Tuesday, November 21, 2017

[Recipe] Guinataang Sitaw at Kalabasa (Squash and Longbeans in Coconut Milk)

I have loved this dish as far back as I can remember. As a child my mother used to make this dish and she would make it in such a way that the squash is mashed up almost like a thick paste. I have to admit that I only learned to appreciate longbeans when I was a little bit older.

As a twist to this classic filipino dish, I have incorporated some taba ng talangka (river crab fat) and tuyo flakes. The crab fat  helps provide additional flavor since you won't get much from the dried shrimps. I associate this dish being paired with pinakas na bisugo (butterflied, salted and dried threadfin bream) or something equaly intense in flavor so that is the idea behind adding tuyo flakes to this dish to provide a salty counterpoint to the rich and creamy coconut milk.

Actually there are a lot of dishes in filipino cuisine which plays with this concept of contrasting flavor. You have kare-kare paired with bagoong, tsamporado with tuyo, manga at bagoong, ensaladang kamatis at itlog na maalat, just to name a few.

1 Kilo kalabasa or squash (peeled and diced)
1/2 sitaw or longbeans (cut into 2 inch segments)
400 ml gata or coconut milk
2 pieces medium sized onion (roughly chopped)
3 cloves garlic (minced)
100 grams hibe or dried peeled shrimps
Fish sauce, ground black peppercorn (to taste)
Optional to enhance flavor:
2 Tablespoons taba ng talangka or bottled river crab fat
1 Tablespoon tuyo flakes or dried salted fish flakes

In a large saucepan, saute the onion and garlic in oil until they start to caramelize. Add the dried shrimp (hibe) and cook for another minute. At this point, add the crab fat and mix together cooking for another minute. Add 1/4 cup of water and the diced squash. Cover the pan and let it simmer in low heat until the squash is tender stirring it from time to time. You have the option to cook the squash until it starts to dissintegrate (other people prefer to mash the squash a little so that it forms a lumpy paste - this results in a dish that has a more intense squash flavor for those who prefer it). Stir in the coconut milk and simmer for another 5 minutes. Place the longbeans in the pan and cook further until the longbeans are cooked and the coconut milk has thickened a bit. You will know when the longbeans are cooked by biting into it. It should still retain some of the crunch and yet none of that raw taste left. Season with fish sauce, ground black peppercorns and optionally add in about a Tablespoon of dried salted fish flakes to add flavor.

Serve with freshly cooked rice.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

[Review] Bulalo Fiesta

Located in North Fairview in Quezon City, this 24 hour open restaurant serves a variety of filipino dishes with a speciality for the iconic filipino favorite, the bulalo (what else).  

What is bulalo? You may ask. Well, bulalo is simply described as tender beef shanks (complete with the bone - in fact bulalo would not be complete without having some of the delicious bone marrow) in clear broth. It is usually cooked until the beef shank is very tender until the cartilages and tendons become soft and the flavors infuse into the broth.

Bulalo at its simplest form is just really tender beef shank in clear broth

Although said to have originated in the Cavite and Batangas area (since these places have a tradition of raising cattle - I still remember growing up that a trip to Tagaytay is not complete without passing by the meat shops in the area), bulalo is almost widely available anywhere in the Philippines where it has been tweaked and adapted to the local culinary traditions. There are a lot of versions of bulalo as the recipe would differ from region to region. Arguably, you may group bulalo with a number of local recipes that essentially features boiled beef in broth such as nilagang baka (uses other cuts of beef and cooked until tender, nilaga just means to boil), pocherong baka (the broth in this dish is red and is a bit sweeter since it contains some tomato sauce and chunks of saba banana a starchy banana similar to plantain), sinigang na baka (beef in sour broth - typically using tamarind as souring agent and usually with eggplant, kangkong and sitaw as the accompanying ingredients), kansi (an ilonggo dish that is somewhat similar to bulalo and sinigang na baka in that it usually uses beef shank and typically uses batwan and libas as souring agents). Even in the area where it purportedly originated (Batangas and Cavite area), there could be slight variations to this dish. Some would cook it very simply with minimal other ingredients such as cabbage or pechay (bok choy) and whole black peppercorns but others would include corn on the cob, boiled potatoes, sitaw (long beans).

