The recipes in this blog were handed down from my aunt and other family members and friends. I do not know where they originated but I would like to imagine that they came from my Lola Alfonsa who, in her time, was legendary for her culinary arts. Any similarities to your own recipe is purely coincidental and not intentional. The rights to this blog and its contents are reserved by the writer and may not be reproduced without written consent from the writer. However, you are free to use the recipes for personal use. Products resulting from these recipes may not be sold commercially.

Doña Alfonsa Garcia Sabalvaro

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Guisado - Stew of meat or vegetables that is cooked by simmering

Guisado is one of the most common dishes served on a Filipino table and the guinisa is the premier cooking method in the Philippines. It starts with sautéing garlic, onions and tomatoes in oil and adding meat and vegetables.  I believe this method originated from the Chinese stir fry cooking but the main trio of basic ingredients - garlic, onions and tomatoes are clearly a derivative from the Spainish sofrito. Other cuisines have a similar trio of base ingredients or aromatics that lends the distinct flavor to their food. The French has the mirepoix ( celery, onions, carrots) which Creole cooking also uses and calls the Holy Trinity. The Portuguese refogado (braised onions, garlic, tomato), Italian soffritto (onions, garlic, celery), German suppengrün (leek, carrot, celeriac) are more examples of 3 base ingredients used in cooking.

Guinisa is an easy and quick cooking technique and once learned is the basis of mastering Filipino cooking.

