for Chop Suey

vegetables for Chop Suey
You’ll be amazed at the array of vegetables you’ll be taking in with every spoonful of Chop Suey. Here is the entire cast of characters, er, vegetables in the order in which I put them in:
  • Sayote or chayote  which is light green in color
  • Singkamas which is pristine white
  • Carrots which is bright orange
  • Snap beans or Baguio beans which are green
  • Cauliflower which is creamy white
  • Broccoli which is deep green
  • Cabbage or Chinese/Napa cabbage which are greenish white

Pretty colorful, right? You are under no obligation to get all these ingredients together, though. A few missing ingredients wouldn’t matter very much.

The meat portion takes care of the flavoring but a spoonful or two of oyster sauce would raise the umami level of this dish signficantly. Lastly, cornstarch dissolved in water would thicken the sauce so that everything gets coated with the juices of everything.

I really just wing this dish when I make it. But here’s how I generally do it.
Chop Suey, Filipino-style
  • Serves 12 to 20 (rough estimate and in the context of a food gathering where there are other food choices around)
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Prep time: 15 to 20 minutes
  • Cook time: 20 to 30 minutes

  • Coconut or sesame oil
  • 1 head of garlic, minced
  • 1 big red onion, chopped
  • 1 big white onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • Oyster sauce
  • Cornstarch, 2 tbsp dissolved in half a cup of water
  • green and red bell peppers, about 3 to 4 big pieces, chopped
  • Chicken meat, 1 lb or half a kilo, chopped
  • Chicken liver, ½ lb or ¼ kg, chopped
  • Sayote, big piece, chopped as shown above
  • Carrots, 3 medium pieces, chopped in florets
  • Cauliflower, big head, separated into florets
  • Cabbage, big, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large wok (I used a well-seasoned cast iron wok, but you can use any large frying pan or skillet or wok), heat up 2 tablespoons of oil. Saute the garlic, then the red and white onions and the celery.
2. Add in the chicken meat and season with salt. Cook for about 5 to 7 minutes and then add in the chicken liver. Put in a tablespoon of oyster sauce, cover and cook for 2 just 2 minutes.
3. Add in the vegetables in the following order, at only 3 minutes of intervals between each, and at high heat, stirring after every addition.
  • Sayote and carrots (and also singkamas if you have it)
  • Cauliflower and beans (or snap peas if you have them)
  • Cabbage and bell peppers
4. The veggies will sweat to form a little sauce, though you may need to add half a cup of hot water to increase the liquid volume. Taste and then season with salt and pepper and some more oyster sauce if needed.
5. Push aside one side of the veggies so you can see the sauce and then add in the cornstarch mixture little by little until you get the right thickness -- not too runny, not too thick as to make the sauce gel. Take wok off the heat and serve hot. If not serving immediately, transfer to a serving dish and when it’s no longer giving off a lot of steam, cover with a lid until serving time. If you cover the skillet after cooking, the carryover heat will overcook the veggies and turn them mushy, which is bad.

Chop Suey
You can see that I used my Chop Suey to counteract the rather unhealthy effects of a canned good that has been given to us over the New Year.

Chop Suey
I hope this gets you to cooking delicious and nutritious Chop Suey. Please share your favorite way of doing this dish.

Jan 25, 2015

Benefits of lacto-fermented foods


In the US, there has been a growing interest in traditional, naturally lacto-fermented foods. This is because lacto-fermented foods such as sauerkraut and fresh dill pickles have been found to be some of the most beneficial foods around. Lacto-fermented foods are raw and thus naturally abundant in nutrients, antioxidants and enzymes. They are teeming with good bacteria which keep the gut microbiome and overall immune health in top shape.

On the practical side, lacto-fermented foods are inexpensive, easy to prepare and they do taste good, if you get used to it -- as I have.

What are lacto-fermented foods?
Some of the more popular lacto-fermented foods you probably have heard are the following:
  • Sauerkraut -- This is most popular in Germany and is basically fermented cabbage. There’s currently a jar of sauerkraut sitting in my ref and you can know how I made it myself by looking up this post.
  • Kimchi -- This is a staple condiment in Korea and probably one of the Koreans’ secrets in having healthy, trim bodies and great skin. Kimchi is fermented napa cabbage which we Filipinos call Chinese cabbage.
  • Fresh dill pickles -- This is more common in America and is just cucumbers fermented in brine and fresh dill.
  • Cheese and yogurt -- These are universally-loved fermented dairy products. I have been making my own yogurt for probably two years now and I have a photo-tutorial right here if you want to make your own yogurt, too.
  • Other examples of lacto-fermented foods in other cultures include fermented olives, fermented lemons and aged sausages or charcuterie.

In a nutshell, lacto-fermented foods are those which have gone through lacto-fermentation wherein the naturally-existing good bacteria found on the surfaces of raw foods digest the natural sugars to produce lactic acid. This happens when you let raw produce stay at room temperature for about a week to three weeks. The lactic acid produced preserves the food and gives a wonderful tangy flavor to the fermented food.

In the  process of lacto-fermentation, food is naturally preserved by the lactic acid and the good bacteria multiply to make a superb probiotic food.

What are the health benefits of lacto-fermented foods?
Probiotic food
Scientists in the field of microbiology are just starting to scratch the surface of the incredibly intricate world of healthy microbiome living in the human body. Our own gut, for example, is naturally inhabited by trillions of good microorganisms which are composed of friendly bacteria, yeasts and fungi. This friendly microflora protect us from the bad microorganisms that gain entry and can even kill cancer cells. They also manufacture vitamins such as Vitamin B12 and enzymes.

