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  • Cookbook Author Learned To Cook Because She Knew Her Family Needed More Than Ginisa!

    Recipes in her cookbook contain a wonderful mix of sweet, savory, salty, and spicy dishes.
    by Aneth Ng-Lim .
Cookbook Author Learned To Cook Because She Knew Her Family Needed More Than Ginisa!
PHOTO BY courtesy of Abigail Sotto-Raines
  • Manila Spoon blogger Abigail Sotto-Raines, born and raised in the Philippines, candidly admits she wasn’t a particularly good cook when she married Mark 15 years ago, and the couple just moved to the United States.

    “I knew the basics of cooking having watched my grandmother and mom, who were both excellent cooks, make their magic in the kitchen while I was growing up. I could cook rice and make ginisa then, but I knew I needed to learn more than that and quickly because there were no help or maids to prepare our meals like in the Philippines. We couldn’t live on rice and ginisa alone!”

    Her cooking adventure began in her little kitchen on Michigan street, with some help from well-meaning friends from the church that gifted her with an American cookbook.

    Her days in the kitchen rekindled her love and passion for cooking and later gave birth to her food blog where she has since created and photographed more than 500 recipes. Abigail’s recipes have been featured in the National Geographic’s Eating Healthy Recipe Guide E-cookbookTaste of Home MagazineThe Huffington PostBuzzfeed, and Delish, among others.


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    Abigail, her husband Mark, and their kids live together in the United States.
    PHOTO BY courtesy of Abigail Sotto-Raines
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    Blogger turned cookbook author

    With over 220,000 followers on Facebook and Instagram liking her posts and loving her recipes, it was only a matter of time before she would publish her own cookbook.


    Well, that time has come, and her debut publication, Rice. Noodles. Yumoffers a delicious collection of 75 recipes. The flavorful dishes featured in the cookbook are all built around rice and noodles, two staples in every Southeast Asian dining table.

    RICE.NOODLES.YUM. contains various Southeast Asian cuisine-inspired recipes you can enjoy with your family.
    PHOTO BY courtesy of Abigail Sotto-Raines

    Cooking for beginners

    New to cooking? Not to worry. Abigail has two simple and tested advice. The first: “Practice. Practice. Practice. That is simply the best way to perfect any dish you wish to learn. You may fail the first two times or more, but simply try to figure out where it went wrong and then correct it and adjust as you go along. In my cookbook, I had to try some of the recipes a few times until I am happy with it. With Pad Thai, I think I tried three to four versions until I felt like this is it.”

    Her second advice: “Taste. Taste. Taste. Taste while you are cooking the dish and especially at the end to adjust any seasoning or correct the flavoring, if needed. Do not be afraid to experiment with your taste buds! Let it be your guide and you’ll be fine and could become an expert in no time.”

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    Abigail understands, too, that some families work with tight grocery budgets.

    “Let me quote Publishers Weekly’s review of my book on this. As the reviewer puts it, the great thing about the cookbook is that it’s doable and ingredients are readily available (and may already be in your pantry) and are quite familiar to anyone acquainted with Asian cuisine. It saves you money and time spent at the grocery because you don’t need to keep buying a lot of ingredients because many of the recipes share so many common ingredients (for example seasoning sauces like soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce, etc). None would be wasted in that sense and no need to buy one particular ingredient just for one dish.”

    Abigail also recommends buying from neighborhood markets “not only to get the freshest ingredients to use but to get them at a cheaper price, too. Make a canvass of stores that sell the ingredients you need at reasonable prices. With a little planning, there’s no need to blow your budget to make the yummiest rice and noodle dishes!”

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    Asian recipes perfect for family reunions

    To get you started, Abigail shared with SmartParenting.com.ph three recipes from her cookbook that will make lovely additions to your get-together with family and friends.

    Goi Cuon (Vietnamese Fresh Spring Rolls)

    These yummy Vietnamese spring rolls can be the perfect appetizers for your holiday party!
    PHOTO BY courtesy of Abigail Sotto-Raines

    I love assembling these classic Vietnamese spring rolls these rolls with my little girl — she  loves to pile on the veggies, meat and shrimp and then roll the rice paper — all on her own. If my 9-year-old can make these spring rolls, surely anyone can and it’s certainly a great way to bond over good food! Perfect as party appetizers and best eaten on the day it is made.

    Serves 8 (16 rolls)


    • 1 tbsp (15 ml) cooking oil of choice 3 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1⁄2 cup (120 ml) hoisin sauce1 cup (240 ml) water
    • 1⁄2 cup + 2 tbsp (112 g) peanut butter, plain or chunky
    • 2 tbsp (25 g) sugar
    • 2 tbsp (30 g) roasted peanuts, crushed6 oz (170 g) dried rice vermicelli
    • 1 small head green lettuce, chopped
    • 1 lb (455 g) medium prawns or shrimps, cooked and peeled
    • 1 oz (28 g) basil leaves1 oz (28 g) cilantro leaves
    • 1 oz (28 g) mint leaves1 medium carrot, peeled and julienned
    • 8 oz (225 g) pork belly or pork loin, boiled in salted water until cooked then thinly sliced
    • 1 (8-inch [22-cm]) pack round rice paper sheets (banh trang), about 16 pieces


