It is nearly impossible to be in a Filipino home without being offered something to eat. Since the period of postcolonial travel to the islands by Europeans, Filipinos have been documented for their enthusiastic hospitality. However, because their homes serve as the primary location for entertaining family, friends, and special guests, Filipino restaurants are scarce in comparison to those of other cultures. Fortunately, the art of Filipino cooking is simple to learn, whether you are new to the rich, exotic flavors of Philippine cuisine or you have acquired a taste for it. Just as Filipino culture has evolved over the centuries, the food has been affected by Malay, Spanish, and Chinese influences. The end result is a cuisine of its own, unique to Filipino custom. The recipes found throughout this month’s newsletter will take you through the various influences and familiarize you with some of the most popular Filipino dishes you can try for yourself. Malay Roots
The Malays were among the first inhabitants to migrate to the archipelago of over 7,000 islands. Some recipes that are considered indigenous to the Philippines have Malay roots dating back more than twenty thousand years. Many of these recipes use coconut or coconut milk as the primary ingredient. Pinakbet is one such dish believed to be Malay-influenced, filled with domestic ingredients. Using bits of pork and shrimp sautéed with vegetables, it is a traditional favorite at the Filipino supper table and festive enough to serve at a party. Rich in vegetables, it is healthy as well as delicious. The array of colorful ingredients served on a large, multicolored platter will brighten any meal.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 onion, cut into thin strips
½ pound pork, cut into small pieces
½ pound small shrimp (remove shells)
2 bunches string beans, cut into 2-inch strips
2 eggplants, cut into 2-inch strips, 1 inch wide
½ yellow squash, cut into 2-inch rectangular squares, 1 inch wide
½ pound okra
1 bitter melon, cut into 2-inch lengths (scrape out seeds and center)
2 tablespoons bagoong (see description below)
1 chicken breast, boiled (for chicken broth)
2 cups water
In two cups of water, boil breast of chicken until cooked. Set broth aside for later use (the chicken breast itself will not be used). In large pot, place 2 tablespoons of oil in medium heat. Add garlic, tomatoes, and onion and sauté for 2 minutes. Add pork and shrimp with one tablespoon of bagoong and stir all ingredients together for 5 minutes. Add 1 cup of chicken broth. Add string beans and half of your squash. Let ingredients simmer for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add eggplant and bitter melon and let simmer for another 3 minutes. Add okra and the rest of your squash, allow to simmer for 5 minutes. Add another tablespoon of bagoong and the second cup of chicken broth and cover until all the vegetables are fully cooked. Serves 6 to 8.
Spanish culture made the largest influence on Philippine fare, as approximately 80% of the food has Spanish roots. For almost 400 years, the Spanish had control in the Philippines, leaving a lasting effect that is apparent in Filipino cooking today. Many dishes have Spanish names, regardless of a Spanish connection. A basic technique to start off many Filipino dishes was introduced by the Spaniards: sautéing tomatoes, garlic, and onions in olive oil. The Spaniards also introduced sausages and dishes using meat and dairy. Beef was initially brought to the Philippines by Spanish ships, so many beef entrees are of Spanish origin. Such popular Filipino recipes are as follows. The first is a two-step recipe for Empanada, an ideal light, afternoon snack and a well-liked appetizer at gatherings. The inclusion of raisins is one example of variation from the Spanish original. Arrange the empanadas neatly stacked on a large serving platter and they are sure to disappear quickly.
Empanada (Meat Turnover)
(This recipes is taken from Reynaldo Alejandro’s cookbook, The Philippine Cookbook)
1 pound ground beef
1 clove garlic, minced, or ½ teaspoon garlic powder
1 small onion, minced
1 cup diced potatoes
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ cup seedless raisins
Step 1: Brown ground beef. Push meat to one side and sauté garlic until brown, then add onion. Mix the meat, garlic and onion, then add potatoes. Stir and cook until potatoes are tender. Season with salt and pepper and mix in raisins.
