Delicious, Fun & Healthy Food


Black (Un)fried Rice + Happy Chinese New Year

Lunch, Dinner, AsianLina LiwagComment

Gong Hei Fat Choy!  The Lunar New Year's celebration is underway in many parts of the world, even in my own city.  It started on January 31st and will last for 15 days.   As custom goes, food is a huge part in all these festivities.  I'm not sure if you're familiar with the top "lucky foods" to eat at this time. Clementines or oranges, noodles and dumplings to name a few.  Take a look at the list here  or here.  At first I thought I'd be using one of these for the main ingredient to my Asian-inspired post but I had a change of heart.  Instead, I'm going back to my childhood memories.

 And so I started reminiscing about the  foods that I ate growing up in a place located at the northernmost tip of the Philippines. The town is called Aparri and I just realized that it can now be found on Google map.   However, our small village which is on the western side across the huge Cagayan River will never be on Google map, I'm afraid.  Rice is grown big time here being an agricultural land.  It's eaten 3x a day -  yes even at breakfast!  Before my grandparents moved to California in the mid-70's, they were seasoned rice farmers back home....successful enough that they were able to send all their 6 children to university.  So let's just say that on several weekends and summer vacations in the 60's and  70's, my siblings and I experienced rice farming 101.  It was hard work, let me tell you.  And as a young child, I didn't really like it much then,  but I loved all the the foods that were being prepared during rice planting season and harvest time.  My grandma was a great cook.  She also grew a lot of vegetables and fruits, even coffee and cacao!  Our first experience with hot chocolate was from cacao beans harvested from her own backyard.  The word "fair trade" was not in foodies' consciousness yet at that time I don't think! 


Many of those rice fields have been passed down to the next generations and at this time, my sister who's an agriculturist manages them...don't know how she does it but  I'm glad she does as I would be totally lost having no experience and passion for farming nor a green thumb for that matter. 

So to celebrate the Lunar New Year and those awesome food memories of my childhood, I've decided to make "fried rice" but with a little twist of the classic. My family still grows Milagrosa, Jasmine or sticky rice in those fields but I've chosen black rice for this recipe.  Great for its fibre, nutrients and especially its antioxidants, it's usually the variety that I choose if ever I make a rice dish.  Check out these recipes that I've shared from over a year ago, here and here.  

The trick to this rice dish is using minimal oil (a total of 2 Tbsp. only). The 1 Tbsp. of oil is used to cook the garlic, ginger and scallions and the rest is mixed with the sauce. The vegetables were also lightly steamed.   This way the dish is not heavy and the vegetables still has a crunch and not overcooked.  


Black (Un)fried Rice
Ingredients (Preferably Organic):

For the Rice/Veggies:
1 cup organic black rice preferably soaked for up to 6 hours
1 1/2  cups water for soaked rice, 2 cups for unsoaked rice
2 cups broccoli florets, cut in small pieces 
1 1/2 carrots,washed, peeled and cut into 1/4" cubes 
1 cup  frozen peas 
25 snow peas, thinly cut diagonally, about 1/4" thick and 2" long
3  cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped 
1" ginger grated 
4  scallions/green onions chopped into small pieces or cut diagonally
(separating the lighter parts (dark green parts for topping) 
1  1/2 Tbsp. avocado oil (see suggestions)

For The Sauce:
1 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil 
1  1/2  Tbsp.  mirin  (or 1 Tbsp. lime juice + 2 tsp. maple syrup)
3 Tbsp  wheat-free tamari or Braggs
3 Tbsp. sesame seeds, lightly toasted 

1. Rinse the rice in a strainer under cold water then transfer to a pot.  Add the water and bring to a boil then simmer until all the water is absorbed and the rice is cooked, about 40- 45 mins. Fluff and cool it down.  Soaked rice cooks faster at 30 minutes.
2. After all the veggies have been prepped, place them except the snow peas in a steamer. Cook briefly making sure the veggies are still crunchy, about 5 minutes.  Add the snow peas on the last minute then remove from heat. 
3. Place the the avocado oil into a pan and on low heat, cook the garlic, lighter portions of the green onions and ginger until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes then turn off the heat.  Mix in the sauce then add the rice and veggies stirring a few times to incorporate all the flavours .  Transfer to serving bowl then top with sesame seeds and the rest of the scallions.  Enjoy!

