Filipino food

Garlic, vinegar and soy sauce simmering on the stove: the scent of my grandmother’s signature adobo dominated my childhood. It signaled that something special was about to happen, perhaps a big family celebration, though, the appearance of adobo on our table was a sort of celebration in itself. Made of chunks of chicken and pork marinated and then cooked for hours, it was always fork tender, a savory treat that left you burping garlic for days.

Adobo is the national dish of the Philippines. You can’t read a story about Filipino cooking without finding a recipe for it. Case in point:

Unfortunately, Filipino food as a whole is largely overlooked. I’m guilty of doing so in my own kitchen and I grew up with it. Every time my sister and I cook Filipino food we look at each other across the table and say, “Why don’t we do this more often?”

Some think it could be the next Thai or Korean food, and I wouldn’t be surprised. Filipino food is one of the earliest fusion cuisines, blending the available indigenous plants with the cooking techniques of their Spanish colonizers (which included my ancestors). Though it can be easily adapted to less adventurous palates, authentic Filipino food consists of a healthy dose of tripe, foot and pig blood, perfect for nose to tail eating. It’s also about as diverse as the archipelago that it comes from. Recipes and techniques vary from island to island, and they all claim that their’s is the “authentic” way.

Folks on the west coast seem to have ample options, but around here there’s really only one: JNJ Turo Turo in Quincy. Despite the fact that there are almost 12,000 Filipinos in Massachusetts, according to the 2000 Census, JNJ is the ONLY Filipino restaurant in New England. If you’ve never had Filipino food, JNJ is a great way to get introduced. Start off with some lumpia (little fried egg rolls) and then move onto the pancit (noodles). Their adobo isn’t as good as my grandmother’s, but it’ll do in a pinch. And they have plenty of the more exotic fare (what they call “super authentic”) like sisig: grilled and chopped pork, pork’s ears, and liver, seasoned with onions, hot peppers, ginger and lemon juice.

Your other option is to try cooking Filipino at home. There are tons of recipes for adobo on the internet, so I won’t give you another one here. Instead I’d encourage you to make something veg-heavy to go along with your adobo. Namely, mongo. Most of the Filipino recipes involving mung beans that I’ve seen are soupy, but in my family mongo has always been a side dish, sort of like a lentil.

In case you aren’t familiar with them, these are mung beans.

You can usually buy them at your local Asian market. You can also get them at the Surepinoy Food Market in Quincy, which is right next to JNJ Turo Turo (they have tons of other great Filipino foods as well), and I’m sure the H-Mart in Burlington has them.

The bag will look something like this and cost about $2.

What I like most about this recipe is that it’s got three kinds of greens in it, and hence is full of goodness. Though the recipe below calls for bok choy, I happened to have a big bunch of kale in the fridge that needed cooking, so I swapped it in. If you’re short on veg, it’s great with just one green (like spinach). But it’s amazing with three (I love greens!).

Of course, all these greens are going to look really hefty when you put them in a pot. You might wonder how on earth you’ll eat all that.

Don’t worry, it’ll cook down. See?

This takes about an hour to cook. Like I said, it’s great as a side for adobo. Or if you have a bunch of vegetarians coming over and need something hearty, this will definitely do the trick. (Hello, Meatless Monday?)

The other cool think about this is that aside from mung beans and a can of coconut milk, which you will use up in this recipe, you don’t need any special ingredients or spices. I hate it when I buy a jar of something for a recipe and then whatever is left just sits in the cabinet until kingdom come.

I hope you’ll give it a try and let me know how you like it. And if you’re interested in learning more about Filipino food, check out Burnt Lumpia, Market Manila and My Filipino Kitchen.

Mongo a la deLuzuriaga

2 cloves garlic, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 acorn squash OR 1 small butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1-inch pieces
8 cups vegetable OR chicken stock
2-3 cups mung beans
1 bunch Swiss chard, roughly chopped
1 lb spinach, washed
1 lb baby bok choy
1 14 oz. can coconut milk (optional)

Heat a splash of olive (or vegetable) oil in a large pot (probably the biggest one you have) and saute the diced garlic and onion. Let soften about two minutes and then add the squash. Stir around and let brown. Add half the stock, mung beans and greens, cover, and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook 30 to 45 minutes, adding more stock as it gets absorbed. When beans are tender, add coconut milk, if desired, and cook another 10 minutes. Serve as a side, or with rice as a main dish.


9 thoughts on “Filipino food

  1. As a guest at this dinner, I testify to its awesomeness! This was also one of those meals that made me think, “man, rice is great.”

  2. My mother makes a variant of this dish — where she dry roasts the mung-beans before placing them in the soup. The Kale and butternut squash are cool additions!

  3. Pingback: Chori burgers | The Musing Bouche

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