Pinais na Pinaputok (Seabass, Vegetables and Rice Baked in Banana Leaf)

This recipe combines elements of pinais (cooking in a pouch) and pinaputok (filling the cavity of a whole fish with stuffing).

YIELD 4 servings

¾ teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper 4 sea bass fillets
2 Asian eggplants, roasted, see below
4 scallions, finely chopped
2-inch (5-cm) piece fresh ginger, grated
4 medium tomatoes, diced
A few sprigs thyme
4 banana leaves, each 12 inches (30 cm) long, washed and blanched, or equivalent size parchment paper or foil
2 cups (about 400 g) cooked rice blended with riced cauliflower Olive oil, for drizzling
4 calamansi, halved, or 1 lemon, cut into wedges
1 teaspoon bagoong guisado
shrimp paste (45 mg sodium/teaspoon)

1. Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C).
2. In a small bowl, mix the salt, garlic powder, onion powder and pepper to make a seasoning mixture. Season the fish with a pinch of the mixture. Set aside the rest.
3. Mash the eggplant with a fork. Sprinkle with a pinch of the seasoning mixture and stir.
4. In a bowl, combine the scallions, ginger, tomatoes, thyme and the remaining seasoning mix.
5. Place a quarter of the riced cauliflower mix about 3 inches (7 cm) from the edge of a banana leaf and spread to make a shape about the same size as the fish fillet. Top with a quarter of the mashed eggplant. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of the tomato mixture from Step 4 over the eggplant. Lay a fish fillet on top of the mixture and cover with 2 more tablespoons of the tomato mixture. Drizzle with a few drops of olive oil. Fold the top and bottom edges of the leaf up and over and tuck the sides under the package or secure with cooking twine or the spine of the banana leaf. Repeat with the remaining fish.
6. Place the packages in a baking pan on the middle rack of the oven for 15 minutes. Open one and check if the fish is opaque. If not, rewrap and bake for another 2–3 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for a minute before serving.
7. To make the sawsawan dipping sauce, combine the calamansi juice with the bagoong. Open the fish packages and serve with the sawsawan on the side.
How to roast whole eggplants
Prick all sides of the eggplants with a fork or paring knife.
On an open flame: Cook directly on a gas stove over medium-high heat or over-the-fire grill turning it every 5 minutes until all the skin is charred and the eggplant is collapsed, tender and wrinkled.

In the oven: Preheat the oven broiler to maximum. Place pierced eggplants under the broiler on a baking tray lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Roast until they start to blacken, about 12–15 minutes depending on the eggplant size. Turn the eggplants over. Roast for another 10–15 minutes or until the eggplants are collapsed, completely tender and wrinkled. Slit the eggplants open and scrape the flesh out. Set aside and discard the skin.

*Reprinted with permission from WE COOK FILIPINO by Jacqueline Chio-Lauri, Tuttle Publishing, 2023, ISBN: 978-0-8048-5466-5.
*Photo © Rezel Kealoha

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