1. For better digestibility, soak the rice for a minimum of 4 hours to 6 hours.  I've tried both ways and either one works.
2.Some other options for vegetables are: mung bean sprouts, Chinese napa cabbage, cauliflower or bakchoy.  This is a versatile dish so you can go creative.  
3. Please note that when it comes to oils, there are healthier options to use.  You can read a very informative article  "What's the Best Oil to Cook With" on this link here.


As I was reminiscing, I can't help but be thankful for all those wonderful experiences I had  in the Philippines.  We grew up where the air was clean and the ocean was pristine.  We ate fresh seafood and seaweeds from the ocean nearby.  Sunshine was abundant all year round.  Free Vitamin D!

My dad planted the biggest orchard in our neighbourhood.   It produced a variety of tropical fruits...all we did was climb up the different trees to pick the freshest and purest fruits in season. No chemicals or preservatives or no storage necessary.  And most of these trees are still bearing fruits over 50 years later.  We grew our own vegetables in our gardens.  We had many moments playing in our backyard or in the muddy rice fields connected we were to the earth...grounding, anyone?   Mind you, we never knew how lucky we were then.  Thank you Lord for all of these!

I hope you'll start reminiscing about your own childhood memories too.  Happy Lunar New Year!



"Homemade Bibimbap"

Asian, Dinner, LunchLina Liwag4 Comments

It's been a rainy Saturday so I thought it's just perfect timing for one of those recipes that require a longer time to prepare.  What a treat for someone who usually only has 30 minutes to whip up meals during the week.   


Bibimbap is a Korean dish which literally means "mixed rice." The traditional one is usually served on a hot stone pot (pre-heated in the oven) with steamed rice, topped with "namul" (a mix of sauteed and seasoned vegetables) and a chilli paste called "gochujang."   Other additions are raw or sunny side egg, meat or tofu.  The ingredients are then stirred together before eating.  This dish is nutritious and looks so colourful.

Every now and then, we would visit a Korean restaurant in the Uptown area of Toronto to eat bibimbap. Lately, I've been making my own homemade version and so I've finally decided  share it.  The ingredients are not written in stone and would really be all up to you.  This is one of those that anyone can get creative on.  I'm using tempeh with this mix and I pretty much did everything non-tradional.   Sometimes, Austin even wants a different version by omitting the rice and substituting it with soba noodles. Some veggies can also be raw.  


"Homemade Bibimbap"
Serves 4
Maple ginger tempeh, recipe below
Pickled daikon radish and carrots, recipe below
1 cup black rice for cooking
Sautéed enoki  mushrooms, recipe below
Sautéed shiitake or oyster mushrooms, recipe below
1 package bean sprouts, blanched
1 lb. baby bokchoy cleaned, washed and blanched
Boiling water for blanching
1 sheet nori, cut into strips
3 Tbsps. sesame seeds, roasted
Asian sesame sauce, recipe below or this option

Maple Ginger Tempeh
1 block organic tempeh (250 g.) cut into 5 strips
( I used this brand)
1/2 c. water
1 tsp. walnut oil

2 Tbsp. Braggs liquid aminos, tamari or Nama shoyu
2 tsp. maple syrup
1/2 tsp. ginger, grated
2 cloves garlic, grated
3 Tbsp. lime juice
1 1/2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar

1. Lay the tempeh strips in a glass container.  Mix the marinade and pour over. Coat and marinate the slices for 1 hour and up to overnight.
2. Transfer the tempeh slices into a skillet and add the water. Bring to a boil then lower the heat to medium. Let them cook until all the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes, turning over once halfway thru cooking.
3. Add the oil then finalize cooking by browning at  approximately 2 1/2 minutes each side.
4. Cut into smaller cubes before serving.



Quick Pickled Daikon Radish & Carrots
1 small daikon radish, julienned, about 2 cups
2 medium sized carrots julienned, about 2 cups
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 cup unpasteurized apple cider vinegar
2 tsp. maple syrup
3 Tbsp. water, boiled then cooled down
2 cloves garlic, grated

1. Wash, peel and julienne the daikon and carrots. Transfer to a bowl and add the salt. Stir and leave for approximately 10 minutes to soften. Transfer to a colander or wire sieve and rinse in water. Squeeze and drain well.
2. Place the vegetables in a clean jar . Mix the pickling ingredients together and pour over. Best eaten after a day or two but they're good to go after 1 hour.