Basic Guisado
Basic Guisa Ingredients

Oil - I use canola oil or vegetable oil since it does not impart any additional taste to the food
Protein (ground beef, pork, sliced beef or pork or chicken, shrimp, tofu or a combination of two or more of these proteins)
Vegetables, almost any vegetable can be used. You can feature one vegetable or a combination. Just remember that some vegetables cook longer than others, so cook those earlier.
Garlic, macerated
Onion, sliced or chopped
Tomato, sliced or chopped
Soy Sauce or Fish Sauce, to taste
Water, depends on if you are making a sauce or soup dish
Basic guinisa involves heating a pan at a relatively high temperature, adding oil until well heated but not smoky,. Add macerated garlic and stir until you can smell the garlic but being careful not to burn, immediately add the sliced or chopped onions and sauté until translucent and then add the tomatoes and sauté until they are cooked (soft but not burned). In some dishes. sliced ginger is used with the basic guisa trio. After the basic guisa mixture is sautéed, then the meat or protein to be used is added and stir fried until just cooked, Some salt and pepper,  patis (fish sauce) or toyo (soy sauces) and other seasoning the particular dish  calls for  is added. The vegetables are then  mixed in. At this point, water is added. The amount depends on if you are making a sauce  or soup. The heat is lowered and the dish is covered to continue cooking until vegetables and meat are completely cooked.
It is always a good idea to have all your ingredients ready and prepared for cooking prior to actually starting the cooking process. For the guinisa that means, your meat sliced and marinated, if needed, all the vegetables cut and the seasonings handy. The French refers to this as mise en place, pronounced MEEZ ahn plahs, means is to have all your ingredients prepared and ready to go before you start cooking. The tomatoes and the onions should be of relatively the same size pieces when sliced. I usually will cut them in half and slice each half piece into less than 1/4” slices. This ensures even cooking.
Guisado is a staple at the Filipino table because there are endless combinations of meat and vegetables you can prepare as guinisa. One of my favorites is Ampalaya con Carne ( Bitter Melon with Beef)
As I was growing up, I was told that ampalaya (bitter melon) is good for me. I never knew why. Now science has proven that ampalaya contains properties that make the pancreas produce more insulin and is a good source of vitamins A, B, and C and iron, folic acid, and calcium. It is also rich in anti-oxidants.
I prefer my ampalaya bitter but most don’t. There are many ways to reduce the bitterness of the ampalaya. One is to sprinkle  the ampalaya pieces with salt, let stand for about 20 minutes and rinse before cooking, The salt will draw out the bitterness from the ampalaya. You also have to make sure you core the ampalaya completely removing all the seeds and as much of the thin white membrane as possible. But my Auntie Columbia had the best solution. She told me her secret is that she never cooks ampalaya when she is in a foul mood. Apparently, when you are happy while cooking, the bitterness goes away. I tried this and it really works.
Ampalaya con Carne ( Bitter Melon with Beef)
1 1/2 lb beef sirloin, sliced into thin strips
1 large ampalaya (bitter melon);  washed, cored and cut in half lengthwise and then cut into diagonal strips, about 1/4” thick
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Salt, pinch
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper 
1 medium-sized onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
1 small thumb ginger, julienned
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small tomato, diced
1 1/2 tsp tausi (salted soy bean) 
1/2  cup water or more if necessary
5 tablespoons cooking oil
Combine soy sauce, salt, ground black pepper, cornstarch, and sesame oil. Marinade beef strips in this mixture for about an hour in refrigerator.  This allows the beef to tenderize and absorb the flavors.
Heat a frying pan or wok and add 3 tablespoons of cooking oil. When the oil is hot enough, pan fry the marinated beef in medium heat until the outer part turns medium to dark brown (about 3 to 5 minutes per side). Remove browned beef from pan and add remaining oil. Once oil is hot, sauté garlic until fragrant,  then add onion and continue to sauté until translucent, add ginger and sauté until fragrant and softened and then add the diced tomato and continue sautéing until tomato is softened. Stir in the ampalaya pieces and stir fry for about 3 minutes until cooked. It should still be crunchy and retain its bright green color.  Mix in  the tausi (soy bean) and allow to heat up a bit, then stir in the beef, Add 1/2 cup of water(you may need more if you want a saucier dish) and cover the pan. Let simmer for 5 minutes more until beef is fully cooked and tender. The sauce will thicken up a bit. Serve hot.
Here is a typical variation of this dish where shrimp is used. With just changing the main protein, a new dish is formed
Ampalaya con Hipon (Bitter Melon with Shrimp)
1 lb medium shrimp, shelled and devined.
1 large ampalaya (bitter melon);  washed, cored and cut in half lengthwise and then cut into diagonal strips, about 1/4” thick
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon cornstarch
pinch of Salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper 
1 medium-sized onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
1 small thumb ginger, julienned
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small tomato, diced
1 to 2 tsp patis (fish sauce), to taste
1/2 c water (or more, if necessary)
1 egg, beaten
5 tablespoons cooking oil
Combine soy sauce, salt, ground black pepper, cornstarch, and sesame oil. Marinade shrimp in this mixture for about an hour in refrigerator.
Heat a frying pan or wok and add 3 tablespoons of cooking oil. When the oil is hot enough, sauté garlic until fragrant,  then add onion and continue to sauté until translucent, add ginger and sauté until fragrant and softened and then add the diced tomato and continue sautéing until tomato is softened. Stir in the ampalaya pieces and stir fry for about 5 minutes. It should still be crunchy, Stir in shrimp and saute until just pink.  Add 1/2 cup of water(you may need more if you want a saucier dish) and patis to taste. Cover the pan. Let simmer for 3 minutes more. The sauce will thicken up a bit.  Stir in beaten egg until cooked. Serve hot.
Kakain na!

