Coconut Tuna & Spinach Stew
Faiai Eleni is a savory coconut fish stew that we first enjoyed when we were on our honeymoon in Hawaii, at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie. We participated in an AirBnB experience called "Prepare Polynesian food in a Fire Pit" and although sadly I don't see it offered on AirBnB any more, I'm sure there are other ways to participate in it on the island or as part of the Cultural Center's offerings! It was a very special experience and I am glad we were able to try authentic Polynesian cuisine.
We learned all about how the Samoans would cook using the different parts of the coconut tree, how to weave a basket, how to prepare chicken for the fire pit, making taro leaves with coconut cream (palusami), preparing breadfruit, and more! We then enjoyed a meal together afterwards with what we made. This dish was an immediate favorite of ours and I immediately asked our host how to make it since it wasn't one of the dishes we made together as a group (it was prepared already and appeared alongside the rest of the food we made).
Faiai Eleni is a coconut cream fish stew that is baked and typically uses mackerel, onion, taro leaves or spinach, and cooked in coconut cream and some mayo. It is so creamy and delicious and goes so well with rice!
This dish is great for a quick weekday meal or when you're looking for a comforting dish to eat with rice. It comes together relatively quickly, and for the most part you are throwing everything together into one pot. Once all the ingredients are cooked and well incorporated in your pan, you can either serve as is, or you can place into an oven safe casserole dish and bake for about 25 minutes. This allows the flavors to truly marry in the oven! The process of baking is similar to how the dish would normally be cooked in an earth oven under hot volcanic stones called an umu.
It's not a "pretty" dish per se, but it is certainly delicious! Plus, it includes plenty of veggies with the onion and spinach, and healthy fats from the coconut milk base.
I always make enough so that my hubby can take it to lunch the next day, and he's always excited for it! You can either do plain white rice or you can flavor your rice with garlic, ginger and coconut oil to make it even more fragrant.
Coconut Tuna & Spinach Faiai Eleni
Until next time,
Century Egg Congee with Lean Pork
Got leftover rice? Try making congee! Congee is a rice porridge, also called jook 粥 in Cantonese or zhou in Mandarin. It is slowly cooked over a low fire with any variety of ingredients your heart desires, but one of the popular variations is century egg with learn pork and chopped scallions. Other types may include seafood congees with shrimp, scallops, squid, and fish, or simple congees with just chicken. Most of them also incorporate ginger which brings a warm balance to the porridge. Typically it is eaten as a breakfast item with crispy fried youtiu 油条, which are fried sticks of dough that is used for dipping into the congee. (Youtiu is also delicious to dip into hotpot broth!) It's a great vessel to soak up liquid flavors.
Congee can be made from scratch with fresh rice (though it can take longer) or if you're lazy like me, I use leftover or extra white rice that I have on hand from another meal. Once the jook is ready to eat, you can serve it with side dishes like pork floss (dehydrated pork that is dried and fluffy, seasoned with soy sauce and sugar), pickled cucumbers, spicy bamboo shoots in chili oil, roasted peanuts, and more.
This is a dish that is close to my heart because my grandmother made it often for us for breakfast, or whenever my tummy didn't feel well. A warm bowl of jook cooked with chicken was comforting and easy on the stomach, and had such pure, delicious chicken flavor infused into it. Grandma always makes her jook super soft and thick and called it "BB jook" because it's how she made it for us when we were babies--she would spoon feed us the jook instead of American style baby food haha. This is a dish that is made with love and care deeply imbued into it. ❤️ Century egg and lean pork congee is also a congee we would be able to buy at restaurants or Chinese eaters in Chinatown, but of course, only grandma and dad made the best jook that money can't buy 😊
You can find century egg in most Chinese grocery stores, either in the refrigerated section or on a shelf where they keep dried goods. Century egg is a preserved and cured duck egg--it is not actually a century old, though when you crack it open it certainly looks like something that might have been, haha! It's characterized by dark brownish jelly like outside, with a blackish green gooey yolk inside. It is definitely an acquired taste to beginners, but there is something about it that is so delicious once you grow accustomed to it. You can eat it in steamed dishes, in congee, or just peel, cut and enjoy with vinegar dressing over cold silken tofu as an appetizer!
