This morning I shared a late breakfast of noodles, pork chop, and roti babi at Yut Kee with a friend visiting from Manila. It was a reminder of how long it's been since our last trip to the Philippines (a year and a half, in fact) -- and how, when we embarked on this 24/7 photography-writing thing we thought that we'd have all the time in the world in between assignments and work at home to travel for our own interest.
Not so. As it turns out I've barely got time to finish the work that sits on on corner of my desk, taunting me. And I'm so behind in posts - there's still much of Taiwan, Penang, where we've spent a lot of time over the last couple months, and even Chiang Mai yet to write about, Dave's got a bit more of India to share, I haven't blogged anything about Kuala Lumpur in months, and tomorrow we leave for Sulawesi, where we'll no doubt find many more culinary traditions to photograph and write about.
And now here I am revisiting material from Christmas 2007, which we spent in Arayat, Pampanga, on assignment. Can it really have been over 18 months ago? We returned from that trip with so much great material in the form of over 2,000 photos and three well-marked thick notebooks. By necessity there's much that didn't make it into our article, including a couple recipes.
Here's a taste.
Much of the action that week took place in Medina kitchen, a beautiful 100+-year-old grass-roofed, wood-beamed room with a wood-burning stove at its center. Saturday December 22nd was no different - that morning family cook Lucia (above, right) and her coterie of helpers (including daughter Maricris, left) were putting the finishing touches on the feast that would cap off the annual Medina Christmas tennis tournament, open to anyone in Arayat who cares to show up.
The kitchen's capiz shell-paned windows overlook the tennis court on one side and the side yard, where two whole spit-speared pigs were being turned slowly over a bed of coals, on the other. By late morning, as the tourney finals wore down and the pigs' skins cracked and began to drip fat, most of the stove-top dishes (chicken and pork adobo; balo-balo, pungent fish fermented with rice to eat with mustard leaves; menudo - pork and parts with carrots, potatoes, and red pepper) were already finished. All that remained to be cooked were the beruya (known outside Pampanga as okoy), or shrimp and green papaya fritters.
Beruya are one of Maricris' specialties (which doesn't preclude Lucia from peering over her shoulder to make sure she's preparing them correctly, as you can see above). She starts by cleaning (but not peeling) small shrimp and slicing red onion and camote (sweet potato). After grating green papaya halves she squeezes the shreds to remove as much water as possible,
and then adds in chopped onion and Chinese celery.
Beruya use a rice batter made from soaked ground rice rather than rice flour, and also incorporates egg, salt, and achuete (annatto seeds), the latter for color.
The fritters are assembled in a large shallow ladle: first a pool of batter and then on top of that a layer of papaya, a single shrimp, a piece of onion, and a slice of potato.
Then, enough batter is poured on top of it all to nearly cover the fruit-vegetable layer.
The spatula is lowered into hot oil, and after a few seconds the underside of the fritter is cooked enough to float free.. The beruya are done when well-browned.
The rice batter makes these fritters light and crispy. But they're also just a little bit evil, in that way that all delicious deep-fried foods are. Beruya are fine on their own (excellent with cocktails), but best eaten dipped a sawsawan (dipping sauce or accompaniment) of vinegar flavored with freshly ground black pepper, a few chopped fresh chilies, garlic and chopped shallot.
They are also known - or at least they were that day a couple Decembers ago - as snack food of tennis champions.
Beruya ni Maricris (Maricris' Green Papaya and Shrimp Fritters)
These fritters make an excellent hors d'oeuvre with cocktails. Best right out of the fryer, they're also quite okay if left aside for up to an hour. The sawsawan-vinegar dip is a must; it cuts through the oil and complements the sweetness of the shrimp and sweet potato. If you can't find small shrimp use larger ones cut into pieces. If you're more comfortable shelling and deveining your shrimp, so be it - the fritters won't suffer much.
The batter recipe is inexact - depending on how wet your rice is you might need less or more water. What you want is something with the consistency of thin pancake batter. It's important to squeeze the papaya as much as possible and make sure your shrimp are dry.
2 c medium or long-grain rice
1 cup water
5 annatto seeds
1 tsp salt
1 green papaya, grated
2 small red onions, finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped Chinese celery, including leaves
2 small red onions, finely sliced
1 sweet potato, thinkly sliced lengthwise and then cut into 1-inch-ish squares
1/2 pound whole shrimp, washed and dried (optional: heads removed)
1 cup white vinegar
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1-2 fresh chilies, chopped (optional)
Plenty of freshly ground black pepper
1-2 shallots, finely chopped
Vegetable oil for deep-frying
- For the batter, mix rice with 1 cup water and leave overnight
- Soak the annatto seeds in 1 cup water for 1 hour and remove.
- In a food processor or blend grind the rice and water until somewhat, but not completely, smooth. Remove rice to a bowl and stir in annatto water, egg, and salt. The batter should be thinnish, like thin pancake batter. Add more water if necessary.
- Squeeze as much water as possible from the papaya; use a piece of cheesecloth or muslin or your bare hands. Place it in a bowl and add the chopped celery and onions and a pinch of salt. Mix thoroughly and set aside.
- Mix the sawsawan ingredients together in a bowl, smashing the chilies (if using) and garlic against the sides of the bowl to release their flavor into the vinegar. Set aside.
- Add oil to a depth of at least 3 inches to a deep pan or wok and heat over medium high. Have batter and papaya, sliced onions, sweet potato, and shrimp nearby.
- Spoon or pour enough batter into a wide, flast ladle or cooking spoon just to cover the bottom. Lightly place on top about 1 Tbsp papaya mixture, spreading it over the batter. Place a shrimp, a piece of onion, and a piece of camote on top, pressing down lightly with your finger. Spoon or pour enough batter over theshrimp and veggies to almost cover them.
- Carefully lower the ladle into the oil and hold it there for a few seconds, then lightly shake the fritter off of it. Cook for a few minutes until browned on bottom, then flip and cook for minute or so. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper bag or paper towels.
- Repeat with rest of ingredients. You can fry several fritters at once, but don't crowd the pan lest the temperature of the oil drop too much.
- Serve hot or room temperature with the sawsawan.