Please come back and visit. More GUISADO dishes to come

Friday, May 4, 2012

Palay, Bigas, Kanin - The Rice

Everyone knows that it is not a Filipino meal without rice.  It is the background to every meal and almost every other food served on a Filipino table will go with rice. There are hundreds of varieties of rice but to the Filipinos white rice prepared boiled or steamed is king. In the Philippines, most of the rice used is of the long grain variety but the short grain varietals from Japan or California are also becoming popular. Meals in the Philippines are not served in courses. Everything is brought to the table all at once except maybe for the dessert (himagas). Usually, there will be at least 2 or three dishes served in a typical meal. along with the ubiquitous white rice. There may be soup, a fried dish and a dish with sauce and some kind of condiment or sawsawan. In our house, there are the usual pairings of food such as Mongo Guisado (Sauteed mung beans) with tuyo (dried fish usually herring).
An improperly cooked rice can ruin a meal so it is important to get it just right. A good boiled rice should be soft but not mushy, have distinct grains, free of foreign particles, snowy white and minimal or no crusting at the bottom of the pan.
There was a time when the rice is winnowed before it is cooked to remove impurities such as small stones and the  unopened husk (palay). This was a time consuming process where the uncooked rice (bigas) that will be used for the meal is placed on a bilao, a woven circular tray usually made from thin shaved bamboo slats. The rice is shaken up and down to release any dirt, loose husk and starchy powder from the milling. After a few shakes, the rice is gone through to remove any additional dirt such as small stones and palay (unopened husk). Then the rice is placed in a pot, usually clay, and washed about 2 or three times until the water runs clear. This removes any additional starch and will produce fluffy rice. 
Reserve the water after the first washing (hugas bigas) for the sinigang or nilaga broth
Boiled Rice
2 cups rice
4 cups water
In a medium sauce pan, add 2 cups rice. Rinse rice in water 2 to 3 times to remove excess starch. When discarding the wash water be careful not to lose any rice  with the wash. Add 4 cups of water.  Since different kinds of rice absorb water differently, you may have to adjust your water accordingly. Remember to also adjust for any water that is left over from washing the rice.
Cover the pot with the lid. The rice is cooked at high heat until it boils. Let it boil for a few minutes with the lid very slightly off the pot to let the steam escape.  Put the heat on low, cover the pot completely with the lid  and bring the rice to a simmer until all the water is absorbed and there are no hard areas in the rice grain. Let the cooked rice (kanin) sit for 5 to 10 minutes more before serving so all the liquid is completely absorbed.
I measure my water with my middle finger, no matter how much rice I am cooking. Here's how I do it: After washing the rice and discarding the wash water, I add water to the rice, level the rice off on the rice cooker pot and place the tip of my middle finger on top of the rice level.  The water level should be at the first line of my middle finger from the tip.  The rice always comes out just right.
Mercifully, because of the way rice is produced and sold today, we do not have to do all the winnowing and cleaning prior to cooking the rice. You still have to wash the rice to remove most of the starch. And today, every Filipino kitchen has an electric rice cooker  which makes rice cooking a breeze. Just follow the manufacturer's instructions and you will come up with perfect rice. You may want to adjust the water a bit to your liking as some folks like their rice a little drier and others a little wetter.

Some folks line the pot with a few pandan leaves to add a nutty botanical fragrance and flavor to the rice. If you like your rice fragrant, pandan leaves are available frozen at Asian stores or opt for Thai Jasmine rice which is now widely available in the Asian section of grocery stores..  Our family has never added salt to the rice and I know some do. I personally prefer my boiled rice plain . I think that the rice should be the blank canvas where the artistry of the food can show through.
Kakain na!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Pig's Feet or How I Got Introduced to Filipino Cuisine

My first recollection and introduction to Filipino food was at a welcome party thrown by my paternal grandfather for my family a few days after we arrived in Manila from New York City. My brothers and I have never been outside the United States before this long cruise on the  M.S. Doña Nati that took us from NYC, across the Panama Canal to San Francisco, Okinawa and other ports until we finally reached the Philippines. 

The party was held at my grandfather's country estate in the family's hometown, Tanauan, Batangas, a town about 33 miles south of the capital city of Manila. The drive to Tanauan in my grandfather's De Soto, which can seemingly fit our entire clan, took us through the scenic Dewey Boulevard, the salt beds in Paranaque, the bamboo organ in a church in Las Piñas, the boyhood home of Philippines national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal in Calamba, men and women bent over planting rice at muddy water logged  rice paddies and the lone shady acacia tree in the middle of a field where my Lola Alfonsa had to unexpectedly take shelter to give birth to my Uncle Jojie on a trip much similar to this. 