Bulalo na may batwan at libas with fresh coconut

If you want to experience this regional variations without having to jump from one place to another just to sample their version of this dish, then I suggest you head on over to the Bulalo Fiesta restaurant. They have quite an impressive selection of different types of bulalo inspired by the different iterations of the dish. Not only that but they have a lot of other interesting menu items.

Piniritong Sinaing na Tulingan with green mango, tomato and onions on the side

If I will be forced to pick my favorites, it will definitely be the bulalo sa batwan at libas. Reminiscent of the ilonggo kansi, this dish have just the right amount of sourness that makes me want to finish the whole broth by myself (being an ilonggo myself, I may be a bit biased). Also very tasty is their crispy pig ears, but then again who can resist crispy pig ears?

Crispy pig ears with spiced vinegar dipping sauce

The price is also quite surprisingly affordable and I still cannot imagine how they are surviving being open 24 hours (I guess a lot more people crave for bulalo whenever they get the munchies in the middle of the night than I thought).

Lechon Kawali (crispy pork belly strip) with liver sauce

Highly recommended place. I would go there over and over again. If only the traffic jam during rush hour isn’t so horrendous these days. :\

Green mango strips with ginisang bagoong at kamatis

A big vat of "sinamak" or visayan spiced vinegar is prominently displayed in the dining area

Saturday, November 18, 2017

[Recipe] Apan-apan

Apan-apan is an Ilonggo dish closely related to adobong kangkong. What distinguishes them is the addition of the guinamos or bagoong while cooking the onion and garlic. This imparts a distinctive flavor to the dish. It is also slightly sweeter than adobong kangkong. The way I usually cook it is with crispy fried dried dilis (anchovies) while others will top it with lechon kawali (crispy fried pork belly strips). I also added just enough ground dried chili to have that nice heat to the dish.

*Bonus information : "apan" means either locust or grasshopper in the Hiligaynon language.

**Disclaimer : no grasshoppers were harmed in the making of this dish.

2 big bunches of Kangkong, stalk cut into 2 inch segments
1 pc medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon guinamos/bagoong alamang
5 Tablespoons suka (white vinegar)
2 Tablespoons Toyo (salty soy sauce)
3 Tablespoon oyster sauce
1 Tablespoon coconut sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Optional ingeredients: pieces of crispy fried pork belly or crispy fried dried anchovies as toppings
ground dried chilli to add a little heat if desired


This is a very quick dish to cook. In a large pan (Wok is preferred) fry the anchovies or pork belly until crispy and set aside. Using the same pan with the oil used in frying, sauté the garlic and onions until caramelized. Add the guinamos and continue stir frying until well mixed (the odor of the cooking guinamos will also be unmistakeable).

Place the kangkong in the pan and stir fry for about 3 to 5 minutes. Pour in about 1/4 cup of water and place the rest of the ingredients. Let it simmer covered for another 3 to 5 minutes (this will depend if you want your kangkong stalks to have a bit of crunch when you bite on them).

Place the optional toppings on top when you plate. Serve as a side dish or enjoy it on its own.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

[Recipe] Revisiting my Cashew Kare-Kare Recipe

Kare-kare is one of those dishes that I can't help but crave for from time to time. It has been a while since I have made my first attempt at cooking cashew Kare-kare so I decided to give it another go. I have to admit that growing up, this is not a usual dish that you would expect to be served in an ilonggo household but we do enjoy it occassionally at restaurants when we eat out.

I have encountered at least one friend from my hometown with absolutely no idea how to eat Kare-kare and have declared that it is probably the blandest dish he has ever tasted (at the time we were freshmen at Uni in Metro Manila having just graduated highschool in the Visayas). The secret of course is just adding enough of that salty/strong tasting bagoong alamang (sautéed fermented shrimp paste) in each and every bite to get the perfect balance as per your own preference.

I suppose a lot of filipino dishes are like that especially those that have sawsawan (dipping sauce) or classically paired condiments. The diner has the power to vary the taste of each bite to suit his palate.