Now that I'm older and cook for myself and my hubby, I make congee from time to time and it brings back fond memories of my grandmother making it for me, or of his mom making it for him. It's something that is both comforting and nostalgic, and I hope you enjoy it as well!
CENTURY EGG CONGEE WITH LEAN PORK
- 2 cups cooked leftover rice
- 1 can chicken broth
- 2-3 cups water
- 2 century eggs peeled and chopped up
- 100 grams sliced pork loin or pork butt into slivers (about 1/4 pound)
- 1 tbsp oil
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- 3 stalks of green onions
- 2 slices of thinly julienned ginger
- 1 tbsp chicken bouillon powder
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1/2 tbsp white pepper
- salt to taste
1. Cut your pork into thin slivers and then coat it in cornstarch and a tbsp of oil. You can add a small pinch of salt to it and let it marinate for about 20 minutes.
2. Mix the leftover rice and break it up in a pot. Add your chicken broth and water.
2. Peel and rinse the century eggs and chop them up, add to the pot. Add the chopped up scallions and ginger to the pot.
3. Bring to a boil and add in your pork. Continue mixing, and once pork is cooked through, lower heat down to the lowest flame possible and let simmer for about 1-2 hrs. Mix once in a while to prevent the rice from sticking and burning at the bottom of the pot.
4. Keep an eye on the congee to ensure it doesn't get too thick--add water 1/4 cup at a time and mix if you want it thinner.
5. Once it reaches the consistency you like, add the chicken bouillon, salt, sugar, and white pepper to taste.
Enjoy with Chinese crispy pickled cucumber, spicy bamboo shoots in chili oil, or with pork floss!
Until next time,
Spicy Seared Salmon Poke Bowl
Lately, I've noticed that being in quarantine seems to be making everyone a little bit more creative in the kitchen, which is great! Perhaps out of necessity because we only have certain ingredients at home, or maybe because we're tired of eating the same things over and over. Either way, I am amazed and inspired by so many people posting their creations online.
Being in quarantine also means craving food that we don't regularly make at home, like fried chicken or like sushi and sashimi, which we normally eat out. But not having had sushi for a while and then going into quarantine, made us crave it big time. After all, we don't know when we will be able to go back to our favorite Japanese sushi restaurants! So while we were picking up groceries and essentials at Costco, we got a pack of farm raised Atlantic salmon for our poke bowl dinner.
And this is what I came up with. Drool worthy goodness. A salmon party in your mouth!
Now why Costco, you might ask? Is it safe? Is it sushi grade? Well the answer is that there will always be risk when eating raw fish, no matter where you buy it from. But of course, if you have access to sushi grade salmon, then go for it!
I and many other friends and family have regularly bought farm raised salmon from Costco for raw consumption and have never had any issues. We also eat it within the first two days of buying it, and any leftovers are cooked in other recipes or portioned out for the freezer to be cooked another time. If you are thinking of going to Costco for sushi night, I recommend this article from Sushi Modern as a guide for what to buy.
So after buying some farm raised Atlantic salmon from Costco, I set to work creating a hybrid dish that combines our favorite flavors from Hawaii and Japan. When we were in Hawaii, we got poke almost every other day! At restaurants, from ABC stores (they're like the equivalent of 7 Elevens but better!), and food trucks, everywhere! The fish was always fresh and the different versions were fun to explore. Our favorites were the oyster sauce pokes and the spicy salmon pokes! Our version in this recipe is a mix of sweet from the honey, saltiness from the soy and oyster sauce, heat from the spicy mayo and tang from the fresh lime juice melding perfectly together, sitting on top of a bed of seasoned sushi rice.
On top of our poke bowl we included strips of salmon seared with a blow torch. This was something we were inspired from watching sushi chefs lightly sear salmon nigiri before serving. The first time I remembered having it served this way was Kura Revolving Sushi Bar, a conveyor belt sushi place in Los Angeles's Little Tokyo. While conveyor sushi places tend to have a rep for having low quality fish or questionable freshness, Kura blew us away with their surprisingly sophisticated, creative and fresh offerings, with a la carte options delivered to you directly on a "bullet train" belt. When we first tried the seared salmon with mayo nigiri, it immediately became a favorite and if we didn't see it going past us on the belt, we would get direct orders to come to our table via bullet train. Somehow, searing it just makes the salmon feel extra soft and buttery, especially if you have a nice fatty cut of salmon! Adding the mayo on top just made it that much more creamy. So, with this in mind, we decided to torch sear our poke bowl salmon slices as well. Plus, the hubby loves to use the blowtorch any chance he gets. (He has claimed the blow torch and the grill his domain, lol.)