Upon arrival at my grandfather's country house, my brothers and I suddenly found ourselves in the midst of farm life with plenty of room to run around and play with abandon; the exact opposite of our cramped New York apartment where our rough housing would be met with banging from the neighbors below or next door. For us kids, the lure of the wide open spaces, fruit trees to climb and ready-made-playmates, in the form of cousins, were irresistible and heavenly.

We had our first taste of buko or young coconut freshly gathered from one of the many coconut trees in the property by the farmhand who scaled the tall slim tree with his arms and feet. It was scary to watch but the boy was deft and fast. The outer green shell of the buko was removed with a machete and 2 holes were made on  top of the remaining husk from where we were told to drink the refreshing coconut juice. Then the top of the husk was removed to reveal the soft white flesh of the buko which, with a spoon fashioned from the green shell, was scraped off the inner shell for us to eat and enjoy. It was sweet and delicious and I  loved coconuts ever since. But it is still best experienced right after it is harvested, under the shade of the coconut trees. Throw in a body of water - river, lake, sea or ocean and it's perfect.

Then, there were the animals. Before this, the only real animals we've seen were our family pet in NY, a shaggy St. Bernard puppy named Queenie,  the monkey my grandfather kept in the back porch of his house in Manila and the little lizards crawling around everywhere. At the farm, I was excited to see and touch the animals I only knew from books - among them were cows, pigs, carabaos, goats, chickens, turkeys and even a noisy showy peacock. My brothers and I fancied the animals as pets and started giving them names, playing with and feeding them. Little did we know that these animals were what was being served at the party.

One of the traumas of my early life was when they started slaughtering these animals for the party. Mercifully, the beautiful peacock was spared. We witnessed the chickens getting their necks slit and they would run around like crazy with their heads cut off. The most traumatic slaughtering was that of the goat Freddy, who I was quite fond of, and was made into the Batangueno specialty dish Kalderetang Kambing (Stewed Goat). Up to now, you could not make me eat Kalderetang Kambing or any goat dish  for that matter. My brothers' pet pigs and a few others were skewered on bamboo poles and roasted over hot embers for one of the favorite Filipino dishes,  Lechon. We were inconsolable and cried and cried and cried when the animals were butchered.  It was not the best introduction to Filipino cuisine for my brothers and I, but inspite of that, we grew to love Filipino food.

At this  party, I developed a taste for a dish I referred to for the longest time as 'Pig's Feet'. This dish is actually called  Estofadong Pata, a stewed quintessential sweet sour pork dish served with fried saba bananas. As I was growing up, when asked what do you want to eat, I would scream, 'pig's feet, pig's feet!' Now, I think it is weird and funny  especially for a young girl, who up until a few days prior had spent her early life in Detroit and New York City, to have pig's feet as a favorite dish. I still love Estofadong Pata and it often brings me back more than 50 years ago to that grand bienvenida (welcome) party thrown for my family and the halcyon days of my youth.

Estofadong Pata  

This recipe is from my dad's eldest sister Auntie Columbia. She used to prepare this dish whenever she comes and visits from the Philippines. It was always a treat. Somehow her estofado tasted the best to me. When I asked her what the secret is, she would say "pwe-pwe", which I took to mean some kind of magic.

1 large pata or pig's feet (about 1 kilo or 2 1/2 to 3 lbs)
1 cup water
1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 cup of brown sugar (Note: I like my estofado on the sweeter side, you may reduce sugar to 1/4 cup  if you prefer)
1/2 cup of soy sauce
3 laurel or bay leaf
1 tsp whole peppercorns
1 head garlic, crushed 
Salt to taste
4 saba bananas cut in large diagonal (1") chunks and fried to a golden brown. 
1/2 cup cooking oil

Note:The Philippine saba banana (genus Cardaba) is not readily available in the US. A good substitute are more common plantains (genus Musa).