Since the bagoong alamang is such an integral part of the dish, it can make or break a Kare-kare dish. Alamang by the way are very small shrimps (Krill?) caught in the sea. My favorite is bagoong alamang that is not so overpoweringly salty and sautéed with garlic and onion with just the hint of sweetness and heat. Others would fry a bit of pork fat and use the rendered oil to sauté the bagoong. This adds another dimension to the taste.


1/2 kilo beef tripe (cleaned and cut into strips)
2 big onions, roughly chopped 
6 cloves garlic, minced 
1 piece large eggplant sliced about half inch thickness 
2 bunches Pechay/Bok Choy (chinese chard or chinese white cabbage) with the base cut 
1/2 cup Sitaw (long beans), broken into 3 inch segments 
1 whole banana heart, properly prepared and roughly chopped *
2 Tablespoon vegetable oil 
1 teaspoon annato seeds (atsuete)
3/4 Cup unsweetened peanut butter (you can make your own by pounding roasted peanuts into a paste)
1 Cup Toasted Cashew Nuts (lightly browned in pan with no oil), turned into a paste using a mortar and pestle (leave some larger pieces if you like to have some crunch)
2 teaspoons Spanish Paprika  
optional: water used in washing rice used to slightly thicken sauce or alternatively corn starch**
Bagoong Alamang (sautéed fermented shrimp paste) as side dish


Tripe may be purchased in a meatshop or grocery pre-cleaned and pre-cooked but usually you may need to cook it further in a pressure cooker until sufficiently tender. I would also advice discarding the water after the first boil just to minimize the typical tripe smell. Once cooked, drain and set aside.

In a medium skillet, dry pan roast the cashew until lightly browned. Turn into paste in a mortar and pestle and set aside. You may want to leave some large pieces if you want a bit of crunch in your sauce later.

* Refer to my previous post on how to prepare a banana heart for cooking in this link.

** An optional prep is to have some water used to wash rice set aside to help thicken the sauce.

In a medium sized pot, heat the oil in low heat and place the annatto seeds. Let the color infuse to the oil being careful not to burn the annatto seeds which would impart a bitter taste. Remove the annatto seeds and use the oil to sauté the onion and minced garlic until caramelized. Place the beef tripe and sauté for a few more minutes. Add some water (optionally can be the rice washing described earlier) just enough to completely cover the meat and let it boil. Upon boiling lower the heat and place the drained banana heart into the pot and let it simmer to soften for approximately 15 minutes. Place the unsweetened peanut butter, paprika and cashew paste and make sure you dissolve it into the broth. Stir constantly at this point as it may burn at the bottom. Add the eggplant, pechay and sitaw and simmer for an additional 5 minutes or so or until the long-beans have been slightly cooked (still have that crunch and yet does not have that "raw" taste anymore). Turn off the heat. 

Serve piping hot with some of the sautéed bagoong alamang on a separate smaller bowl.

Note that this dish is intentionally bland as you typically eat this with the salty bagoong alamang. Place a bit of the shrimp paste on the side of your plate and try putting just a small amount per mouthfull. Adjust to your taste. Best served with freshly cooked white rice.

Preparing a Banana Heart for Cooking

Preparing the banana heart is easy. I actually didn't know how to prepare it properly the first few times I have used it and ended up with a lot of the tough pistil in the dish.

You start by peeling off the tough outer part of the banana heart (only the outermost should be enough as we will still cook it so we don't have to worry if the succeeding layers is still a bit tough). You can peel the heart layer by layer and fully submerge the pieces in a bowl of water with a little salt and vinegar to prevent them from oxidizing too much (not that it really matters much but too much oxidation will give the banana heart a dark hue).

Inside the heart you will notice a row of flowers nestled in between the layers. Remove the flowers and place them in a separate bowl (also with the vinegar salt mixture to prevent discoloration). You can prepare these flowers by discarding the matchstick like pistils in the middle. These are very tough and are inedible.

A cross section of the banana heart

Continue to go in layer by layer until you reach the tender innermost core which will look a lot lighter than the rest. Roughly cut the banana heart sheaths and cut the remaining heart core into half an inch thick pieces.