For as long as I can remember, food – and making it – has been an integral part of my identity. I’m a child of parents from two different cultures, who was born in a third, raised in a fourth, and through all of it, the one unifier has been food. Food is a wonderful thing in that it gives us nourishment, allows us to survive, but it’s also a beautiful way of appreciating and connecting in, and with cultures.
My mother is Filipino, my father from New Zealand. Born in Australia, raised in Papua New Guinea, the foods I have grown up with excite my palate, nourish my body and soul, and bring together my family and friends in laughter, joy and the almost guilty pleasure of over-indulgence. There’s nothing I enjoy more than showing my love and appreciation for people by cooking food from my cultures and sharing it with them. Yes, I guess I am a food pusher. Food has this innate power to connect people across place and across differences, it can be a melting pot of influences and an indicator of cultural practices. My Filipino heritage in particular has instilled this in me – it is impolite to not offer snacks and refreshments to visitors (merienda!!), birthdays and special occasions are celebrated with a feast – a literal labour of love, respect and affection. I mean, are you even a Pinoy Tita if you don’t push seconds, third and fourth helpings?
My cooking style is pretty relaxed (and as such there can be a lot of hit and miss!), it comes from the heart and also my tum – goodness, do I love a good tasty bite or 10. So with this in mind, I’m sharing a recipe that I like to make for special occasion dessert (and made it especially for my mum’s mother’s day feast).
The quintessential Filipino dessert, Leche Flan.
Recipe for Leche Flan
(an exercise in Vick screwing a recipe up and trying to salvage it)
Leche Flan is one of the Philippines’ most well-known desserts. It is a living testimony to the archipelago’s Spanish colonisation and its enduring love for sweet delicious goodness. Essentially, it is a Latin Creme Caramel – loaded with cholesterol, sugar and colonial influence you can pretty much taste. It’s included in other well known Filipino treats such as the shaved ice Halo-Halo and is must-try if you visit the country. Strap yourselves in Kulture Kids, cause we’re heading to the Kitchen!
Leche Flan Ingredients:
- 12 Egg Yolks
(I don’t know what you might want to do with 12 portions of egg-whites, but after this dessert, you’ll probably want to “eat clean” for a week, so egg-white omelettes for all!!)
- 1/2 Cup Caster Sugar
- 1 small can Condensed Milk
(full disclosure, I kinda fucked up here guys, I was supposed to get evaporated milk, but got the wrong can. We’re going to need some normal milk to even out condensed milk and the sugar #diabeticcoma)
- Some normal milk as per above ^^
- Vanilla Extract (get the good stuff – it really does make a difference!)
- Juice from 1-2 Kalamansi (these are small citrus native to Philippines, if your local Asian grocer does not stock them, you can substitute lime juice – about 1/2 a lime)
- 5 Tbsp Caramel Syrup (think the amber coloured caramel syrups used for coffee, not the cloudy and thick flavoured topping type)
I make my caramel syrup from scratch, but fair warning IT TAKES ETERNITY so make it well in advance!
- Strawberries and fresh mint to garnish/serve
- Fine sieve
- Mixing spoons
- 2 Mixing bowls
- Measuring Cup
- Llanera (Leche Flan mold). These are the traditional molds/shapes for Leche Flan and can be purchased at some Asian grocers that stock Filipino products, but any baking container will do in a pinch! This recipe will comfortably make 1 large and 1 small leche flan.
- Mix the egg yolks and caster sugar in a mixing bowl, being careful not to beat the mixture
- Strain the egg yolk mixture through the sieve into another mixing bowl, this will give it a smoother consistency. Don’t be afraid to mash it up a bit to get through the sieve!
- Empty the can of condensed milk into a 2-cup measuring cup. Fill the remainder of the measuring cup to just over the 1 1/2-cup mark with full-cream milk. Mix in the vanilla extract. Send a prayer to your Nanay (mum) and Lola (grandmother) that you haven’t completely fucked up the recipe.
- While you’re praying for the best, make sure your steamer is ready to go. Or, in my case, realise you threw out your steamer when you moved house and jerry-rig up a steam bath from an old baking tray, hot water and foil and pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees celsius.
- Mix the milk concoction into the yolky-sugary goodness. Add a good squeeze of Kalamansi juice (or juice of 1/2 lime), and stir this in thoroughly.
- Line the base of the llanera molds with the caramel syrup – about 3 tbsp for the large mold and 2 tbsp for the smaller one. But really, at this stage who’s really counting? Go on. Add a little more if you want!
- Gently pour the flan mixture into each of the llanera. You’ll want to fill them to about 3/4 full, without disturbing the caramel layer too much.
- Cover the llanera with foil, and place them in the water bath (cover this with foil)/steamer.
- Steam the Leche Flan for 30mins for the larger and 10mins for the smaller. They should be subtly firm to the touch, but jiggly cause of all the caramel goodness squidging about on the bottom. Remove immediately from the heat/steamer and carefully remove the foil covering them (be super careful as lots of steam will escape!).
- Let the flan cool completely, you’ll want to carefully slide a knife around the edge of llanera molds to make them easier to plate up. Then invert them onto a serving plate and release that caramel tide of sugar.
- You can serve the Leche flan after cooling, or refrigerate them overnight. Serve with fresh strawberries and mint to garnish!
While it may seem a small thing, I find satisfaction and belonging when I am cooking – it is for me a simple pleasure. I feel connected to something that at times I may not even be aware I’m looking for – perhaps it is a reaffirmation of my cultural roots in times of disconnect. In any case, these kitchen adventures are sometimes quiet, sometimes loud moments of connecting with facets of my cultural identity without criticism, without judgement and without feeling the need to justify or explain parts of who I am.
Filipino food is finally finding its feet in the wider culinary landscape. A lot of this has to do with some of the amazing Filipino food ambassadors out there leading the way – they’re sharing not just the wonderful flavours of their national cuisine, but their culture of generosity, inclusiveness and the very history of their heritage in the dishes you can taste.
Canberra has its very own Filipino food ambassadors in Kusina Restaurant at Weston Creek, serving up comforting dishes as good as mum makes! Kusina also has a new pop-up, Kanin at Westfield Woden. I’m also eagerly awaiting Lolo and Lola Restaurant opening soon at the Watson shops.