Abstinence never tasted so good
Blessed with near year-round harvests typical to the tropics, and an ever-importing hotel and restaurant industry, it seems like nothing is seasonal on Guam. But more discerning palates will note that even here, “to everything there is a season.”
Right now, in the 40 days leading up to Easter (March 27) on this Roman Catholic enclave, many home-cooked meals and menus alike tell us – ‘tis the Lenten season.
A time of prayer, repentance, almsgiving and self-denial for many Christians, Catholic and other traditions also call for abstaining from meat and/or other foods, at least on certain days. Since about 80 percent of Guam’s population is Catholic, you can see – and taste – a lot of specials tailored to this time of year.
PROA Restaurant in Hagatna and Tumon, for example, prides itself in making Lenten abstinence almost decadently delectable.
“Since locals in the Catholic faith typically eat fish and vegetables on the island, restaurant chefs try to create a menu with an emphasis of seafood,” says Geoffrey Perez, PROA Restaurant executive chef. “During the Lenten season, the PROA culinary team creates specialty Lenten menu items daily, depending on the freshest vegetables and seafood that are available.”
Such specials in recent years have included a tempura soft-shell crab sandwich, mochiko-crusted izumidai snapper and a baby spinach salad with Roma tomatoes, tempura mushrooms and balsamic mustard dressing.
“By doing this process,” Perez says, “it gives us a chance to be creative but it also challenges our culinary skill level in developing new options for our guest.”
Other eateries bring out tried and true favorites that locals come back for year after year, according to Guam Visitors Bureau’s Josh Tyquiengco.
“For example, Pika’s Cafe has a salmon “tinaktak” (cooked in coconut cream) sandwich,” he says. “King’s Restaurant also has a Lenten menu that has seafood and vegetable dishes.”
Annual Lenten attractions at King’s in Tamuning include tinaktak parrot fish, salmon and shrimp fried rice, and lemon ginger-herb parrot fish. While local favorite Shirley’s in the same village is highlighting a variety of dishes with mahi mahi, salmon and prawns, Meskla Dos shrimp burger is almost sure to gain traction in March.
Lenten food is not just for fine dining and local diners, either. According to Tyquiengco, “Fast food chain restaurants pull out their Lent inspired menus – anything ranging from popcorn shrimp to a variety of fish sandwiches.”
In fact, on Guam, the Colonel’s is cooking up more than just chicken during the pre-Easter season. MacDonald’s and Burger King may put their fish fillet sandwiches front and center this time of year. But KFC one-ups them with a full line of “So Good” specials, ranging from a Wasabi Fish Deluxe burger and Seafood Twister to breaded shrimp and fish filets. You can even opt for a family meal bucket of fried fish.
Mom-and-pop establishments, trailblazers in Guam’s Lenten cuisine scene, are also part of the act.
“The well-known soup bar at Harmon Mart offers their popular soups, such as “chalakilis” (chicken and corn), “arrozcaldo” (chicken rice porridge), corn soup, chicken noodle and tomato beef by substituting the meat with crabmeat or some other ingredient,” says long-term resident Toshio Akigami.
The ability to artfully substitute meat for a more appropriate ingredient may be just as Lenten as fish and seafood on Guam, according to the Rev. Eric Forbes
“When I think of Lent, I think of ‘gollai monggos, mongo,’ or mung beans – Chamorro style,” he writes in his religious blog at paleric.blogspot.com. “We had gollai monggos every Friday. It was somewhat deceptive. It looked and tasted like ordinary gollai monggos, except that the Lenten version lacked ham hock. I think the only things that went into the pot were sautéed onions and garlic, coconut milk, salt and pepper and maybe a touch of vinegar.
“My (grandmother) liked vinegar and the trait passed down to me,” he adds. “When I cook it now, I do the same, except that I definitely put in some vinegar, especially the sugarcane kind, and ginger. And cayenne pepper.”
Of course after more than 400 years of Catholicism on Guam, there are also plenty of Chamorro Lenten dishes that have been passed down that do not require substituting or omitting ingredients.
“My grandma makes a local dish called ‘eskabeche’ during Lent,” says Tyquiengco. “It’s made of fish with vegetables in a vinegar sauce that has herbs and spices.”
Other local Lenten family traditions include shrimp tinaktak cooked with coconut cream as well as shrimp patties and “gollai hagun suni,” or taro leaves with coconut milk.