Sautéed Shiitake and Enoki Mushrooms
.75 - 1 lb. shiitake or oyster mushrooms, sliced
1 pack (150 g.) enoki mushrooms , bottom end cut 
1/2 of a small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. chopped tomatoes
1/4 c. water


In a pan on medium heat, sauté the onions until soft, approximately 3 minutes then stir in the garlic and tomatoes and continue to cook until the tomatoes soften.  Add the shiitake mushrooms. Let them sweat then add the water. Stir and cook for about 8-10 minutes at which time the water will be absorbed. Move them to one side of the pan then add the oyster mushrooms on the other side. These will cook in 2 minutes with just the heat of the pan. Remove and transfer them to separate bowls.


Cooking the black rice: wash and soak the rice  for 2  hours if time allows. In a saucepan, place the washed rice with 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Adjust the heat to low until water is absorbed, approximately  30-40 minutes.

Blanching the sprouts and greens: boil water in a medium sauce pan. Place the sprouts in a wire sieve then lower into boiling water for only 20 seconds. Transfer in a bowl with filtered cold water to stop it from cooking further. Drain and transfer to another bowl.  In the same water, place the bokchoy and leave to blanch for 2 minutes then repeat the same cooling down process as the sprouts. Place in a bowl.

Dry roasting the sesame seeds: in a skillet on low heat, place the sesame seeds and let them roast until they turn fragrant, approximately 5 minutes.

3 Tbsp. Braggs liquid aminos or tamari
3  Tbsp. brown rice vinegar
2 Tbsp. lime or lemon juice
1/2 tsp. grated garlic
1/4 tsp. grated ginger|
1 Tbsp. tsp. roasted sesame oil
Hot sauce to taste (I used this)

Assembly: in four bowls, place a serving of each ingredient. Add sauce and top with roasted sesame and nori strips. Stir before eating. Enjoy!

Other options:  kimchi, tofu, zucchini, other greens like spinach, watercress or choysum.


I've been thinking that maybe next time I can make something sweet as my tendency is always on the savoury side.  Freshncrunchy just turned one and I should be posting something celebratory like a cake, right?  I'm hoping I can come up with a good one...desserts are a challenging projects to me.  Wish me luck:)





Veggie Rice Paper Rolls & Creamy Almond Dipping Sauce (A Perfect Dish to End the Summer)

Appetizers, Asian, Lunch, DinnerLina LiwagComment

Ahh...Summer...we thought you would stay with us forever but it's time to say goodbye. We've had great weather and also enjoyed our local harvest.  But before embracing Fall with all its beautiful colours and bounty, I thought it would be fitting to post one of my favourite Summer dishes. 


Veggie rice paper rolls or wraps are a regular in our's everyone's favourite!  I started making them after realizing that the commercial ones out there did not have the ingredients that would really satisfy me or my loved ones.  Most of them have a lot of noodles with barely any vegetables.  And how about the sauces?  You may not even know what exactly is in there.  Mind you, it may seem intimidating to make a perfect roll to begin kinda looks messy and even sticky.  However, think about it as if you were wrapping or rolling a burrito...with just a different and more delicate wrap.  It gets better over time.    


Veggie Rice Paper Rolls & Creamy Almond Dipping Sauce

2 carrots
1/2 English cucumber
1/4 of a small purple cabbage
1/2 jicama
1 avocado
handful of sunflower sprouts
fresh mint or Thai basil

rice paper rolls or wraps
(I used 10 large rolls, 22cm in diameter)

Dipping Sauce:
1/3 c. raw almond butter 
1 clove garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. lime
3 Tbsp. unpasteurized apple cider vinegar
2 tsp. maple syrup
2 tsp. tamari or Bragg's liquid aminos
1/3 c. filtered water


22 cm rice paper roll

22 cm rice paper roll


1.  Wash then cut all the vegetables into matchstick sizes and set them aside. The mint leaves can be used as whole, no need to cut them.   Cut the avocado and slice it into thin segments. 
2. Place all the ingredients of the dip into a blender and blend until well incorporated.
3. Put some water in a large dish and dip one rice roll at a time until it starts to become soft and pliable, about 30 seconds.  Do not leave it in the water too long or it will get too sticky.
4. Transfer it in a clean chopping board or a plate then place your fillings in the middle of the wrap leaving about  2" allowance on each side.  Fold the bottom of the wrap over the fillings then fold in the 2 sides and lastly, roll it like a burrito to finish off.  This is the "closed" style.  If using a large roll (22 cm. in diameter), they can be cut in half before serving (see first photo).
5. You can also try the "open-end" one: dip the roll in water, transfer it to the plate then fold it into half.  Place the fillings in the middle making sure to leave 2" allowance on the bottom.  Fold the bottom over the fillings and roll from right to left.  The fillings should be peeking out of the open end.  
6. If it gets messy, try gets better with practice. There's plenty of rolls in a pack. 

