Archived entries for Filipino food

Sugar-braised pork (humba)

Sugar-braised pork (Filipino humba)

A few months ago, my friend Maila asked me if I’d ever made humba, a type of Filipino stewed pork. I had heard of it, but had never eaten it, so naturally, to me it sounded like a blog post plan.

Humba is a Visayan festival dish that seems to be a southern answer to the adobo and kaldereta of the north. The influence is definitely more Chinese than Spanish; the use of tausi (salted fermented black beans) and the common inclusion of Chinese mushrooms is a central flavor combination for this dish. This stew is also notable for the use of palm sugar, a testament to the Filipino love of salty and sweet foods together. (See my recipe for pork barbecue if the idea of sugar and pork turns you on.) For this recipe, I’ve substituted light brown sugar, but if have access to palm sugar, it would be even nicer in this dish.

Dried chinese mushrooms
Dried mushrooms

The fact that I’ve never eaten it before came as no surprise: my mother is a proud Kapampangan cook, and I think I can safely say that Kapampangans – who consider themselves the best cooks in the Philippines – can be just a leeeetle dismissive of other regional dishes. (Just try talking to someone from Pampanga about Ilocano food, for example. Be ready for a rant.) The fact that Kapampangans were the first ones to give sisig to the world may justify this attitude… a little bit, anyway. (And by the way, I love Ilocano food too. Most of it anyway.)

I was robbed. Do you like pork? Do you like tangy and sweet together? Do you like stews with lots of delicious sauce? This is humba, straight up.

Recipes for humba often call for pork belly (liempo), but I find that the belly cut makes the sauce a little too fatty for my taste (yes, it’s possible), so I’ve used pork shoulder instead. In The Filipino-American Kitchen, Jennifer Aranas suggests serving humba with a soft version of maja blanca mais, which is almost like polenta with coconut milk. I served it — untraditionally, of course — with mashed potatoes. (And rice. There’s always rice on the table. Don’t tell me about double-carbing.)

Lastly, this dish rocked my world the day after I cooked it. If you have a chance, make it a day in advance and let all those beautiful flavors harmonize in the fridge overnight. Oh yes, it’s worth the wait.

Humba, sugar-braised pork
with lots of rice, serves 4-6 hungry people

2 lbs. (1 kg) boneless pork shoulder
1 onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
small knob of ginger, minced
3 bay leaves
5 or 6 dried Chinese mushrooms
3 tablespoons salted black beans
3 tablespoons palm vinegar
2-1/2 cups (600 ml) water
2/3 cup (70 g) light brown sugar
1/4 cup (60 ml) salty soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  1. Combine the sauce ingredients in a large measuring cup or bowl: water, salted black beans, palm vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, salt and pepper. Set aside.
  2. Cut the pork into large chunks. I don’t like small cubes because if you braise it for long enough, you get these nice bits of shredded pork mixed in with the large pieces. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  3. Heat a heavy Dutch oven over high heat. Add a splash of vegetable oil. Brown the pork on all sides. (Do this in batches so you don’t crowd the pan.) Set the pork aside.
  4. In the same Dutch oven, lower the heat to medium and add the onions, scraping the browned bits off the bottom of the pot. Add the garlic and ginger, taking care not to burn the garlic.
  5. Add the sauce ingredients, the mushrooms and the bay leaves and bring to a simmer. Add the pork (and any juices that have accumulated. Bring back to a simmer.
  6. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover. (You can also stick the whole thing, covered, in a 250 F (120 C) oven for 2 hours). Simmer for 2 hours.
  7. Uncover and raise the heat to medium-high and allow the sauce to reduce by a quarter, or as much as half, so it’s a bit thicker. Meanwhile, remove the mushrooms, halve them, and add them back to the sauce.
  8. Serve with lots of rice, maja blanca mais, or my favorite, mashed potatoes.

Humba with garlic mashed potatoes

Mais con hielo

Mais con hielo

We’ve been having a bit of a heat wave here in NL. (Keep in mind that ‘heat wave’ here means ‘perfect weather’ anywhere else.) It was the perfect opportunity to bust out our hidden-way-back-in-the-cabinet ice shaver for some cold treats. Tonight I decided to make a Filipino classic, mais con hielo, and it’s also my entry for this month’s corn-themed Beets N Squash.

