Last month, I went overboard with my vegetable orders and was left perplexed by a crate filled with an assortment of lettuce and mixed greens. There was only so much I could do with mizuna, gem and butter lettuce, and there surely must be a way to cook these altogether without going the salad route.
So here it was, after much scavenging, a cheese-laden lettuce dish worthy of its own prime billing, and the fried rice relegated to a matinee spot. I started with a base layer of "sofrito", in actuality, an assorted toss of green onions, minced garlic, milk, salt, pepper and calamansi juice, with cornstarch to bind and thicken. The middle layer, the heads of lettuce, will wilt and reduce significantly in size from the heat. Panko or homemade bread crumbs, and grated parmesan cheese top off the layer; even togarashi or nori strips will do...make use of whatever crunchy bits you have stored in the pantry.
I also realised I was hardly using the dried butterfly pea flowers that my mother had packed for me the last time I went to visit in Cebu. Apart from garnishing gin tonics, butterfly pea flowers lend a pretty blue-violet hue to the drink. So, I decided to use a few flowers while steaming rice, to give the grains a subtle bluish tint. Once the rice had finished cooking, I tossed this in with some ground pork and the remaining green onions.
This recipe is a two-in-one, but you can of course choose to prepare either one, to pair with another dish you may already have prepared. The blue rice would go well with Drunken Mussels & Spicy Chorizo, or with Butter Mushroom Pork Chops.
Cooking time: 42 minutes for Cheesy Greens / 32 minutes for Blue Rice
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pieces green onions (the white part, plus a few bits of green)
3 heads of lettuce or other mixed greens
5 cloves garlic, minced
1.5 tablespoon cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 tablespoon sea salt or pink salt
1/2 cup whole or low-fat milk
1 tablespoon cornstarch
5 calamansi, halved
1/2 cup panko or bread crumbs, additional spoonfuls for garnish
1/4 cup parmesan, grated
1 cup red or brown rice, washed
2 cups water
5-6 dried butterfly pea flowers
180 grams ground pork
2 stalks of green onions, only the green part, finely cut
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large egg (optional)
1. Wash and steam rice according to package instructions. The usual rule of thumb is two cups of water for every cup of rice. Steam in a rice cooker or covered sauce pan for about 20 minutes. Halfway through, or right when water has reduced by half, drop in butterfly pea flowers. The moisture and heat will draw out the natural colouring of the flowers, lending a pale blue shade to the rice. Once cooker has turned off or switched to warm, or the water has been absorbed and you can see the grains on top, switch off the stovetop or induction. Remove lid, toss in green onion bits and stir to combine. Allow steam to evaporate and let rice cool for about 3 to 5 minutes.
2. While rice is cooking, heat vegetable oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven on medium-low heat. If you’re using a Dutch oven, heat it ahead for 1-2 minutes on medium heat, before drizzling the oil. Make a sofrito by tossing in green onions, minced garlic, milk, cornstarch, salt, pepper and calamansi juice, stirring constantly and letting it form into a thick sauce, around 15 to 20 minutes.
The base layer for the cheesy greens start with the "green sofrito": 1) letting the onions, garlic, salt and pepper cook in vegetable oil, 2) pouring in milk to soften, 3) then sprinkling cornstarch to thicken the base.
3. While rice is cooling, heat a medium skillet with vegetable oil at medium heat. Toss in ground pork and cook for about 6 to 8 minutes until clumpy. Scrape in rice and toss to combine. If you wish to add egg, crack and put it at the center right after rice is tossed in with the pork. Toss to let yolk and whites run evenly. Turn off heat and transfer to a serving plate.
4. By then, the sofrito should have reduced by now! Dump all 3 heads of lettuce inside Dutch oven or saucepan. Then cover with lid. If your saucepan size is not sufficient, put the lettuce in one at a time. Don’t worry, it will all fit in once the leaves have significantly wilted from the pressurised heat. Let cook, covered, for about 4 to 5 minutes. Lift lid and toss leaves to coat with the sofrito. Then cook again, covered, for another 5 minutes.
If the heads of lettuce don't fit the Dutch oven or saucepan, place it one at a time, tossing the greens inside, until they shrivel and make room for the next one.
Here you go, all 3 heads fit!
5. Remove and set aside lid. Add panko or bread crumbs on top of the mixture, and parmesan cheese. Toss to coat evenly. Allow to reduce further for another 6 to 8 minutes. Turn off heat. Transfer to a serving plate. Garnish with additional panko.