Be creative and use any vegetables, herbs or even fruits like mango...other kinds of sprouts, red peppers, zucchini, lettuce or spinach.  The rice paper rolls come in 16 cm. or 22 cm. size (where I shop anyway).  They can be found at Asian stores or even at Whole Foods Market. Hope you can try making them soon!

 "open-end style rolls

 "open-end style rolls

Happy Fall everyone!  I hope you enjoyed your summer!  I graduated 2 weeks ago as  heath coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.  I am so excited that I have reached this point of my learning journey in holistic health.   




Black Rice Noodle Salad With Purple & White Cauliflower + A Few Healthy Tips

Lunch, Salad, Asian, DinnerLina LiwagComment

When I saw this purple cauliflower at the market the other day, I just knew right away that I had to buy it.  Some girls are charmed by pretty flowers...I get carried away with fresh and colourful produce!  I originally wanted to make soup out of this pretty thing. Purple soup would really be amazing but it's summer and having soup now just didn't feel right to me so I've decided to postpone that soup for the fall.  Here's a noodle salad that's a little bit more appropriate for the season.  

Why purple? The colour actually means the presence of anthocyanin.  Anthocyanin  is responsible for the red, purple and blue colours present in vegetables, grains and fruits like blueberries or blackberries. Health experts say it’s a cancer fighter and  helps prevent  heart disease and improves memory.  Cauliflower (both varieties) is rich in vitamin C.  It also provides a good amount of fiber,  B Vitamins as well as Vitamin K, manganese and potassium. 



Before I get to the recipe, let me talk a little bit about a couple of  healthy tips.  In a previous post, I touched on Primary Foods (check the article here)   which I consider to be the core of  my health and wellness journey.  At this time, I would like to share  some of the practical things that I've done and continue to do.

Tip #1 - I was open to learning and the first book  I read was "Fit For Life" by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond.  It was in 1994 when I made a shift from an all-Filipino diet to a lifestyle of eating differently.  The reason I desired for a change was due to regular migraine headaches that I was having then. 

Tip#2 - It's not easy to make a lifestyle keep it simple and start slowly. Based on my culture, eating white rice (and a lot of it) with meat was a norm.  Although I was not a big meat small change came about  by being more conscious of eating less rice and  then adding raw foods in the form of salads.



Black Rice Noodle Salad With Purple & White Cauliflower
Ingredients (Preferably Organic) 

1 pack (250 g.) black rice noodles (I used this brand) 
or soba noodles 
2 c purple cauliflower, cut into florets and lightly steamed
2 c. white cauliflower, cut into florets and lightly steamed
3 heads baby bok choy,  chopped to bite size pieces, lightly steamed

3 Tbsp. tamari (can also use coconut aminos or Bragg liquid aminos)
1 Tbsp. roasted sesame oil
3 Tbsp. brown rice vinegar
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. coconut nectar or maple syrup
1/2 to 1 tsp. grated ginger
a pinch of cayenne

3 Tbsp. unhulled sesame seeds, dry roasted
3 spring onions, sliced

1.  Mix together all the dressing ingredients in a small dish.  Adjust the taste if necessary and set aside.
2. Boil a pot of water, approximately 6 cups.  Cook the noodles according to package directions, about 4-5 minutes for this type and brand.  Make sure not to overcook as they will get mushy beyond those cooking times.  Rinse with cold water and set aside to cool down.  It's a good idea to let the noodles soak in filtered water if the dish is not being assembled for serving right away.  It prevents them from getting sticky. 
3. In a skillet or toaster oven, dry roast the sesame seeds until they turn fragrant.  Remove from heat and set aside.
4.  Lightly steam the cauliflower, about 3-4 minutes from the time the water boils.  Add the baby bok choy at the last minute of steaming then remove the vegetables right away to cool them down.
5. To assemble: mix noodles and vegetables, add the dressing and top with sesame seeds and green onions.  Serves 3-4.  Enjoy!

Note:  The purple cauliflower can stain other vegetables so it's a good idea to separate them when steaming or even when mixing the salad.  I think preserving their own colour especially if serving guests is a good tip so they would look even more pretty! You may also like this other noodle recipe here. 


