As new parents, the wife and I have received some child-rearing tips from, oh, just about everyone we know. I’m not saying we’re not appreciative of such tips, but some of these pointers have been downright unusual. Not surprisingly, the strangest pointers have come from my own mother:
- “Make sure you massage his head so it will stay round.”
- “You should leave the lights on at night when he sleeps, so he gets used to it.”
I know I’m new to this whole parenting thing, but I’m perfectly satisfied with the current roundness of my kid’s head, and leaving the lights on at night just makes no sense to me. Ironically enough, I can rest a beer on my own head because it’s so flat, and I’m nocturnal. Strange, that.
So despite my mother’s good intentions (at least I think her intentions are good), I’ve pretty much ignored her “sage” advice. However, there was one nugget of knowledge that spilled from my mother’s mouth that did kinda sorta make sense: “Tinola is good for increasing breast milk production.”
“I can produce breast milk?” I asked my mom.
“Not you, your wife!” she corrected me.
I told you, I’m new to this.
Anyways, Tinola is a simple-to-make rustic Filipino chicken soup. Like the chicken soups of most other cultures, Tinola is also known for its healing and restorative powers–helping to recover from cold and flu symptoms–this much I knew. But I had never before heard that Tinola was also good for nursing and feeding newborns.
So I wasn’t sure if my mother was just perpetuating some old
Filipino wives’ tale, or if Tinola indeed possessed any lactic magic (I’m very pleased with myself that I came up with that rhyme).
But if cooking a pot of Tinola would make things easier for my wife,
and indirectly get some Filipino food into my kid, I was all for it.
A bowl of Lactic Magic?
Besides chicken, chili leaves also play a vital role in a good Tinola. Chili leaves are exactly what they sound like, the leaves from a chili pepper plant. Despite their origins, chili leaves are not at all spicy, though they do lend a slightly bitter flavor to the dish. You can find frozen chili leaves at the Asian market (sometimes labeled as “Dahon ng Sili”), but fresh chili leaves are always best. If you happen to grow any thai birds, or jalapenos, or the like, you can use the leaves from your own chili plant. Or, if you are like me, you may have a favorite purveyor of chili peppers at your local farmer’s market. If so, then just ask your chili guy (or gal) to bring in some fresh chili leaves for you–you might get a funny look, but getting fresh chili leaves is well worth it. Leaves from the moringa tree (AKA mulunggay leaves) can also be used in place of chili leaves, but I prefer chili leaves.
Green papaya is another key ingredient in Tinola. Besides adding texture and color to the Tinola, green papaya may also help in keeping the chicken tender as the unripened fruit contains the meat-tenderizing enzyme known as papain. Green papaya contain a higher amount of papain than ripe papaya. Fresh green papaya can be found at Asian markets, though Chayote squash is also a suitable substitute (though chayote lacks any meat tenderizing properties).
Other ingredients in Tinola include ginger (I like loads of ginger in my Tinola), garlic and onion if you like (I do), and fish sauce (again, I like loads of fish sauce in my Tinola). Lastly, I also like the addition of lemongrass in Tinola (my chili guy had some fresh lemongrass in addition to the chili leaves), though my mother’s version of Filipino chicken soup does not have any lemongrass.
As far as my mother’s Tinola claim goes, my wife suspects there may be some truth to it–after one post-Tinola feeding, our newborn has grown to the size of Spud Webb and can now speak fluent Ilocano and Tagalog. Impressive. Much better than having a block head or roaming about at night like El Chupacabra.
Milky way, indeed.
Tinola: Filipino Chicken Soup
Makes 6-8 servings
1 tablespoon oil
1 onion, diced
1 stalk lemongrass, outermost leaves removed and bottom 6 inches (the white part) minced finely
4 cloves garlic, minced
2-inches fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 whole chicken (4-5 lbs.), cut into serving pieces
3 tablespoons fish sauce, plus more to taste
8 cups water
1 green papaya, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch wedges
1-2 cups chili leaves, picked from stems and rinsed
Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onions to the pot and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the lemongrass, garlic, and ginger and cook another 30 seconds.
Add the chicken pieces and fish sauce to the pot, stir and cook for 1-2 minutes until chicken is coated in oil (you don’t have to brown the chicken). Add the water to the pot, increase heat to high, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the papaya, and continue simmering until papaya is tender, 10-15 minutes.
Taste the soup for seasoning, and add more fish sauce if needed. Salt can also be used at this point as well.
Remove the pot from the heat, add the chili leaves and stir. Cover the pot for 3-5 minutes, or until the chili leaves wilt. Serve with white rice (I like to put a scoop of rice in my soup bowl).