Yesterday was the third day of the New Year and we still hadn’t consumed the leftovers from the New Year’s Eve meal. We needed to take a break from eating leftovers so yesterday’s lunch was everything except leftovers. The star was coconut pilaf—rice cooked with coconut milk and spices, and garnished with fried slivered almonds. The main dish was sisig which we bought fully cooked and frozen. Traditionally served in a sizzling plate (cast iron) to create a crispy crust, I have a tip for sisig lovers who don’t own a sizzling plate but who have a cast iron pan in the kitchen (more on that after the recipe). For ovo-lacto vegetarian Sam, I made a cabbage and mushroom omelet.
What is coconut pilaf?
The simplest definition of pilaf (or pilau, as it is called in some cultures) is rice cooked in broth. Pilaf can be cooked with or without meat, and vegetables can be added for color and added texture.
Coconut pilaf is popular in South Asia. Spices are sauteed, long-grain rice—basmati, in most cases—is added, coconut milk and salt are stirred in and everything cooks together until the rice has absorbed the coconut milk. You can cook coconut pilaf in an ordinary cooking pan on the stovetop. Or, if you want to make sure that the bottom won’t scorch, do the sauteeing on the stovetop then transfer to the rice cooker, add the rice and coconut milk, and let the rice cooker do its job. I cooked my coconut pilaf on the stovetop.
- Heat 1 and 1/2 tablespoons oil in a wok. Saute the cumin seeds, cinnamon, bay leaves, ginger, onion and kaffir lime leaves for about a minute.
- Stir in the rice.
- Pour in the coconut milk.
- Stir in about half a teaspoonful of salt.
- Bring to the boil. Lower the heat. Cover the wok and let the rice cook for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the rice has fully absorbed the coconut milk.
- While the rice cooks, heat the remaining palm oil in a small frying pan. Fry the almonds (or your preferred nut) until browned. Set aside.
- Fluff the rice with a fork. You may remove the bay leaves and cinnamon bark at this point.
- Transfer the coconut pilaf to a serving bowl. Top with the fried almonds. Optionally, sprinkle in more sliced kaffir lime leaves.
How to prepare grocery-bought sisig
Sisig, grilled and chopped pig’s head, is a delicacy in the Philippines. It is delicious but it is messy to prepare at home. The pig’s head, or cuts from it including the cheeks and ears, must be boiled, grilled until well-browned, chopped and then served on a heated sizzling plate. The meat that touches the hot cast iron plate forms a crust and adds another layer of crispiness to this ultimate porky delight.
Considering the sheer amount of preparation (cleaning pig’s ears can be an extreme challenge) and the cooking processes involved, it is easier to go to a restaurant that serves good sisig. The other alternative is to buy pre-cooked frozen sisig from the grocery. Just thaw the contents of the package, fry over high heat in its own fat and serve on a sizzling plate to get that wonderful crust.
We don’t have a sizzling plate at home. We often said we’d get one but we never have. But we do have a 12-inch cast iron pan. I heated the pan to the point where it was already starting to smoke. I dumped the thawed sisig in the pan and heated it over high heat until nicely browned. The residual heat from the cast iron pan created the beloved crusty bottom.
The sizzling sisig and coconut pilaf went together beautifully.
So that was yesterday’s lunch. In the garden because we’re making the most of this terrific weather.
Cabbage and mushroom omelet
For Sam who does not eat meat, there was cabbage and mushroom omelet part of which we enjoyed as a side dish. I sauteed shredded cabbage, diced tomatoes and fresh mushrooms with chopped onion and minced garlic, stirred in beaten eggs and cooked the omelet until the underside was nicely browned. To serve, I simply inverted the omelet on a plate.
We always end our meal with coffee. Speedy likes his black; I like mine with cream.