The sauce goes well with the rice and the salmon is just so, so good. Sprinkle some furikake and drizzle some Japanese kewpie mayo as a finishing touch and it is perfect! We hope you enjoy it!
• 3 cups uncooked Japanese sushi rice
• 1/2 cup Sushi rice vinegar
• 2 tbsp sugar
• 2 tsp salt
Spicy Salmon Poke:
• fresh sushi grade salmon (we usually use Costco farm raised salmon and have never had issues with it) cubed to bite sized pieces
• 1 tbsp oyster sauce
• 1 tbsp lite soy sauce
• 1/2 juice squeezed from lime or lemon
• 1 tbsp honey
• 1.5 tbsp Japanese kewpie mayo
• .5 tbsp Sriracha chili sauce (I usually add more to mine because I like spicy, but just gradually add to your preference)
• 1 tsp sesame oil
• 2 tbsp scallions
• 1/4 chopped red onion
• 1/2 avocado, cubed
• Salt and pepper to taste
• Seaweed furikake rice seasoning
• Salmon strips thinly sliced to top the bowl
• La-Yu chili oil to taste
1. Cube avocado and chop red onion. Cube the salmon and reserve slices of salmon to use for searing later. Mix the cubed salmon, cubed avocado and chopped red onion with all the salmon poke sauce and seasonings and chill in the fridge until ready to use.
2. Cook your sushi rice according to manufacturer instructions. Usually about 40-45 min in the rice cooker, about 20 minute on stove top.
3. When rice is ready, take it out and add sushi vinegar, salt and sugar. Mix well and let cool to room temp.
3. Fill your bowl with rice, add your salmon poke and top with salmon strips. Use a blow torch to sear the top. Shake some furikake seasoning on top of the salmon strips, some La-Yu chili oil (optional), then add some kewpie mayo for extra creaminess. Enjoy!
Braised Pork Belly Rice Bowl
Let's talk PORK BELLY.
Just these two words can get me all hot and bothered and make my mouth water...*ahem*
This fatty, unctuous, lip smacking, rib sticking slab of meat has become so popular over the past decade in the foodie world that it can now be seen on many restaurant menus, hipster pubs, food truck menus and more, almost everywhere. I remember a time when American supermarkets didn't even offer pork belly, and we'd have to travel to an Asian market or to Chinatown in New York to get these deliciously fatty cuts of meat. Now, even our local Shoprite in suburban NJ offers it, along with a growing Asian and ethnic foods section. Without a doubt, it has taken the food world by storm and it is here to stay. Pork belly tacos, pork belly mac and cheese, pork belly bbq, pork belly this, pork belly that. If we see it on a menu, we (the WAI SIK team) will most likely order it.
Growing up in my family, pork belly dishes were usually enjoyed in Chinese restaurants for special dinners, usually as Dong Bo Yuk (Dong Bo Rou in Mandarin) 東坡肉 which originated from Hangzhou, China.
For Dong Bo Rou, the pork belly is usually first pan fried, then braised and stewed with wine and soy sauce and is known for its large square chunks and dark, glistening reddish brown color. The picture below is of Dong Bo Rou dishes my dad made as treats for my mom and his friends. (He only sent us pictures on WeChat to show off and make us jealous!). Ugh, it looks so damn good.
We also enjoy the Taiwanese Lu Rou Fan 滷肉飯, which is more like a braised pork belly meat sauce that is poured over rice. What we love about this dish is really the sauciness and the delicious flavor of pork fat that envelopes every rice grain after you mix the sauce in. Every mouthful includes the great chewy texture of rice that has soaked up that pork flavor, pork fat and bits of soft pork.