Pastry (Ready-made pie crust may also be used)
3 cups all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup water
1/3 cup oil
3 egg yolks (plus some egg whites for sealing empanadas)
Step 2: Mix and knead all ingredients until dough is soft. On a floured board, roll out 1/8 inch thick. Cut into 4- 5-inch diameter circles (use wide-mouthed jar or cup for cutting circles). Put a spoonful of meat filling in center of each circle. Fold to half-moon shape, wet edges with egg white, press and seal sides. Deep fry until golden brown and drain. Or, instead of deep frying, pies can be baked in preheated 425 degree F oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Makes 20 empanadas.
Though beef will never replace chicken, pork, and seafood as the primary ingredient in Filipino cooking, the following recipe is probably the most frequently used version of Filipino steak, flavored with lemon and soy sauce. It is the perfect accompaniment to a plate full of steaming, white rice.
2 pounds tender sirloin steak, cut into very thin slices
½ cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon patis (see description below)
dash of pepper, to taste
2 yellow onions, sliced into rings
2 tablespoons cooking oil
Marinate meat in the soy sauce, juice from lemon, pepper, and patis for at least 2 hours. Squeeze juices from each piece of meat and set sauce aside. Fry each piece of meat lightly on both sides in oil. Return all meat to skillet with sauce, place onions on top. Boil until fully cooked. Serves 6.
A Hint of Chinese
Sometime between 960 and 1127, Chinese goods began to make a steady flow into the Philippines and a long history of trade was underway. It is not difficult to find traces of Chinese influence in Filipino food, especially in the noodle dishes, called pansit, and in the ever-popular lumpia, a Filipino staple resembling Chinese egg rolls. Pansit and lumpia come in a variety of ways. Noodle types include bihon (rice or flour), sotanghon (bean), canton (egg), and misua (vermicelli). A sought after example of pansit is pansit malabon, prepared with shrimp, bits of pork, hard-boiled eggs, Chinese celery, green onion, and rice noodles. It is then seasoned with patis, black pepper, garlic, calamari sauce, annatto seeds (see description below), pork rind, and lemon juice. The varieties of lumpia include lumpia shanghai (small spring rolls filled with ground meat dipped in sweet and sour sauce), vegetable lumpia with meat, or lumpia sariwa (vegetables wrapped with fresh lumpia wrapper and covered with sauce). The following recipe for lumpia sariwa includes directions for fresh lumpia wrapper and sauce.
(This recipes is taken from Reynaldo Alejandro’s cookbook, The Philippine Cookbook)
½ pound shrimp
¼ pound pork, boiled for 15 minutes
1 can bamboo shoots or hearts of palm
10 lettuce leaves
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 medium-size onion, diced
salt and pepper to taste
fresh lumpia wrapper
Peel shrimp and cut into small pieces. Cut pork into small pieces. Cut bamboo shoots or hearts of palm into thin, long strips. Sauté garlic, diced onion, shrimp and pork, for about 10 minutes. Then add bamboo shoots or hearts of palm, salt and pepper to taste, and cook for another 5 minutes. Drain well. On a plate, lay wrapper flat, place a segment of lettuce leaf on wrapper, then put about 2 tablespoons of filling on top of lettuce leaf and roll wrapper. Seal with a little water and place edges down. Serve with sauce and crushed garlic.
Fresh Lumpia Wrapper
1 cup flour
1 cup water
Mix all ingredients until very smooth. Lightly grease a non-stick pan and heat. Brush mixture onto pan. When dough starts to come away from the pan, lift wrapper out carefully. It will not lift out if mixture is not done.
Lumpia sariwa sauce
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1/3 cup brown sugar
¼ cup soy sauce
1 ½ cups water
Combine cornstarch, sugar, soy sauce, and water. Cook 5 minutes over low heat, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. When done, serve with crushed garlic. Combined recipes make 10 pieces.
One Course Meal
Rather than serving a meal in courses, Filipinos traditionally serve all their dishes at once. This satisfies the Filipino taste for strong flavors and sharp contrasts, as the sweet, the salty, and the sour intermingle throughout any meal of the day. For breakfast, a warm, sweet, chocolate-flavored porridge can be served with salty, fried fish. For lunch, the Philippine export of milkfish topped with salted onion and tomato can be served with raw mangoes dipped in shrimp paste. For dinner, a sour, tamarind-based stew can be accompanied by sweet, fried bananas and adobo chicken cooked in vinegar, garlic, and soy sauce. Dipping saucers and small platters come in useful during this feasting, as a wide array of desserts and sauces are also present during mealtime. Philippine sauces/ingredients mentioned in the recipes above will be explained in the following ingredients section.
