THERE was one instance in our Sierra Madre forays when we forgot to bring a pot, we had to cook (1) KANIN or boiled rice in bamboo sections— combine one part rice to one part plus a teaspoon water for soft, fluffy cooked grains—broiled over embers. Water boils quickly at higher elevations due to lesser pressure, kanin sa kawayan done in about 15 minutes. After that, it became convenient for the kids—I have four of them-- not to bring a rice pot in a cookout cum tree planting incursions in the mountains or anywhere in the outdoors where bamboo thrives.
These easy-to-cook recipes can be duplicated in any kitchen, less the fun of bonding and actually doing it together as a learning activity. Let’s give you a mountaineer’s sense of (2) HUMMUS:
Broil six medium-sized eggplants over live coals until done. Peel out skins. In a bowl, mash eggplant pulp with two cups boiled garbanzos or chickpeas. Season this chunky yet creamy mush with salt, pepper, and minced garlic. Add chopped tips of raw edible ferns (pako) for some crunchy note.
Our version of hummus makes a delightful dip for (3) SINAING NA TULINGAN, small tuna boiled over slow fire for hours until the head and spines— calcium-rich for strong bones, hair, nails, and teeth—turn soft, so every bit can be polished off:
Gut six pieces of tulingan, take out offal, slit both sides, rinse and rub all sides with salt and pepper. Flatten the fish with your palm and arrange tulingan in a pot lined with strips of pork fat (a handful would do), half a cup of chopped garlic, and a handful of malakampit na sampalok (young still-seedless tamarind fruits). Add a cup of water to this arrangement; assign a kid to watch over it, to add water to prevent the sinaing from drying out. Boil over embers for about an hour or until the fish spines turn soft.
Roasted chicken? Our version of (4) BEGGAR’S CHICKEN is a far cry from the original recipe but when a kid has hacked through seas of cogon for hours, he has worked up a man-sized appetite to devour this:
Stuff chicken cavity with equal parts tamarind sprouts, cassava tops, and lemongrass; rub skin with a mixture of minced ginger, pepper, and salt. Wrap-seal entire chicken in foil, then, coat with wet clay. Dump in ash pit with live coals. Build a bonfire for the night on that same spot. The bonfire is out by morning, the ball of clay with foil-wrapped chicken looks like a huge egg, a bit cracked in places… and there’s a sumptuous baked chicken that can be hatched come lunchtime.
Aluminum foil can take care of sealing in the flavors of, say, sweet potatoes or camote, gabi, or semi-ripe saba bananas when these are foil-wrapped and baked. In a cook-out when foil wrapping might be missing, it’s the skins of fruit or peelings of tubers that provide insulation. An outdoors version of (5) BAKED SWEET POTATOES, the recipe equally applicable to semi-ripe saba bananas, quite delicious with subtle sweetness plus generous flourish of flour meal:
Roll sweet potatoes into ashes with some live coals; take out when done, usually in about 15 minutes. There’s more challenge there than toasting marshmallows, dumping hot water into a plastic cup of instant noodles or ripping open a bag of potato or corn chips.
In clearing cogon, the kids actually drill through the moves of fist blows in shorin-ryu karatedo. Working up a sweat and monster appetite, they can relish shioyaki style (6) BROILED FISH:
Kipper fish (tilapia, hito, bangus or saltwater species like tamban (sardine) or sea bream may do), drizzle with salt; set aside for 30 minutes allowing salt to sink in fish flesh, which is the secret of shioyaki (salt-grilling). Broil fish over embers skin side up until the skin turns golden brown. The fish is ready to eat when milky white juices oozes from between flakes of the flesh—remove fish at this point, a minute or two later will dry it out and it may taste like cardboard.
Salt-broiled fish goes well with (7) TOMATO & OKRA KEBABS: Skewer whole tomatoes and okra on barbecue sticks. Charbroil over hot coals.
We haven’t tried chicken binakol—a version of tinola using water from a young coconut as soup stock, cooked in freshly cut bamboo tube— but we’ve had (8) FISH HEAD SINIGANG SA BUHO. The main portions of six tulingan are set aside for shioyaki grilling; the chopped heads go into this tart soup:
Three tulingan heads for each freshly cut bamboo section, about 3” in diameter and a foot in length, one end sawed open which ought to hold—with three heads of tulingan-- a cup of rice washing, five medium size chopped tomatoes, one chopped onion, one finger chili, and half a cup of kakawate or madre de cacao flowers (pistils removed, they’re bitter), plus salt to taste. With all ingredients aboard the bamboo section, place the pair of bamboo tubes side by side over embers. The soup— with broad notes and scents of bamboo and subtle sweetness of freshly picked kakawate flowers-- ought to be ready in less than 15 minutes.
Bamboo imparts its subtly lush fresh earthy flavor to anything cooked in it, we’ve done a bamboo version of (9) PINAKBET. Pinakbet is actually a shortened Iluko word for pinakkebbet or “made to shrivel up” which means the dish is cooked when the motley veggies start to shrivel up. Use a foot-long freshly cut bamboo section of 3” diameter. Veggies that go into old-fashioned pinakbet are arranged in layers, we do it like this when all we have for an ersatz earthen pot is bamboo and all you can bark short orders to are children:
A cup of ripe tomatoes, their ends crossed-slit open, go to the bottom of the bamboo section; 2-3 matchbox size chunks of bagnet (pork belly puffs or chicharon with generous portions of meat still clinging) plus 2-3 whole shallots (sibuyas Tagalog or lasona) and thumb-size crushed ginger go to the next layer; baby eggplants, ends crossed slit occupy next layer; scored baby okra take next layer; peewee size bitter melons, ends crossed slit take topmost layer. Add a teaspoon and a half of anchovy sauce (bagoong isda) into the tube, then, seal bamboo’s open end with banana leaf. Simmer bamboo section crammed with such ingredients over embers—once a cocktail of veggie-salt fish scent seep off the tube, and that ought to in about 10 minutes, the dish is ready to serve.
Slow fire cooking as we’ve done in the mountains doesn’t involve high levels of heat. Just steady low levels beneath boiling point that, some cooks opine, doesn’t hurt the food ingredients and retain the vibrant flavors of life in those ingredients.
Ah, every meal can be a boodle fight in the outdoors—steamy rice and the items of viand are dumped onto freshly cut banana leaves. Doting parent and children wash their hands, say grace, then, dig in and enjoy.
(10) DESSERT? That’s some learning activity for the kids. They have to be taught which berries and fruits are edible, which aren’t. The usual summer ripe pickings alongside trails up the Sierra Madre are lipote, a next-of-kin to duhat, just smaller; pulp portion of balubad or cashew nut; bignay; kalumpit; ratiles; anonas, a next of kin to atis and guayabano; bananas—including pinky finger size saging ng matsing— and star apples or caimito.
Cookery is an adventure—doting parent and eager kids can plunge into it in equal parts passion, fun, and wary abandon. My kids have grown. Each one has learned cooking, doing cookery in a less hostile environs as a home kitchen.
Creative parent can think and cook up adventures he can share with their children in such a less forbidding setting.