    1. Heat the oil in a small saucepan over low heat. Add the minced garlic and cook until golden brown. Add the hoisin sauce, water, peanut butter and sugar. Stir well to combine. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 to 8 minutes or until slightly thickened. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if desired. Spoon the sauce into a bowl and garnish with the crushed peanuts.
    2. Cook the rice vermicelli in boiling water for 3 to 4 minutes or just until tender. Rinse under cold water then drain well.
    3. Place the rice noodles, lettuce, prawns, basil, cilantro, mint, carrot and pork on a platter or in small bowls at the table where you will assemble the spring rolls. Have a large wooden cutting board or big plate on hand for rolling. In a bowl or pan large enough to accommodate the rice paper, add room-temperature water.
    4. To assemble the rolls, dip one sheet of rice paper into the water, submerging the paper entirely. Remove the rice paper immediately, shake off any excess water and lay it flat on the cutting board or platter. Place some chopped lettuce on the bottom edge of the rice paper and three prawns side by side above the lettuce. Leave about 2 inches (5 cm) on either side. Place a couple of leaves from any or all of the herbs, a few carrot slices and a small portion of the rice vermicelli on top of the lettuce. Place a long thin slice of the pork on top of the shrimp.
    5. Roll the bottom edge of the rice paper up over the fillings, then fold both sides into the middle. Roll again until you reach the top edge of the rice paper then place in a large platter, seam side down. Repeat until all the ingredients are all used up. Serve with the peanut sauce on the side.
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    Moo Sarong (Fried Pork Balls Wrapped in Noodles)

    Even your kiddos will have fun helping you make Moo Sarong!
    PHOTO BY courtesy of Abigail Sotto-Raines

    These Thai meatballs are not only great as party nibbles but also quite fun to make. Kids and adults will have fun wrapping noodles around the meatballs. Thread the meatballs with toothpicks to serve as an appetizer and pair with a sweet chili dip or even Sriracha for some spicy kick!


    Serves 8 to 10 (20 balls)


    • 4 cloves garlic, minced
    • 2 tbsp (30 g) fresh cilantro or coriander roots, chopped
    • 1⁄2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
    • 8 oz (225 g) ground pork or beef
    • 2 dried wood ear mushrooms, rehydrated, tough parts removed then finely chopped (see note)
    • 1⁄4 cup (35 g) water chestnuts, drained and chopped
    • 1 egg, beaten1 tsp salt
    • 8 oz (225 g) fresh egg or wheat noodles (thin wonton noodles)
    • 2 cups (480 ml) cooking oil of your choice, for frying
    • Sweet chili sauce (like Sriracha), for serving


    • In a food processor or using a mortar and pestle, grind the garlic, cilantro and black pepper into a paste. Mix this with the ground pork, mushrooms, water chestnuts, egg and salt. Alternatively, you can mix all the ingredients for the meatballs in a food processor.
    • Using a rounded tablespoon shape the meat mixture into balls. Wrap each ball with the noodles, a few strands at a time, making sure that the entire meatball is fully covered.
    • Working in batches, in a saucepan deep fry the meatballs in hot oil over medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes or until golden brown all over. Drain on paper towels to remove excess oil. Serve hot or at room temperature. Serve with sweet chili dip or Sriracha sauce on the side.

    NOTE: To rehydrate the wood ear mushrooms, soak them in hot water for 15 to 20 minutes or until fully hydrated and soft. Rinse well, remove the tough stem then coarsely chop.

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    Ondeh Ondeh (Sweet Potato and Rice Balls)

    Craving for something sweet? Ondeh Ondeh is a dish you might want to try making!
    PHOTO BY courtesy of Abigail Sotto-Raines

    Now for something sweet! These little rice balls cooked in boiling water then rolled in shredded coconut are addictive. One bite and you’ll see why! There’s a hidden sweet surprise inside these little nibbles of deliciousness. Ondeh Ondeh are quite fun to make with the kids, too. This dish is a childhood favorite in Southeast Asia.

    Serves 8 (28 balls)


    • 2–3 medium-sized purple or orange sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced
    • 1 cup (125 g) sticky or glutinous rice flour
    • 2–4 tbsp (30–60 ml) coconut milk or water
    • 1⁄2 cup (100 g) shaved dark palm or coconut sugar (see Notes)
    • 4 cups (1 L) water, or more as needed
    • 1 cup (75 g) flaked or shredded coconut, steamed (see Notes)


    1. Steam the sweet potatoes over rapidly boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes or until tender. Mash the cooked potatoes then measure about 11⁄2 cups (375 g). (You may have some left over.) Mix the mashed potatoes with the rice flour. Pour the coconut milk or water, 1 tablespoon (15 ml) at a time, into the potato and flour mixture and knead until a smooth, pliable dough forms.
    2. Scoop out about 1 tablespoon (15 g) of the dough and shape it into a small ball, creating a well or hollow space in the center using both thumbs. Place about 3⁄4 to 1 teaspoon of shaved palm sugar in the center. Fold the edges up over the sugar and reshape into a ball. Make sure that the sugar does not leak out on any side. Repeat until all the dough is used up. Set aside.
    3. Fill a medium saucepan about halfway with the water. Bring the water to a boil over medium heat then gently drop the balls into the water, working in batches. Cook for 3 minutes or until the balls begin to float to the surface. Scoop the floating rice balls out with a strainer and shake off the excess water, then roll in the flaked coconut.
    4. Serve warm or at room temperature.

    NOTES: Palm sugar in blocks are sold in most Asian stores. Get the dark-colored palm sugar if available. Shave or grate the blocks for use in this recipe. If using dried coconut, simply steam over rapidly boiling water for 15 minutes to rehydrate.

    RICE.NOODLES.YUM. is available at Fully Booked branches or you can get your copy online from Amazon. Join Abigail when she launches her book for Filipino readers on December 21, 6:30 pm at The Forum, Fully Booked Bonifacio High Street, B6, Bonifacio Global City.  You can get your personal copy signed and sample dishes from her cookbook too!

    Click here to healthy nutritionist-approved dishes you can make for your child.

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