Sunday, July 8, 2012

Mung Beans – Appetizer To Dessert

Non-stop rains this week stranded many commuters and kept many home from schools and offices which suspended operations due to floods caused by a combination of heavy downpours, release of water from dams and an unusually high tide.
Unable to go to market, housewives have to turn to non-perishables in the pantry to make meals for the family. Some of the most popular dishes during the rainy season are dried fish, sardines and soupy stews based on mung beans, a most versatile legume that Filipinos use in appetizers, main courses, merienda and desserts.
WORLD WAR II FRITTERS – All kinds of supplies were scarce during the Second World War; Filipinos had to make do with old clothes and shoes, no electricity, and very little fresh food. For coffee, my grandparents toasted and ground ipil seeds and husked rice. For snacks, they munched on toasted flesh of mature coconut, which they nicknamed kastanyog, a contraction of two words: kastanyas (chestnut) and nyog (coconut).

Another wartime survival food that helped keep residents of our town fit during the Japanese occupation was protein-rich mongo fritters, my first cooking lesson from Home Economics class in 1954 at the Las Pinas Central Elementary School.
The recipe was simple: dried green mongo was simmered in water until the seeds burst. Cooled, the drained beans were mashed with flour, beaten egg, salt, pepper and dried alamang (small dried shrimp). Dropped by the teaspoon into hot oil, the balls were fried until golden and crisp and served with spiced vinegar.
GINISA WITH GREENS – The basis of most Pinoy recipes using mung beans is Ginisang Mongo, or boiled mung beans sautéed with garlic, onions and tomatoes.
Start by rinsing the beans and pouring through a strainer to get rid of any dirt. If time is not a problem, soak the beans in plain water for an hour, then simmer with enough water to cover by 2 inches until the skins burst. This is the basic raw material for a myriad of recipes, from the ordinary to the exotic.
Next step is to lightly brown minced garlic and sliced onions in a little vegetable oil, then add chopped ripe tomatoes and stir-fry. When the tomatoes are wilted and mushy, add the boiled mongo and season with salt, patis, bagoong or whatever salty stuff you want. A boullion cube or some chicken powder would enrich the basic dish too.
Treat this as your palette and add whatever is available: a can of sardines, tuna, leftover fried fish, hot dogs, bacon, ham, lechon, crispy pata, chicharon (skin, not bulaklak), sliced ampalaya, spinach, pechay, mustard leaves, ampalaya leaves, alugbati, kangkong, sliced unpeeled zucchini, kuchay, onion leaves, green papaya; whatever you can lay your hands on will work.
MUNG BEANS MINESTRONE – I always boil a kilo of mongo to keep in the freezer in manageable one-cup packs. On rainy days, when I make pots of minestrone for myself and a few of my neighbors, these packs of cooked mongo are mixed in with pasta, carrots, leftover ham and meats, celery, red and green pepper, parsley, and meat broth.
Completing the dish are sliced, very ripe tomatoes from the freezer and/or tomato paste; Tomato sauce would do the trick also. These should be simmered with everything until flavors meld.
Other possible additions: sliced green Baguio beans (or sitaw), diced radish (labanos), pumpkin (kalabasa), sayote, kintsay, diced zucchini, and green onions.
Serve this soup piping hot with shaved or grated Parmesan cheese and more freshly grated black pepper.
MONGO FOR DESSERT – The Japanese introduced us to red mongo in ice drop; Chinese Lauriats often end with mongo-filled Butchi, a variation of the Japanese mochi made from pounded sticky rice balls with sweet mongo filling; the whole thing is coated with sesame seeds and deep fried.
Red mongo also stars in my favorites: Mongo Con Yelo and Mongo Ice Drop. The first is big red mung beans boiled and then simmered in syrup and added to shaved ice enriched with evaporated milk. The second is a frozen treat of vanilla ice-cream-on-a-stick topped with sweet red mung beans. Definitely Japanese in nature.



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