Clean pig's feet. Heat up 1/4 cup of oil, saute garlic until light golden brown, Add pig's feet and brown on all sides for about 7 to 10 minutes. Add soy sauce, vinegar, water, peppercorns and bay leaf then bring to a boil.
(Tip: Do not stir mixture until it has been allowed to boil for a few minutes to allow the taste of vinegar , water and soy sauce to blend. Otherwise, you will notice  separation of flavors such as a distinctively vinegary or salty taste.
Turn down heat and bring to simmer until pig's feet is fork tender. Add brown sugar and let simmer for about 10 minutes more.   I look for a nice golden brown, caramelized color on the pig's feet and the liquids reduced by at least half and thicker. Add the banana and let simmer for about 5 minutes more. Serve hot.

Kakain na!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Paminggalan - The Filipino Pantry

The Filipino pantry consist of very few essential ingredients with which you can make most of the recipes here. Your Filipino pantry should include:
  • Bigas - (White Rice) 
  • Bawang - (Garlic) 
  • Sibuyas - (Onions)
  • Kamatis - (Tomato)
  • Calamansi - (Calamondin) - This is a small citrus from the Philippines which has a distinct taste that is more lime than lemon. The juice, extracted while the fruit is still green but soft, is used as a marinade, flavor and condiment usually added to toyo (soy sauce)
  • Asin - (salt)
  • Paminta- (Pepper)
  • Kasubha - (Safflower) - saffron-like in that it imparts a yellow food color to the dish. It does not have the same fragrance and strong flavor as saffron 
  • Toyo - (Soy Sauce), dark. I suggest the Silver Swan or Marca Piña brands
  • Patis - (Fish Sauce ) I suggest Rufina or Tentay brands
  • Bagoong - (Fermented fish or shrimp). There are two kinds of bagoong used in Filipino cooking. the most popular is bagoong alamang which is made from minute shrimp fry (alamang) marinated in salt for days. Although I like to get the unsautéed bagoong and sauté it myself, it is not always available in the US. The sautéed versions are available in the Kamayan and Barrio Fiesta brands. Bagoong Balayan is made from salted anchovies and is more liquid than the bagoong alamang
  • Malagkit - (Sweet glutinous rice)
  • Niyog - The edible white flesh of the coconut, often shredded and used in food and confections or for the extraction of coconut oil. In the past you bought a whole coconut, take the green husk off to reveal a hard brown shell surrounding the white meat inside. The juice inside the semi-transparent juice of the coconut is extracted first and is a refreshing drink. The white meat is grated on a kudkuran (scraper).
  • Gata - (Coconut Milk), extracted from grated coconut 
  • Sampalok - (Tamarind)
  • Suka - (Sugar Cane Vinegar)
  • Asukal - (Sugar)
  • Itlog - (Egg)
  • Luya - (Ginger)
  • Atchuete - (Annato) - a spice that imparts some flavor to the food and used as a coloring agent. It is soaked in water or oil to extract the color. The achuete water or oil is then added to the dish.
All of the basic ingredients used in Filipino cooking are easy to find and are available at super markets or Asian grocery stores everywhere. Pork is a very popular meat used for cooking in the Philippines which distinguishes the Filipino cuisine from most Asian’s who do not eat pork, Also common is beef, chicken and goat meat. Being surrounded by water, fish, shellfish and seafood is also a staple ingredient in Filipino cooking. There is also an abundance of fresh leafy and root vegetables grown and used in cooking.
You will also need a sauce pan, fry pan, stock pot and a wok to cook with.
Filipino cooking is fairly simple and includes very few spices. Most dishes start off with the trinity of garlic, onions and tomatoes. By adding meat, fish , shellfish or seafood and vegetables and employing the different cooking methods  to the above ingredients, you can come up with delicious dishes for your family and friends to enjoy. 