But while pork belly choices are available far and wide, a popular topic that comes up between myself and Wilson is, "Hmm....I still like the pork belly we make at home." Of course, not to discredit the creativity and hard work that other folks put into their pork belly recipes, I admit that we can be creatures of habit and will always crave and compare our own recipe to the samples we try elsewhere. (If you like to cook, you probably know what I mean.)
Over the years, I've developed my own version of the soy flavored pork belly that both Wilson and I enjoy. It is a happy medium between the chunky meatiness of Dong Bo Rou 東坡肉 and the saucy goodness that comes with Lu Rou Fan 滷肉饭. While Lu Rou Fan is great, there always seems to be...not enough meat. As meat was considered a luxury back in the day, families had to figure out a way to spread the love by chopping it up into tiny pieces, making it into a sauce and spreading it over rice to share with the whole family. Ingenious ? Yes. But be it as it may, now that we can afford pork belly (so thankful for that), we can make a more substantial serving that satiates our WAI SIK tummies.
My recipe involves a bit of preparation and patience, but the end result will be a succulent and soft piece of buttery pork that will melt in your mouth. It's probably not the "correct" way to make it in the traditional sense, but it looks great and tastes pretty darn close to the real thing.
I first cut the pork belly into 1-1.5 inch cubes and marinade it in a sweet soy sauce mixture with wine, spices, shallots, ginger and garlic. After a couple hours, I steam the pork belly for 3 hours on top of a bed of ginger and scallions. Then, I submerge the pork belly in the same sweet soy mixture (having boiled it to prevent cross contamination) and let the flavors soak in and cook for an additional 20 minutes. Add a little cornstarch to thicken the sauce and the pork belly is ready to be spooned on top of a rice of your choosing. I prefer short grain rice or sushi rice, while Wilson likes long grain rice or jasmine rice. Really depends on your personal preference.
I don't make this dish often as it is, unsurprisingly, not very healthy for you. But when I do tell Wilson that I am making it, his eyes light up and he gets so excited. This in itself is rewarding for me because Wilson can be a pretty picky eater, and is hard to impress when it comes to food. Hearing him say that he likes something means that I've hit a jackpot recipe that I need to keep. A way to a man's heart is through his stomach right? (Apparently through mine too, in case anybody was wondering how to get on my good side, hehe).
1. Cut the cleaned pork belly into 1-1.5 inch cubes. Place evenly into a glass container and marinade it with the salt, sugar, sweet soy, shaoxing wine, mirin, white pepper powder, and cinnamon powder. You can let it marinade for about 2 hours at least, or leave in the fridge overnight.
2. Next, slice the ginger into 1/4" slices. Chop up the shallots and smash the cloves of garlic. Slice the scallions into about 4" stalks and throw out the base and roots.
3. Once the pork belly is done marinading, prepare your steamer. Get a deep dish with about a 1-2" rim and place the sliced ginger, shallots, garlic and scallions into the bottom of the dish.
4. Remove the pork belly from the marinade and set on top of the ginger, shallots, garlic and scallions. Make sure it's relatively dry, otherwise if you steam it with the marinade you're essentially boiling it. That will leave you with stringy, dry meat rather than the tender and juicy pork belly we're looking for.
4. Steam the pork belly for about to 3 hours. Be sure to periodically add water to your steamer or pot to ensure it doesn't dry out. You'll probably want to check about every 20-30 minutes.
5. When you have about 10-15 minutes left, be sure to boil the sweet soy sauce marinade to kill any germs from the raw pork belly. Add in the star anise and bay leaf (optional).
6. Once it's done steaming, let it cool and then, submerge the pork belly in the same sweet soy sauce mixture and let the flavors soak in. Let it simmer in this pot for an additional 20 minutes. Add a little cornstarch to thicken the sauce.
7. While the pork belly is steaming cook your rice. For me it usually takes about 20-25 min to cook the rice including the time to wash the rice. I prefer Japanese sushi rice and the chew of it, while Wilson prefers Jasmine or basmati rice. Honestly just cook whatever rice you prefer in your household. If you want to upgrade the rice, stir fry the cooked rice with some garlic and sesame oil to really amp up the yumminess!
And there you have it. Pork belly over rice. This dish is so good, it gives me goosebumps. We hope you like it!
Just a gal who loves to eat and cook ❤