Dear Kulinarya Cooking Club,
My vegetable dish post is late, I know. I don’t have an excuse but I do have an explanation. I was so very busy tweaking templates and editing old entries to make my blog compliant with Google’s new specialized recipe search service. If you’re not a food blogger, or you’re a food blogger but don’t care about all that technical stuff (or maybe you think that Google is evil), skip to the next paragraph. If, however, you are a food blogger who primarily posts recipes and you don’t want your recipe blog to disappear into oblivion within the next couple of years (at least, in terms of search results), you should read this and this. Personally, I care because a huge chunk of this blog’s traffic comes from search engine referrals.
That said, let me go into this month’s Kulinarya Cooking Club theme: vegetables. All my favorite Filipino vegetable dishes share a common ingredient: coconut cream or its thinner brother, coconut milk. If you dig deep in the archive, you’ll find mixed vegetables with coconut cream, chicken and vegetables with coconut cream, paco (fern) with coconut cream, stewed monggo (mung beans) with coconut cream… You get the idea.
Now, coconut cream (and oil, for that matter) gets a lot of bad press in the West. We’re told it’s bad for the health because it is high in cholesterol etcetera, etcetera. My position when it comes to health news has stayed fairly the same over the years. Anything is bad for us at one point or another depending on which industry’s voice is dominant in the food market and which industry commissioned the “study” that proves which food is good or bad for you.
A decade ago, they said coffee and chocolate were bad. Not so according to the latest “research” which surprisingly proved that both coffee and chocolate are rich in anti-oxidants. That finding came after coffee and chocolate drink makers lost heavily when, a few years earlier, tea merchants discovered the anti-oxidants in tea, boosting tea sales and getting ahead of their coffee and chocolate competitors. In short, don’t be surprised if, somewhere along the way, new “studies” prove that drinking vodka and gin have health benefits too. Why not? After all, the discovery of resveratrol in red wine elevated its status in this health-conscious generation.
Want another example? Butter was supposed to be super duper bad until someone said, quite convincingly, that its most popular substitute — margarine — was worse because of all the additives and artificial ingredients.
It’s all about competition. Food, after all, is a business. Hence, dairy farmers want to discredit margarine makers and vice versa. Coconut cream, milk and coconut oil play a huge part in the cuisines of many countries — ours included. Thailand too. For whatever it’s worth, the obesity and hypertension epidemics are not usual problems in these coconut loving countries.
I can go on and on about how the healthy versus unhealthy claims play out in food politics but where’s the fun in that, eh? So, let’s me just tell you about this dish.
This dish — spinach, mushrooms and squash in coconut cream — is just another variation of the classic sautéed vegetables with coconut cream. What makes it “new” is the use of two ingredients that, just a few short decades ago, would not be considered “Filipino.” I am referring to spinach and mushrooms both of which are now grown, consumed and commercially marketed in the Philippines.
- Cut off the skin of the squash. Scrape off the seeds. Cut the flesh into half-inch cubes.
- Pick the leaves of the spinach. Discard the tough stalks.
- Dice the chilies. Finely slice the onion. Mince the garlic.
- If using large mushrooms, cut them into the same size as the squash.
- Boil about six cups of water. Add the squash. Cook for about five minutes. Scoop out and drain. Set aside (the squash will continue to cook in the residual heat so don’t wait for it to turn soggy before scooping out!).
- In the boiling water, add the spinach and blanch for about a minute. Drain, rinse and squeeze out the excess water (see how to). Finely slice the spinach leaves.
- Heat the cooking oil in a frying pan. Add the garlic, chilies and onion. Saute until fragrant, about a minute.
- Add the mushrooms. Cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds.
- Add the spinach and squash. Pour in the coconut cream. Season with fish sauce or salt. Stir. Cook just until the coconut cream starts to simmer.
- Transfer to a bowl and serve hot.
If you cooked this dish (or made this drink) and you want to share your masterpiece, please use your own photos and write the cooking steps in your own words.