“There are many other dishes centered around seafood and vegetables,” he says.
So why not get into the season, and taste what it has to offer.
Lenten Boar of Punishment
On Guam, some Lenten beliefs and practices have passed through generations, one of which is of a mythological boar – the babuen kuresma.
Traditionally, children are not allowed to play outside and, like adults, should not make loud noises during lent. It is not proper to yell or scream, speak in loud voices, or laugh out loud. If any of these warnings go unheeded, it is seen as gravely disrespectful and the child or adult are threatened that they will be visited by the Lenten hog, which will mercilessly bite and attack the offender.
The Lenten hog is to be feared because it is mean and cruel. Some say the hog is a huge, hairy beast, with razor sharp teeth, large hooves, and that it runs very fast. Others say that no words can describe the animal other than it is so scary that they cannot remember the ordeal.
– Source: Guampedia
Herb Crusted Salmon
With the Lenten season upon us, I’m looking for opportunities to cook my favorite seafood different ways. One of my favorite types of seafood is salmon.
This is a very simple meal that’s healthy and delicious. I know it’s expensive (unless you’re a fisherman/woman and catch the salmon yourself), but if you can, use wild caught versus farm raised salmon. Without coming off sounding like a nutrition-nazi, suffice it to say that some (not all) farm-raised fish are grown and raised commercially in tanks or controlled pens. Due to the compact farming environment, these fish tend to have more artificial dyes, antibiotics, toxins and MORE FAT than compared to the wild-caught varieties.
Okay, I’ll get off my soap box now. But seriously, like my daughter said, you can’t put a price on your health, can you?
Serve the salmon with Wild Rice and a side salad with my delicious Lemon Balsamic Dressing and you’ve got yourself a delicious and healthy meal. (Click here for my Wild Rice recipe, and here for my Lemon Balsamic Salad Dressing recipe.)
Give my recipes a try. I think you’ll like them. :)
- 3-4 pounds wild caught salmon, cut into filets (about 7 or 8 filets)
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
- 4 tablespoons tahini
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons coconut flour
- 6 tablespoons dried parsley (or use fresh)
- Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the salmon filets on top of the parchment paper.
2. Mix the olive oil, garlic and tahini together. Rub the mixture all over the top of the salmon.
3. In a small bowl, mix together the salt, coconut flour, dried parsley and black pepper. Sprinkle the mixture over each salmon filet. Use your hand or the back of a spoon to press it into the tahini mixture.
4. Bake at 450 degrees for 10-12 minutes.
5. When the salmon is done, serve with Steamed Wild Rice and a side salad (about 1 cup of mixed greens and sliced onion) drizzled with Lemon Balsamic Salad Dressing.
Escabeche: Traditional Chamorro Lenten fare
Escabeche is a dish made with fried fish and vegetables with a ginger-vinegar sauce. It’s usually prepared for special occasions, but since we’re in the middle of the Lenten season, this is a great dish to prepare for meatless Friday meals.
The traditional Chamorro version uses tuba vinegar and orange ginger (mango’, in Chamorro). I prefer using fresh ginger for this dish, but I rarely find it in the Asian stores where I live. Ground tumeric makes a great substitute for fresh ginger.
I remember how my mom would go to the back yard and pull up some orange ginger roots. She’d clean and peel the ginger, place the pieces in heavy duty aluminum foil, then she’d pound the heck out of the ginger with a hammer. ;)
I love fried fish, and this dish is usually made with fried fish. I’m trying to eat healthier these days, so I opted to bake instead of fry my fish. Use any good white fish like tilapia, parrot fish, or one of my favorites–orange roughy.
Give my recipe a try. I think you’ll like it. :)
- 1 large broccoli head, cut into little “trees” about 3 inches long
- 1 medium cabbage, cut into large pieces (I like using Chinese cabbage for this dish)
- 1 large eggplant or 4 medium long (Japanese or Chinese) eggplants, sliced lengthwise, 1/4 inch thick
- 3 to 4 cups water
- 1 to 1 1/3 cups white vinegar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (plus more for seasoning the fish)
- 6 to 8 teaspoons tumeric (plus more for seasoning the fish)
- 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
- 3 pounds white fish (tilapia and orange roughy are good for this dish)
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- Black pepper, about a teaspoon
Optional: Other vegetables of your choosing, like sliced onions or leafy greens
• Place a large skillet or wok over medium high heat. I have a 14” skillet that I love to use for making fried rice, stir-fried dishes, or making dishes like escabeche. You want a fairly large pot that is wide across the top so that you can somewhat steam the vegetables, not boil them.
