Recipe: Boiled fish with celeriac and pak choi

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ilaga, (approximately translated to boiled) is a simple way Filipinos cook food. It’s basically boiling food in water either fish or meat, together with onions and garlic, mixed with an array of vegetables. The vegetarian version of nilaga is called bulanglang, usually with squash, raw papaya and moringa leaves. There’s also tinola, chicken nilaga with lots of ginger and raw papayas. Mussels and clam fishes like vongole are also great for nilaga.

When I’m uninspired and wants a delicious meal, or when I’m tired of dishes with heavy sauces, I cook nilaga. I would normally mix the soup with white rice with a dipping sauce of fish sauce or soy sauce with lemon, depending on whether I’m using fish or meat.

My favourite is nilagang tahong, boiled mussels cooked in lots of ginger, tomatoes and moringa leaves and fish sauce. It’s a popular dish among pregnant women and breastfeeding moms because moringa leaves increases breast milk production.

In the Netherlands I normally cook nilagang baboy (pork) with potatoes and string beans, as fish is quite expensive here and the choices are very limited for someone who try to buy mostly local catch. Or Yerseke mussels during mussel season.

I bought croaker (ombervis) at the Makro last weekend and thought it would be a good fish for nilaga. I actually don’t know what a croaker was but it looked firm enough not to disintegrate during cooking. I bought a whole fish, head and tales included.

Many Dutch would balk at the sight of whole fish but the flavours of this dish depend entirely on using those parts normally discarded to make fillet.

I still have half a celeriac (knolselderij) sitting in the fridge, that monster-looking vegetable no one wants to buy at the supermarket. I only bought it because it’s one of the few vegetables that are not wrapped in plastic. I decided to use this instead of white radish. I wasn’t sure whether the combination would be pleasant but celeriac is mild and retains its sweet, anise-like flavour even when mixed with other ingredients.

This recipe could be filed under those unplanned dishes I make when I want to empty the leftover food in my fridge. But you almost couldn’t go wrong with this dish. It’s a very simple meal and simple meals are usually the best.

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