Try a simply elegant blanched salad or savory sari-sari stew
By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor
By Wanda A. Adams
At Emmie Anderson's Pearlridge home, an unfancy Filipino meal still seems pretty elaborate — a gorgeous salad of fresh sayote (chayote vine) tops, a pair of vegetable stews, pork and peas, mung beans with vegetables, rice, fried pork belly with relish, and two desserts.
But the president of the Filipino Women's League acknowledges that a more typical menu would include a salad, a fish or meat dish and one or two vegetable dishes, with dessert optional.
This menu includes some of the dishes that Emmie and her friend, Edna Butay, whipped up in a two-hour cooking marathon.
This salad, typical of those served daily in Filipino homes, could find its way onto the menu of any high-end East-West restaurant. It's that good and that interesting. It's also simple. Typically, the salad is made with the freshest and most succulent shoots, leaves or blossoms, which are always quickly blanched to take off the raw edge but leave a crisp texture. Experiment and choose something you like. The watercress option I've included is for the timid — or in case you're unable to get to a store where you can buy Filipino produce. You can substitute cherry, grape or Roma tomatoes. Use a light fish sauce for this and taste as you go.
Pick over the greens, trimming away tough stems and selecting the tender shoots and leaves. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil; drop the vegetables into the water and blanch 1-2 minutes. Drain and immediately plunge into ice-water bath, place under cold running water or throw ice over the hot vegetables to stop the cooking. In a medium bowl, toss together all ingredients, taste and correct seasonings. If you like, serve with a plate of halved calamansi so diners can squeeze a little calamansi juice over the salad.
Edna Butay, whose family owns North Star Deli and Sausage, demonstrated the preparation of a typical Filipino vegetable stew, sari-sari. But if you're thinking that vegetables mean low-fat, think again. The secret to the silky flavor of this dish is a good sprinkling of chopped chicharron (also known as sitsaron) — fatty pork belly that's been boiled and then deep-fried in lard. Twice. Then salted generously. Sold in delis and at meat counters in Filipino stores, this meat is both an ingredient and a dish on its own. It also is served chopped into bite-size pieces, piping hot (from the microwave, in these modern times) with a biting relish of chopped raw onion, garlic and tomato with vinegar or calamansi juice, or with a vinegar-clove-garlic dip.
Sari-sari uses many of the favorite vegetables of Hawai'i's Ilocano population: long squash (white squash), okra, long beans, winged beans, eggplant and pumpkin (kabocha or other type). The vegetables were peeled as needed and cut into 1-inch chunks, the long beans broken into 3-inch lengths, the winged beans trimmed of their tips and broken in half crosswise.
As with so many cuisines, Filipino entrees very often begin with a "holy trinity": Garlic, onion and tomato, or garlic, onion and ginger, sauteed in vegetable oil. Butay doesn't bother to chop ginger or garlic: She just peels it, lays the flat side of her knife on top and then gives the knife a brisk punch with her fist. (You can also use a heavy Chinese cleaver.)
This dish should develop a little tomato gravy at the bottom, but not be soupy. The vegetables will release liquid as they cook.
In a large stew pot or dutch oven, heat vegetable oil and sautee ginger, garlic and tomato until garlic is limp and translucent. Add roast pork and stir-fry a couple of minutes. Add vegetables, starting with the ones that take longest to cut, gradually adding in the more delicate ones. As you add the first vegetables, also add tomato paste and patis. Stir, partly cover and cook, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking and adding a little water if needed. When the vegetables are almost tender, add shrimp, stir and cook until shrimp is pink and fully cooked. Taste and correct seasonings. Serve hot.
Makes 6 servings.
Guisantes is a recipe with Spanish roots and comes from the Tagalog region, although it has wide acceptance throughout the country. The flavor varies, depending on the preference of the cook: It can be mild enough to please children's timid palates or much more peppery, spicy and heavily nuanced. Some use tomato sauce, some tomato paste — the latter gives a more pronounced tomato flavor. The dish actually is delicious without the tomato; just omit that step. Bay leaf, often called laurel since it comes from the bay laurel tree, is a Filipino favorite.
The recipe also illustrates a technique common in Filipino cooking: separating the fat from the lean pieces in a cut of pork, then rendering the fat for use in the recipe before adding other ingredients.
This recipe is based on Mary Pascua's dish from "Hawaii Filipinas Favorite Recipes," but I've upped the garlic, bay leaf and pepper considerably, since I prefer a spicier dish. Emmie Anderson adds a good scattering of lemon pepper to this dish, as she does to many others, and uses mixed frozen vegetables (peas, corn, carrots), instead of just peas.
Separate the fat from the lean in the pork and slice the pork into stir-fry-size pieces. In a large saute pan, dutch oven or wok over high heat, saute pork fat until melted and drain off excess. (You don't need much more than a couple of teaspoons.) Reduce heat to medium-high and add garlic, bay leaves, salt, peppercorns, onion and lean pork. Stir-fry for 5 minutes or so, until pork is cooked. Add water and simmer until it is evaporated. Add tomato paste and pimento; simmer for a minute or so. Finally, add peas, stirring carefully to break up frozen clumps. Simmer briefly until the peas are bright green; Serve hot with rice.
Makes 4 servings.
Fish is a favorite in Filipino homes, and none more common than bangus (milkfish), although in Hawai'i, akule also is frequently enjoyed. A typical preparation is to grill or fry fish, then serve it in a hot sauce of garlic, onion and tomato flavored with bagoong or patis, shoyu and vinegar. Tart flavors — vinegar, citrus, tamarind — are used to balance the fish flavors. Here's a recipe for marinated bangus. You can buy fresh or frozen bangus at Pacific Supermarket, 94-300 Farrington Highway in Waipahu, and other grocery stores that carry Philippines ingredients. Substitute akule in this dish, if you like. This recipe is from Nena Balcorta. Use a good cane vinegar from the Philippines for a more interesting flavor.
Remove all bones from fish. Combine calamansi or vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper and pour over bangus in a nonreactive container. Refrigerate to marinate overnight. Drain and pan-fry fish in hot vegetable oil.
Makes 4 servings.
When Anderson asked what I'd prefer for dessert — mochi balls or lumpia, her daughter, Johnelle, leapt in with an answer. "Monkeyball stew!" she said. This is the family name for the coconut-milk tapioca pudding that is otherwise known as ginataan or tombo-tombo. It's ridiculously easy to make and quite delicious, especially when it's fresh and warm. The "monkeyballs" are tender dumplings of rice flour and coconut milk that float in the pudding. Ginataan has been described as "roots and fruits cooked in coconut milk," because, besides bottled, sweetened fruit and fresh fruit, the dish usually contains sweet potato and sometimes taro or plantain. Fresh, firm regular or apple bananas may be added.
In a saucepan, boil 2 cups water and drop in tapioca; simmer 20 minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking. Remove from heat and allow tapioca to sit, covered.
In another saucepan, boil purple sweet potato in water to cover until just tender, not mushy. Drain and reserve.
Combine 1/2 cup coconut milk with 1 cup mochiko to form a soft but malleable dough. Pinch off bits and roll 1/2-inch balls with fingers of one hand in the palm of the other. Place the balls on a dish or square of waxed paper dusted with mochiko. Reserve.
In a large pot, combine remaining coconut milk with 1 cup water and bring to a boil; simmer briskly, stirring often, for about 10-15 minutes. Add mochi balls and cook until they rise to the surface and become a bit transparent — 10 minutes or so. Finally, add tapioca, cooked sweet potato and drained halo halo mix and and cook until heated through. Makes 10-12 servings.
Reach Wanda A. Adams at email@example.com.