When it comes to Filipino cold desserts, halo-halo is the undisputed king. Halo-halo is basically shave ice with milk, then topped with almost anything under the tropical sun: sweet beans, pandan jelly, leche flan, ube (purple yam) jam, ube ice cream, pinipig (crispy rice), jackfruit. If it’s sweet, you’ve probably seen it on halo-halo. It’s like the Vegas of desserts.

Halo Halo
One of many halo-halos I ate during my recent trip to the Philippines

Mais con hielo (literally meaning ‘corn with ice’) is just the opposite. It’s like halo-halo’s humble cousin. It’s the simplest summer dessert ever: sweet corn, shave ice, and whatever milk floats your boat. Some prefer fresh milk, some like evaporated milk, others like to sweeten it with some condensed milk. In the summer, we would eat this all the time at home — I mean, seriously, I loves me some halo-halo, but who has the fifty ingredients lying around to make it?

Although this dessert often makes use of canned corn, you can make it with fresh sweet corn, which has the added benefit of adding a bit of corn ‘milk’ to the mixture when you take it off the cob. (You may want to cook it just a bit in its own liquid after removing from the corn cob).

For the dairy element, I use a neutral ice cream, such as sweet cream rather than vanilla, but if vanilla is what you have, it’ll still taste great, and it also sweetens the mais con hielo so you don’t need to add sugar. I also add a splash of whole milk.

In terms of the shave ice, I think a proper ice shaver is a must. It makes the ice light and fluffy. I’ve never tried crushing it in a food processor (I don’t own a food processor large enough, so it’ll have to remain a mystery to me). If anyone out there uses something else, let me know. A bit more shave ice than the other ingredients, then equal parts corn and ice cream work beautifully, and you’ll be wondering why you haven’t been eating corn for dessert all your life.

Ice shaver
The ice shaver at our house, courtesy of my mom

Mais con hielo
serves 4

About 2 cups shave ice
A pint of vanilla or sweet cream ice cream
2-3 cobs of sweet corn (or a can of crunchy corn kernels)
Whole milk

  1. If you are using fresh corn, scrape the corn kernels off the cob, also catching the liquid. Heat until warm in a saucepan. Cool in the refrigerator.
  2. Assemble the mais con hielo in tall drinking glasses: a half cup of shave ice, followed by a few tablespoons of corn, a scoop of ice cream, then a few more tablespoons of corn. Pour a bit of milk over the whole thing. Crush it all together with a spoon while eating. Hopefully it’s a hot and humid day because this is the best way to enjoy it!

Gourmet Fury: Beets N Squash

Chicken inasal (inasal na manok)

Inasal chicken

For this month’s Kulinarya Cooking Club barbecue theme, I decided to tackle the mother of all Filipino chicken barbecue traditions: chicken inasal.

Inasal chicken is the traditional grilled chicken from Negros, an island in the Visayas. The place with legendary inasal is Bacolod, where chicken inasal is practically a religion. It’s so popular that it has spurred all sorts of chain restaurants, many of which I understand don’t do the ‘real chicken Bacolod’. (I’ve had it, and I have to say it tasted pretty good to me, but then again, I’ve never been to Bacolod. Oh well, next time Visayas!)

In my quest to perfect my version of inasal, I barbecued it — to the delight of my family — three weekends in a row, adjusting and changing the technique of the flavorings and marinade times. Somehow the weather seemed to disagree with me every time, raining on me twice and most recently, having me shivering — in late June, mind you — in 12 C degree weather while turning pieces of chicken for 45 minutes. Holland is definitely not Bacolod when it comes to the weather.

That said, it was well worth the effort in trying to bring a little bit of the Philippines here, despite the crap weather. The first time I prepared the chicken, I only marinated it for an hour, per Marketman’s instructions (you can find his great post on chicken inasal on his website, Market Manila. He also links to a great article about Bacolod chicken originally run in the Philippine Star.) The flavor on the skin was quite good, but I found the meat to be a bit bland. I decided to compensate the next time by brining the chicken in water, sugar and salt overnight, then marinating for the last two hours. Somehow the sugar/salt combination created really strong flavor, but overwhelmed not just the chicken, but the marinade itself.