Soba Salad - "A Prelude To Spring"

Lunch, Asian, DinnerLina Liwag2 Comments

I was originally thinking of posting another soup recipe this week since our “soup season”  here in the Great White North has been greatly extended this year.  However, I changed my mind at the last minute and opted for this Soba Salad instead...something I call “a prelude to spring”.  It’s my way of  being  more positive with the tail end of our long Canadian winter.  I love to say the line “I dream of spring” and most Torontians will probably agree with me.   As I write this post, it snowed heavily overnight and then it turned wet and very slushy all day.   My beautiful niece Mailelani from Dallas  would actually love to come and play with all our snow.  If I had the power, I would make our families switch places now...even for just a week. That would be an awesome break except for my Canadian teenager who loves winter so much!  Although it's not possible for her now, I really hope that one day Mailelani will be able to experience a small part of our winter.


 Soba: this is the Japanese name for buckwheat  and is also synonymous with the noodle made from buckwheat flour.  Some fun facts about this noodle or buckwheat: 
 -buckwheat is not really related to wheat at all; not a grain but considered a fruit seed related to the rhubarb family
 -  soba is gluten free according to the Celiac Association of Canada as long as it's 100% made of buckwheat  flour as some others maybe mixed with wheat
 - they are a good source of manganese and thiamin

 Soba is considered the king of noodles in Japan because of its versatility: chilled with dipping sauce in the summer or hot noodle soup in the colder days.  We may be familiar with the popular "zaru soba" which is basically cold soba served in a bamboo basket and eaten with a dipping sauce.   My sister-in-law Asako who is from Northern Japan usually makes 'bukkake soba" a cold version (non-vegan) with toppings of okra, daikon radish, mushrooms, sometimes with natto (fermented soya beans), a Japanese yam called yamato-imo and  then dashi broth (made of fish stock, kelp, dried shitake mushrooms and others) is poured over the dish.  You can check her page (photos by Dex) here.

 Here's my own version of quick go-to dish when I'm in a hurry or having some late nights during the week.   I like to make the noodles with vegetables in order to add fibre, more nutrients and some crunch. This is great with  miso soup or any other soup this time of year.  With my own family's  own issues of  food sensitivities, this is a perfect dish that we can all enjoy and hoping that you will enjoy it too.  

Soba Salad
Ingredients: (Preferably Organic) 

1  pack of  250 g. organic buckwheat noodle ( I used this brand)
2 c. purple cabbage, thinly sliced
1 carrot, julienned
8 green beans blanched for 2-3 minutes and sliced diagonally
3 green onions, sliced diagonally  in thin pieces, about 1/4"
3 Tbsp. unhulled  sesame seeds, dry roasted


 3 Tbsp. Bragg liquid aminos 
1 1/2 Tbsp. organic roasted sesame seed oil
4 Tbsp. lime juice
1 Tbsp. coconut nectar or maple syrup
1/4 tsp. grated ginger


 1. Wash and prep all the veggies.  You can blanch  the green beans in
the same boiling water that you are going to cook the noodles in to simplify the steps.
2. Dry roast the sesame seeds in a skillet or in the toaster oven.
3. Combine all the dressing ingredients in a small jar and with the lid tight, shake a few times to incorporate.
4. If you want your cabbage a little softer and not too crunchy, you have the option of  adding  2 Tbsp. of the dressing  to the cabbage and set aside while waiting for everything to be ready.  However, its not  advisable to leave the dressing too long on the green beans as they will discolour.
5.  Boil about 6 cups of water in a pot  and briefly blanch the greens beans for about 2-3 minutes.  Do not discard the water.
6. In that same pot and water, add the noodles and cook them according to package instructions and stir several times so the noodles do not stick to each other.  Also, test the noodles for doneness a few  times making sure they end up being al dente and not too mushy ( 6 minutes is perfect for this brand) .  While the noodles are cooking, cut up the greens beans.  You will  notice that the cooking water turns starchy....not to worry as this is perfectly normal.
7. When noodles are ready, rinse them in cold water to drain the extra starch and to stop them from cooking any further.  If you are not yet ready to assemble the salad, you can soak them in water.
8. Before serving, combine the noodles, veggies and dressing. Garnish with green onions and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

1. Snap peas or snow peas can be used  in place of green beans. 
2. Feel free to add more sesame seeds as they really give the dish a nice crunch and flavour.
3. Lemon can also be substituted for lime.
4. In Toronto, liquid aminos is sold as Bragg All Purpose Seasoning  Please feel free to substitute this with regular soya sauce although you may need to use less considering the salt content.  For other people, nama shoyu which is unpasteurized soy sauce could also be an alternative although an expensive one.





I'm looking forward to spring and  I sincerely hope you are too!

Warm wishes,