However, good bacteria can be wiped out by a simple round of antibiotics -- which is the reason why you sometimes get diarrhea or vaginal thrush after antibiotic treatment. The secret to health is now found in finding the right populace of friendly guys in your gut. One simple way to do that is to eat lacto-fermented foods.

Preserves food
As mentioned, when good bacteria feed on sugar, they churn out lactic acid which is a powerful yet safe food preservative. Lactic acid, unlike the sodium nitrite preservatives in canned goods, is not toxic.

Before refrigerators and chillers were invented, people relied on lacto-fermentation to get them fed all through the long months of winter. Sauerkraut, cheese, yogurt and aged meats are what they subsist on during months when they could not do farming.

Promotes better digestion
The benefit of eating whole foods is that whole foods contain both the nutrients you need as well as the enzymes needed to fully break them down into absorbable forms. Remember, lacto-fermented foods are whole, raw foods that are not heat-processed in any way.

Lets you save time and money
I’ve just made my third batch of sauerkraut, my second batch of fermented syrup (blog post soon) and my first batch of fermented kamias or iba (again, blog post soon) and I can see how easy and inexpensive it is. Just leave a big mason jar of cabbage leaves in a cool, dark place for about a week and then wait. Vegetables, salt, a jar and time -- these are all you need in exchange for probiotics, good food and good health.

fermented kamias or iba

I am definitely going to make more fermented foods soon. I sooo want to make kimchi soon. I hope to learn more about fermentation, ferment more foods and stay on track, for the sake of my family's health.

I say let us get back to the old paths -- the wise, old way of preserving and preparing foods. Start lacto-fermenting foods today. Start with sauerkraut as it’s the easiest in my opinion. Feel free to ask in the comments section below if you need help.


Jan 21, 2015

More coffee like this please!

Optimo coffee
Elsewhere I’ve said that I keep a variety of beverage options on hand just to keep boredom at bay and of course to vary the nutrients and antioxidants I can partake. As of this very moment, I have corn coffee which I roasted myself, store-bought but locally-made green tea, non Dutch-processed cocoa powder, non-GMO soy milk powder (gifted to me by a church member), ginger tea or salabat, ginger-and-turmeric tea blend and also, I must admit, instant coffee -- for unexpected company, mostly.

Of the variety of hot drinks however, there’s no denying that I love coffee the most. I may drink herbal teas for the health benefits they give me but I drink coffee more for the experience than for anything. The taste and aroma of coffee just cannot be beat. Ever. Corn coffee is bitter enough, but not as flavorful. Cocoa is rich, but lacks the kick and bite of coffee. Herbal teas are soothing, but they don’t assail the senses with the heady aroma as does coffee.

However, I find that I belong to the few who are kinda sensitive to caffeine -- manifested by a difficulty in sleeping whenever I drink coffee past midday. That’s why I time my coffee trysts to the morning hours, preferably after breakfast or around 10 o’clock in the morning, never beyond that.

Store-bought coffee are usually made of coffee that has been grown with pesticides and synthetic fertilizers and so I try so hard to ignore them (which doesn’t prove successful at times, I must admit). Besides, instant coffee mixes come with non-dairy creamer that’s made of trans fats and GMO corn and the sugar is of course refined,  or worse, synthetic sweeteners such as aspartame and maybe even magic sugar.

There are organic coffee beans like Fresh Start but I have not yet, despite several contemplations, come to the point of buying myself a coffee maker. I have also bought nondescript brands of native coffee but I haven’t found any whose taste captured my fancy.

Bottomline, I was looking for coffee that was free from pesticides, tasted good and offered the convenience of instant coffee mixes. Have I found what I’ve been looking for? Maybe. Or not quite.

I found Optimo recently. Here is their company website. Disclaimer: I am not paid, rewarded or compensated in any form by Optimo. This is just a product that piqued my curiosity as it's the first coffee brand I've found that has coco sugar. You can read about what coco sugar is here. I also like that they sneaked in some herbs such as green tea, ginkgo biloba and grapeseed extract. However, they have not indicated as to quality of the coffee they use -- whether it’s organic or not. The creamer is also described simply as non-dairy creamer.

If I had my way, I would make an instant coffe mix that is made of the following ingredients:
  • Coffee that is certified organic and thus free from synthetic pesticide and synthetic fertilizer residues. I would love if somebody comes up with different variants of coffee -- arabica, robusta, etc.
  • The sweetener should be the healthy kind and the minimally refined ones. I think muscovado sugar would be cheaper than coco sugar. I would probably switch from coco sugar to muscovado sugar-sweetened varieties from time to time.
  • I would like the creamer to be coconut milk cream-based, preferably processed so as to retain the naturally-occurring MCTs or medium-chain triglycerides of coconut milk.
  • As for the herbs, I think with creativity, socially responsible entrepreneurs could opt to use locally-sourced super foods like moringa powder, mangosteen rind powder, bignay or berry extracts, etc.
  • I must also emphasize that this coffee should have no artificial colors, artificial flavors, free-flowing agents and harmful preservatives.
  • And if it’s not asking too much, I hope the coffee would be affordable to most Filipinos -- maybe only up to twice or thrice the price of other unhealthy brands and not more than that.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a line of coffee blends that are good for the body, offer variety and give opportunities for local farmers and entrepreneurs?

Who’s up to the task of coming up with an all-natural, convenient, herb-infused and flavorful coffee? Do contact me if you have and I’ll sample, review and promote it in my blog. More importantly, I’ll drink it religiously.
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