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Our Canned Thanksgiving

You’re probably wondering why I’m blogging about Thanksgiving when it’s the middle of springtime. I assure you there is a reason for this. You see, this recipe is actually perfect anytime of the year. It’s a light and easy dish that features fish, therefore it's great for these warmer months approaching. Here goes…

The year my parents did not prepare, otherwise known as- Our Canned Thanksgiving.

“Diak maawatan!” my mom said. “Manganen!” my dad said to the rest of us, ignoring her.

I heard my parents fighting about something, but other than the fact that it was Thanksgiving and we were hungry my sisters and I weren’t really interested in what was happening. My Nanay, 2 older sisters, and myself were sitting in the connecting family room watching Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, when we heard a pot fall on the ground. My parents began bickering back and forth again in Ilocano, our native language, that I did not understand. We glanced at each other half-confused and half-laughing, still unsure of what was happening between my parents.

Then, I heard a knife hit the cutting board. And as the arguing continued, the aromas of chopped onion and garlic got stronger. My father covered the rice in the steamer with cold water from the tap then handed it to my mother, who took the pot without looking at him.

“You're the cook,” she complained, “how come you didn’t have anything ready?”

Then, in a swift motion, mom passed to dad an unopened can of sardines, and with a flick of his wrist, dad had peeled back the thin aluminum opening and over the sink he drained the fish of the oil it had been canned with.

“You never help me, you’d think you’d help today or at least go to the grocery store, ' my father said with shoulders shrugged."

Then, in my mom’s defense, she quickly replied with her hands in the air, “You didn’t even tell me what to buy! I could have gone to the store after work yesterday! Or YOU could have went after work.”

At this my dad grabbed a few vegetables and started chopping away. The sound of the knife hitting the cutting board was fast and startling, almost unpleasant. I looked over towards my parents, they were frazzled and scrambling to put food on the table. Yet, what I noticed was that even when they were annoyed with each other, they still worked as a team. I thought that was neat.

As the food was cooking, my sisters and I noticed that the food smelled like fish, which is an uncommon aroma for Thanksgiving.

My nosy middle sister Marjie, turns towards my parents and says, “Ummmmm what’s that smell?”

“Your dad didn’t prepare Thanksgiving dinner. We have to eat sardines!” my mom said, with a sarcastic tone and eyes rolled.

“SARDINES???” My sisters and I shouted in unison.

“But we have sardines all the time.” I said, tantrum-like.

“Heather! Stop being so ungrateful!” shouted Phyllis, my eldest sister.

“That’s what we’re having. Take it or leave it.” Mom said.

Now, we couldn’t order out because, restaurants were closed and surprisingly, for a Filipino home we didn't have much food in the house. And to top it off, it didn't feel like Thanksgiving in Chicago anyway. It was relatively warm out, and no signs of impending snowfall. So even if we did have a turkey, it wouldn’t really matter because it wasn’t typical "holiday weather” in Chicago. And that’s honestly the only time of year we eat turkey anyway.

“Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!” Shouted my dad. He turns and looks at my mom, grabs her hand and says, “Happy thanksgiving my beautiful wife.” My mom smiled, blushed, looked at the rest of her family, and then picked up her fork.

Phyllis, Marjie, and I slowly sauntered towards the table where we took our prospective seats. A big bowl of rice, a few bowls of stewed sardines, and a couple plates of sautéed bok choy dressed our feast that evening. Steam rose from the bowls and the delicate aromas of the dishes smelled quite lovely. The sweet scent of caramelized onions and tomatoes off set the pungent aroma of the sardines and it smelled appetizing.

And so it was, our Epic Canned Thanksgiving Dinner - sardines from a can with sauteed onions and tomatoes, bok choy, and rice. It was quick, inexpensive, packed with Omega-3’s, and surprisingly quite tasty.

Sardines are not a common delicacy to prepare, however they should be because they’re loaded with nutrients. A single 3 oz serving of sardines contains 23 grams of protein and 11 grams of healthy unsaturated fats. Perfect for the keto diet! They also have minimal levels of mercury and are high in calcium.

The recipe I’ve created is of course the clean version of what my parents’ made us, but for those who are not quite ready to open up this can of sardines, I will also provide for you a protein substitute that fits well into this recipe.

Wild Sardines with Stewed Tomatoes, Bok Choy, and Brown Rice


  • 2 cans of wild sardines packed in olive oil

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

  • 2 tablespoons of coconut oil, divided

  • 1 small red onion, sliced

  • 2 cups of grape tomatoes, sliced lengthwise

  • 1 bunch of bok choy, rinsed and chopped horizontally (inch thick pieces with the stem/root chopped off

  • 1 tablespoon low-sodium fish sauce, divided

  • 1 cup of brown rice, uncooked

  • Himalayan salt to taste

  • Black pepper to taste

Prep time: 15 minutes Cook time: 20 minutes Yields: 4


  1. Prepare all vegetables as listed above. Get spices and condiments measured out and ready to be used.

  2. Place 2 cups of water with the 1 cup of rice in a medium sized pot over medium-high heat. Once the water boils, turn the heat down to low, and cover with a lid. Cook for 40-45 minutes. Turn the heat off and let it stand for 5 minutes. Fluff with fork. Set aside.

  3. Place a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Once the pan gets hot add 1 tablespoon of coconut oil. Once the oil melts add all of the chopped bok choy and garlic. Stir with tongs. Sprinkle in a pinch of pepper, and 1 tablespoon of fish sauce. Bok choy cooks quickly so make sure to keep an eye on it. Fold the garlic with the bok choy so the garlic doesn’t burn. Once all of your leaves turn bright green, turn off the heat. Transfer bok choy to a separate plate and set aside.

  4. Place the same pan over medium-heat. Add the remaining coconut oil. Once the oil melts, add onions and tomatoes. Stir. Allow the onions to caramelize. Turn heat down slightly to medium-low and let the moisture of the tomatoes to release forming a stew. Add just a slight pinch of pepper and the rest of the fish sauce. Turn off heat. Taste it before adding any salt. If it needs salt just add a pinch because there is already salt in the fish sauce and sardines.

  5. Plate is ready to be assembled. Open up both cans of sardines, slowly drain the oil out of the sardine cans. Place the rice on the plate and layer it with the stewed tomatoes. With a spoon, slowly spoon out the sardines one by one and layer it on top of the stewed tomatoes. Each plate should get about 8-10 sardines. Serve with a side of bok choy.


Replace salmon with sardines if you don’t like sardines. Bake a pound (4 servings) of salmon sprinkled with salt, pepper, and lemon slices at 400 degrees for 25 minutes.

Paleo option: Replace rice with finely chopped cauliflower. Roast the chopped cauliflower at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

Vegan option: Replace sardines with toasted nuts and seeds – about 1 cup serving

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