Kakain na!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Auntie Nita's School of Life, etal

I basically learned to cook from my Auntie Nita who loved cooking and baking. She had nine children after all and my brothers and I along with the rest of my cousins would often stay at her house. It is not unusual for her to feed more than 20 or so friends and family during the weekends. In the Philippines, children rarely helped out in the kitchen as this was the domain of the kusinera (cook) and maids or katulongs (household help), But my Auntie Nita would be found in the kitchen with the help, preparing food for the hungry throngs. Although her culinary skills and inventiveness in the kitchen went unnoticed to us kids who would eat cardboard if it is put on a plate in front of us, Auntie Nita served us lovingly prepared dishes that were worthy of a feature in Gourmet Magazine

Being interested in cooking at an early age, I often took the opportunity to spend time with Auntie Nita in the kitchen. She taught me the basics and techniques of cooking Filipino dishes and the variations you can do to make each meal interesting. In addition, Auntie Nita insisted on teaching my cousins (boys and girls, alike) and I how to maintain a household including such chores as cleaning, sewing and laundry. She would often tell us that we need to learn all this because when we grow up, we may not have the maids to do everything for us or if we do, at least we can supervise them properly. It turned out she was right, as most of my cousins and I ended up living in the United States with no maids to cook, clean and do our laundry for us.
I liked hanging around the kitchen when meals are prepared. It amused me when the cook prepared chicken for our evening meal. It always started out with a live chicken whose neck is slit, blood drained off (and reserved for another meal or condiment), plunged in boiling water for ease of plucking the feathers and cut into pieces for whatever meal was on the menu that day. As long as I can stay in the kitchen, I was happy helping out with such chores like shelling the beans, macerating the garlic on a stone mortar and pestle, grating the coconut and extracting coconut milk and threshing the rice to remove the impurities. I really love the hustle and bustle that went on in the kitchen, Since we are a big family (between lolos and lolas, tiyos and tiyas and pinsans), every meal was like preparing a feast.
My formal cooking training came when I went to the University of the Philippines. As part of my Food Technology curriculum, I took a couple of courses taught by Dr. Matilde de Guzman. These were interactive classes where in the laboratory we experimented on the different cooking techniques, processes and ingredients. Here I learned the science behind food preparation, the interaction between the ingredients and cooking temperature and how they come together.
After I got married, my husband and I moved to the United States. Armed with handwritten recipes from Auntie Nita, my Principles of Cooking textbook written by Dr. De Guzman and a Recipes of the Philippines cookbook by Enriqueta David Perez given to me as a wedding present by one of my best friends, I felt I was ready to tackle the Filipino kitchen on my own here in the US.
This blog will feature the basic Filipino recipes from my childhood as well as adaptations to today's ingredients and conveniences.
Kakain na! Let's eat!

Tamis, Asim, Alat - a brief history of the influences on the Filipino cuisine

The Philippines is an archipelago of about 7,100 islands with three major regions, Luzon to the north, Mindanao to the south and the Visayas in the middle. Each region have distinct cuisines, and each provinces within the region have their own specialty foods.  As a crossroad of trade in the Pacific, Filipino cuisine is influenced by many countries. The main influences come from the Malay (Indonesia and Malaysia), the Arabs, the Chinese, the Spaniards, who colonized the Philippines for more than 300 years and the Americans.
Before the arrival of the Spaniards, the main cooking methods were boiling and cooking meat and vegetables on an open fire or in handmade clay pots. The trade with Arabs introduced spices to the cuisine; while trade with China introduced noodles and lumpia (egg rolls), among others. Many of the Filipino dishes today still bear Spanish names although they may not look exactly like the original dish one may find in Spain. Most of the Spanish dishes were adapted to the ingredients and cooking methods in the islands. The Americans introduced salads, pies, sponge cakes, sandwiches and canned goods.
The Philippine cuisine still evolves today with the introduction of Japanese and Korean cooking and the return of overseas foreign workers from far flung areas of the world. 
All these combined influences from other countries  resulted in the distinctive Filipino flavor palate of tamis (sweet), asim (sour) and alat (salty) delivered all at once in a single presentation. 

Kakain na!