What makes a good Busy Season dinner? I was thinking about this the other day while attempting to decipher a particularly troublesome client spreadsheet (I mean…that’s what normal people think about when they do that right?). But really, what IS a good Busy Season dinner? Is it one that’s cheap, quick, and simultaneously healthy to make? Most would think so, but I beg to differ. After all, you can make a salad and we all know if that’s all you were going to do, you might as well have gone to Chop’t and contemplated the end of the world or something just as melodramatic.
No…I think an amazing Busy Season dinner has 2 other components:
1) It should have the power to comfort you. Just as a plate of perfect fried chicken can do the soul good, a good Busy Season dinner must be one that can erase the burdens of the day from an unruly client to a Partner nitpicking one formatting error too many. Of course there’s a fine line between “comfort” and “indulgence”, the latter being driven by a sort of quiet desperation and involves a trip to McDonald’s.
2) It should be eaten more than once. The warm feeling of reheated pizza, last night’s roast chicken dropped onto a plate of fresh rice, dishes that are good enough to just be put back in the pan straight from the fridge and reheated while you boot up your laptop for another late night session are better the second time around.
For me, one such dish was Sinigang: a soup with a protein, vegetables, and usually soured with tamarind or mangosteen and a a staple of every Filipino’s culinary repertoire. I still have vivid memories of weekend nights with the family when family dinners were still a thing and conversations were yet to be tainted by talk of politics and how the job market is screwed. I remember exciting times when my mom would find a giant salmon head to make the Sinigang with and we’d happily split the fatty cheeks between us. For all you of weaker stomachs, consider how disgusting the pink slime in your burger is before you turn your nose up on a perfectly good fish head.
To me, it was comforting, and after a long day, all I had to do was toss the pot on the stove and reheat. This version is a simple one, fit for those quick dinners and uses the most basic of Sinigang mixes.
To a comforting night…
(Note: The whole point here is to go with ease. Every vegetable except one is optional. Mix, match, or even add your own mix. This particular recipe is definitely not the definitive guide…far from it. It’s one simply tailored to the chronically time-deprived):
1 large fish head (if you guys read my last recipe for Tea-Steamed Red Snapper, you’ll recognize tonight’s star ingredient. If you don’t have a fish head like salmon lying around, you can substitute it for thick cuts of fish, other seafood like shrimp, or pork spare ribs).
2 large tomatoes, quartered
1 red onion, quartered
2 – 3 cups of string beans, halved by hand (don’t ask me…mom just said cutting them by a knife alters the taste. You can also use the Chinese long bean as a substitute)
1 bunch lettuce or bok choy, de-stemmed (the only NON-optional vegetable)
2 cups sliced daikon radish or halves of the smaller, red variety
3 – 4 jalapenos for a kick, sliced
3 lemons/limes (depending on the type of sour you want)
2 tbsps. white miso (the secret ingredient)
White rice to pair
Note: Sour is the main point of this soup and for most people, that means emptying a packet of that addictive Mama Sita brand of Sinigang mix. However, there are healthier alternatives: lemon, lime, rhubarb, sorrel, etc. (shout-out to Mrs. Amy Besa of Purple Yam for the tip!). I compromised by using half a Sinigang mix packet and 3 lemons.
1) Fill a large pot with as much water as you’d like (about 2 – 3 40 oz. beer bottles worth. Sorry, had to pick something everyone would know) and heat on high to boil. Toss in your tomatoes and onions right at the start.
2) When the water begins to steam and tiny bubbles start to form, toss in your radishes.
3) When the water beings to boil again, put your fish head in. Try not to stare into the depths of its soul and cook for around 15 minutes until fish is just about done.
4) Toss in your beans and jalapenos (subsequent reheatings make the heat really come out so careful with this one), lower heat to medium high and cook for 5 or so mins.
5) Toss in the lettuce and quickly squeeze your lemon juice or Sinigang mix in along with the miso and give it a stir. Cook for 30 secs. to a minute and turn off the heat. You want the top greens to retain some color and crunch. Season with salt and more souring agents if need be.
Ladle yourself a bowl and if that obviously impractical request you got at work is still bugging you, reflect on this Jeb Dickerson quote: “Releasing the pressure. It’s good for the teapot and the water. Try it sometime”. Keep truckin’ everyone and see you soon.