Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Adventures in Pinoy Cuisine III

The Philippines is a country that takes eating very seriously. This means taking snack, or merienda, between each meal. Often snack is something sweet and full of gluten, sometimes it’s just fruit, and other times it’s a full on meal. Champorado is a popular snack item here, and unlike some recurring snacks, I never got sick of it. When I first had champorado made by my host family’s house helper in Dumaguete, I fell in love.

Champorado is basically chocolate rice pudding. How could anyone resist? However, I soon learned that not all champorado are created equal, and despite the ease of preparation and varied recipe options, it is easy to mess up champorado. For example, burning the chocolate is never advised and will result in an entirely ruined batch. I also prefer a thick champorado, not a runny one, and too little sugar or too much tablea, cocoa tablets, can also ruin your champorado. Some of my batchmates were also familiar with it as a breakfast food, but were not thrilled about it, even saying that it didn't taste like chocolate. I concluded that they had not had good champorado.

In Dumaguete I’d seen tablea for sale all over, but since coming to live in Hilongos, I hadn’t seen any. Today I resolved to find some and buy it so I could try my hand at my own champorado. I bought oversized tablea because I asked the tindera, the saleswoman, which made the best champorado and she indicated a set of them made in Hindang, the next town north.

I chose this recipe because it’s simple, straightforward and looked easy and delicious. This is another recipe that I think looks as clear, possibly easier for those in the states. The following is the recipe I chose and my modifications.

4-5 pieces of tablea (blocks of pure cocoa the circumference of nickels – I think bakers’ chocolate or plain unsweetened cocoa as in the alternate recipe could substitute) melted in ½ cup of water
1 cup of rice (many recipes call for sweet rice but I don’t know which kind is sweet and I have 5 kilos of rice right here, why buy more?)
2 ½ cups of water
½ cup of brown sugar
¼ can of evaporated milk

As I mentioned, I bought oversized tablea, about double the size of regular ones. I broke up two and melted these with the ½ cup of water in my makeshift double boiler because I’ve burned chocolate in the past and have no low heat with this stove. When I make this in the future, I might use a fraction less tablea, maybe 1 ½ or 1 ¾.

Cook the rice with the 2 ½ cups of water in a saucepan, stirring constantly. I didn’t stir constantly, but frequently. When the rice is translucent, add sugar and melted tablea. It looked like it was still swimming in water when I added the sugar and tablea, but this seems to have had no ill effects.

Cook until rice is tender. Add sugar and water to taste. I added two more spoonfuls of sugar and no water. The recipe says to add evaporated milk to individual portions, but I’d been instructed by the house helper in Dumaguete to add either evaporated or condensed milk (I can’t remember) during the cooking. I added about a quarter can of evaporated milk (can was 410ml) and am pleased with the results. Someday, I may forgo the sugar and evaporated milk and add only condensed milk. Anyway, during this stage, stir frequently and be careful about burning the chocolate. I used my lowest un-low heat and it still bubbled, threatened to boil, but it ended up fine and unburnt.

When finished, take it off heat, cover it, and set it aside to cool, to expand and to thicken. Not the prettiest dessert you've ever seen, but well worth it, and should be eaten while still hot. This recipe makes 3 or 4 servings.

EDIT: This is possibly even better in the morning, after a night in the fridge. I added more evaporated milk and water, broke up the gelatinous mass it had become, and reheated. The result was a lighter, fluffier champorado than it had been the night before.

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