Ever since when I was young, I have learned to appreciate almost any kind of fish dishes. Thanks to my lola (grandma) as she used to cook a lot for us when she was still alive. In fact, she would always opt to serve us fish and veggies rather than red meat. She lived well and ate nothing but healthy. Certainly, she was the oldest pescetarian I had personally known. That maybe the reason she was able to reach her nearly centenary age.
My mom died when I was only 5 and dad was very busy with his work as a lawyer so lola would have to look after the kids. In her 70s, lola was still active and energetic to attend the parent’s meeting and all special events during my grade school. Imagine the agony she had to endure of having to climb up the stairs through the 6th floor just to get to my classroom as our school building was built with no elevator. When she reached her 80s, she could still cook for us but very seldom because her legs would already easily get tired due to arthritis. Though her health was taking a toll on her, her mind was sharp in imparting us her wisdom and still keen in accepting new learning. Those days when mobile devices had just started to bloom, I can vividly recall that she even requested me for a one-on-one tutorial just to keep up with the trend. That was how groovy my lola was. She remained vigorous and resilient. Five years ago, a God-fearing and loving lady quietly passed away at the age of 91. Now, I dearly miss her everyday and all her cookery, specially her dinengdeng (Ilocano mixed veggies) and kalderetang baka (spicy beef stew). She might not be the best cook, yet her dishes were loaded with overflowing and unending love. Truly, God sketched her to become a dedicated mother and grandmother.
Aside from a few pictures and countless memories, my lola left with us numerous kitchen legacies that I can still remember by heart and hopefully, relive. I was not able to document every piece of her recipes and I am wishful that these musings will serve a good purpose. One of lola’s dishes that I would want to immortalize is Tilapia Escabeche. Every time I get to prepare this dish, it brings nostalgia of my childhood as it was commonly served during lunch or dinner. I always get famished whenever I smell the aroma of the pan-fried tilapia. The thick and very tasty sweet and sour sauce of escabeche is always perfect to pair with hot steamed rice. I even used to have it as baon (packed lunch) in school.
Escabeche is a Mediterranean and Latin American dish referring to a poached or fried fish infused in a sweet and acidic mixture. It is a centuries-old recipe. And like my childhood memoirs, it is just one of the remnants of the more than 300 years colonization of the Spaniards to the Philippines. Believed to be brought by Arab to Spain and eventually introduced by the Spanish to the world, escabeche was actually derived from the Persian word “al-sikbaj’ – a dish that consists of any protein meat and some vegetables marinated in date molasses or honey and cider, combined with a number of additives and spices like saffron, figs, cinnamon and raisins. It was served hot or cold and became known during the Moorish conquest. Thereafter, the dish evolved to a number of fusion and variation. Absolutely, escabeche is a dish that always makes me feel home. How about you? Do you have a memorable dish of your own childhood in mind? Feel free to share.
Number of Servings: 2 to 3
- 1 lb. tilapia, cleaned and gutted
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 pc. medium-sized red onion, finely chopped
- 1 inch ginger, peeled and cut into strips
- 1 pc. small red bell pepper, cut into strips
- 1 pc. small green bell pepper, cut into strips
- 1 pc. carrot, peeled and cut into strips
- ½ cup tomato sauce
- 2 tbsps. soy sauce
- ½ cup vinegar
- 3-4 tbsps. brown sugar
- 2 tbsp. cornstarch, dissolved in ½ cup water
- ½ cup water
- ¼ tsp. cumin powder
- ¼ tsp. ground black pepper
- ½ tsp. salt
- ½ cup cooking oil
- Rub the tilapia with salt and pepper. In a frying pan, heat oil and deep fry the fish until both sides turn golden brown. Set aside.
- In the same pan, remove excess oil and lightly sauté garlic, onion and ginger.
- Toss the carrots, red and green bell pepper, tomato sauce and soy sauce. Cook for 2 minutes.
- Add the water, vinegar and brown sugar. Do not stir until it began to boil.
- Lightly whisk in the dissolved cornstarch. Simmer for another 2 minutes or until the sauce thickens.
- Season with salt, pepper and cumin powder. Remove from heat.
- On a serving platter, put the cooked tilapia and douse over the thick sauce while steaming hot. Serve with hot steamed rice or fresh bread. Enjoy!
TIPS FROM ENZ:
- You may use any fish of your choice. I prefer tilapia because it is meaty and less bony.
- If your sauce turns too acidic, you may just add more water and sugar.
- Do not stir the vinegar before it boils or the sauce will smell like raw vinegar.
- You may opt to put the fried tilapia on the sauce and simmer for 2 more minutes or just pour over the sauce. I prefer the latter to retain some crispiness on the fish.
- You can have it served with fresh breads and sandwich vegetables like lettuce and tomatoes; or as an accompaniment to other staple foods such as rice, lentils or potatoes.