Some of the main ingredients used in Filipino cooking are virtually unheard of to many unfamiliar ears. Try something new and enjoy the culinary adventure. The ingredients below provide a sample of Filipino ingredients. A special trip to a Filipino or other oriental store will be necessary, however, as the ingredients will not be found at your neighborhood supermarket.
Bogoong-Shrimp paste made from small salted and fermented shrimp. Used for cooking or as a condiment. Available in a sautéed variety. Bagoong is usually bottled and is light pink in color. Sautéed variety will appear darker. Some brands are Pangasinan, and Dagupan. The sautéed variety comes in the Barrio brand. Clear bottles come in various sizes. The bagoong is to found in the refrigerated section.
Patis-Amber-colored Filipino fish sauce, made from salted and fermented fish. Similar to Thailand’s nam pla and Vietnam’s nuoc nam, but saltier than both. Can be substituted with salt for most recipes. Exported from the Philippines in plastic and glass bottles. A popular choice for patis is sold by Rufina in 750 ml bottles. You can find it on the shelf next to the Vietnamese and Thai variations.
Annatto seeds-Commonly known in the Philippines as atsuete or achiote. Small dark red seeds used mainly as food coloring by soaking in water or hot oil to extract red-orange color. Annatto seeds are sold in clear, plastic pouches.
Tamarind-The sweeter, ripe pods are eaten as a snack or used to make candy. These pods consist of a tan-colored, light shell covering the dark and sticky tamarind, connected within by a string of seeds. The unripe pod is used as a souring agent for soups and stews, such as the celebrated sinigang. Unripe tamarind is available in powdered form and conveniently pouched. Knorr is a brand that makes the Filipino export of tamarind soupbase. These green and yellow, 40 gram packages can even be found at the supermarket and have a picture of tamarind in the front, as well as the sinigang soup it makes.
Banana blossoms-Flower buds found within a banana pod can be used as a vegetable when sliced into wedges. It is used in kare kare, a national dish with a peanut-flavored sauce, and is a popular ingredient to combine with coconut milk.
Last But Not Least…
Dessert! While dessert is simultaneously served with every other course in the meal, it is something Filipinos cannot do without. Common ingredients and flavors found in Filipino desserts are milk, sugar, egg yolk, lemon, coconut milk, tropical fruits, vanilla, and various kinds of nuts. Iced desserts such as halo halo are a temporary relief from the tropical Philippine heat and are a typical midday snack. Halo halo, which is translated as mix-mix, consists of a variety of Philippine ingredients mixed together with crushed ice and ice cream. The bottled Filipino ingredients required to make halo halo are specifically sweetened. They can be found in a Filipino or oriental market. All of the bottled ingredients for halo halo mentioned in the newsletter are available in the Tropics brand.
1 bottle sweetened garbanzo beans
1 bottle sweetened jackfruit
1 bottle sweetened red mung beans
1 bottle kaong, or sweet palm
1 bottle sweetened white beans
sweetened plantain, directions below
fresh, thin strips of coconut, bottled variety can also be bought if coconut is not available
ice-cream, common flavors to use are ube (Filipino ice-cream made from sweet, purple yams), mango, or vanilla (evaporated milk can be used as a substitute for ice-cream)
For every 7 plantains (cut in small, circular strips), boil in 1 cup of water and 1 cup of brown sugar. Continue boil until a thick syrup forms.
For one serving of halo halo, place one tablespoon of each desired ingredient in a tall glass. It is suitable to use just two or three of the bottled ingredients, or to use them all. Cover generously with crushed ice and top with a scoop of ice-cream (recommended) or evaporated milk. Mix together and enjoy.
OUR 2003 NEWSLETTERS
Discover Your Cup of Tea
The Mythical of Dragon and Phoenix
The Art of Japanese Cuisine
The History and Art of Tea
A Taste of The Philippines
The Dimsum Experience, Part II
The Dimsum Experience, Part I
The Art of Paper Cutting
Feng Shui for the Home
New Year's in Asia