• Pour 1 cup of water into the pan and bring it to a boil.
• Add 1/2 teaspoon salt to the boiling water.
• Add the broccoli to the pan.
• Pour 1/3 cup of vinegar into the pan.
• Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of tumeric over the broccoli.
• Use a pair of tongs to gently stir the mixture around in the pan, just until the tumeric is mixed into the liquid.
• Cook the broccoli just until it is slightly wilted, or cooked to your liking. Place the broccoli into a medium sized mixing bowl, leaving the tumeric sauce in the pan.
• If you don’t have much liquid in the pan, add another cup of water and 1/3 cup of vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 2 more teaspoons of tumeric. Bring the liquid back up to a boil then add the cabbage leaves.
• Use the tongs to turn the cabbage, evenly coating each leaf in tumeric sauce. Cook until the leaves begin to wilt.
• Place the cooked cabbage into the bowl of broccoli, leaving the liquid in the pan once again.
• As with the step before, if you don’t have much liquid in the pan, add another cup of water, 1/3 cup vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 2 more teaspoons tumeric.
• Bring the liquid to a boil then add the sliced eggplant to the pan. Turn the heat down to medium low (the eggplant takes longer to cook and your liquid may dry up completely as the eggplant cooks). Cook the eggplant for about 4 minutes then flip the slices over and cook the other side for another 4 minutes (or cook until the eggplant softens).
• When the eggplant is done, remove it from the pan and place it into the bowl with the other cooked vegetables.
• Repeat this process (of cooking the vegetables) for any remaining vegetables you are adding to the dish (like onions or kangkun leaves).
• If your liquid dries up, add another cup of water, 1/3 cup vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 2 teaspoons tumeric. Add the garlic to the pan. Turn the heat back up to medium high. Cook the garlic sauce for a couple of minutes.
• Pour the sauce over the cooked vegetables. Set aside until the fish is done.
• Prepare the fish.
• Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the fish filets on a large rimmed baking sheet.
• Sprinkle salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and tumeric on both sides of the fish. Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Use a fork to check for doneness (the fish should flake easily with a fork).
• When the fish is done, it’s time to layer the escabeche.
• In the bottom of a 9×13 pan, place a even layer of eggplant, half of the cabbage leaves and broccoli.
• Carefully place each of the baked fish filets on top of the bottom layer of vegetables.
• I don’t have a photo of these next steps (I don’t know how I forgot to take photos!), but layer the remaining vegetables on top of the layer of fish.
• Pour any remaining sauce over the vegetables.
• While you can eat this immediately, this dish is best if made the day before and allowed to “marinate” overnight. Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil then place in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to meld.
• The next day, after all the sauce soaked into the fish and vegetables, the escabeche is now perfect and ready
to enjoy. Reheat individual portions, or bake the entire pan (covered with foil) at 350 degrees for about 20-25 minutes.
• Serve with hot steamed rice and fina’denne’.
Restaurant Lent Services
KFC on Guam offers a complete line of specials for the Lenten season. They include Wasabi Fish Deluxe ($3.95) cheese and wasabi tartar sauce on sweet Hawaiian bread bun, breaded shrimp ($1.10), fish fillets (sticks) ($1.95), popcorn shrimp (regular $5.75/large $11.95) and the Seafood Twister ($4.45) wrap with lettuce, crab meat and tomato.
Seafood Salad ($5.75) as well as six- and 12-piece fish meals ($15.50 and $29) are also on offer. These Lenten menu items are available at all the KFCs in Tamuning, Anigua, Dededo, Mangilao, GPO and Micronesia Mall, according to Edgar Caper of KFC Guam.
All Proa Restaurant locations in Hagatna and Tumon currently offer various Lenten specials and menu Items for lunch and dinner leading up to Easter.
“Guest will be greeted by their ‘Proa-fessional’ (server) and will be informed of the offerings,” says Geoffrey Perez, executive chef. “Typically, we will have Items ranging from soup, salads, sandwiches and entrees.”
Proa Restaurant & Proa Patisserie, Hagatna
Tel: (671) 588-7764/3
Proa Restaurant & Proa Patisserie, Tumon