So, it turned out, third time’s the charm. I marinated the chicken for 6 hours (the same day I was grilling), and this seemed to strike the perfect timing of flavor. I normally marinate overnight, but the vinegar is pretty strong and can overwhelm a mild meat like chicken (as well as ‘cook’ it with acid) so I think same-day marinating hits the sweet spot. The other trick that was well worth the effort was taking the lemongrass and garlic (garlic is an essential component of an inasal marinade) and pounding it, with the salt, into a paste. This extracted flavor from both, without getting the woody bits of lemongrass in the grilled chicken. (my daughter was not a fan of the lemongrass chunks in earlier versions.)

Garlic lemongrass paste for inasal chicken

Also essential to inasal is a native vinegar (I used an Ilocos-style cane vinegar, but palm vinegar is also nice), calamansi juice, and a basting sauce with achuete. My big problem is that there seems to be absolutely nowhere I can get calamansi where I live, and I once found achuete, but can’t remember where, so that was out of the picture. I squeezed in a bit of lime in place of the calamansi (blasphemy, I know), and skipped the achuete, just adding a bit of pimenton to the butter/oil basting sauce. (I know Marketman says to use Star margarine for basting, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it).

Ilocano cane vinegar

My last tip is to use all dark meat if you can. It won’t dry out, and it tastes worlds better on the grill than chicken breasts, which seem to instantly evaporate their juices on the grill and end up tasting like marinated cotton. A whole bunch of chicken thighs and drumsticks would be perfect, especially drumsticks because they have a nice meat-to-surface-area ratio. And by the way, the skin is amazing. But how could it not be? You’ll have spent 30 minutes basting it with butter.

Chicken Inasal
serves 6-8 people

4 pounds (2 kg) chicken thighs and legs
3 stalks lemongrass, chopped
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 cup native Philippine vinegar
3 tablespoons calamansi juice (or in my case, lime juice)
freshly ground black pepper

For the basting sauce:
1/4 cup (50 g) salted butter
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon achuete oil (if you don’t have it, you can add 1 teaspoon pimenton or paprika for color)

  1. Combine the lemongrass, garlic and salt in a mortar and pestle, and pound into a paste. Add the vinegar, calamansi juice and several grinds of black pepper to the paste and mix well.
  2. Set the chicken pieces in a large ziploc bag and pour the marinade over them. Marinate (shifting around after a few hours) for about six hours.
  3. When you are ready to grill, get the grill ready and prepare your basting sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the oils and plenty of black pepper and mix well.
  4. Set the chicken on the grill over a fairly high heat, turning so they don’t burn, but brown on all sides. Set the chicken on a cooler part of the grill and baste with the butter sauce every ten minutes or so. The chicken should be cooked through after about 30 minutes. To make sure it’s cooked through, the meat should be 170 degrees F (76 C) internally when tested with an instant-read thermometer.
  5. Serve with lots of rice.

Kulinarya Cooking Club
Market Manila: Inasal chicken
Article: Fowl play in “Manokan” country

My past barbeque posts: Barbeque pork skewers Grilled chicken with pineapple marinade

Vanilla malt polvoron

This is my first post for Kulinarya Cooking Club, a group of Filipino bloggers dedicated to sharing Filipino recipes. This month’s theme is polvoron, one of my favorite sweets.

Polvoron is powdered milk candy, so named for its crumbly texture (polvo meaning powder or dust in Spanish). In this way, it resembles the classic Spanish polvorones, which are a sandy biscuit made flavored with almonds and lard. The main ingredients for Filipino polvoron are toasted flour, powdered milk, sugar and butter.

I had this idea of incorporating vanilla bean, which complements the milky flavor. As I was toasting the flour, I then thought about one of my favorite ingredients for milk: malted milk powder. The result was addictive: like a malted vanilla shake in candy form.

I’ve learned a couple of techniques to prevent frustration while making polvoron, which is a really fragile candy. (It’ll literally crumble in your hand if you’re not careful!) After combining all the ingredients, chill it in the fridge for an hour or two. This will keep it from sticking to the polvoron mould or biscuit cutter. After shaping them, set them in the freezer. If you want to wrap them in tissue paper, or stack them in containers, this step will keep you from pulling your hair out. For me, polvoron moulds are the way to go — I haven’t tried to use a biscuit cutter. If you live somewhere where there’s a Filipino grocery, these should be relatively easy to find.

One more tip: my mom swears by Nestle KLIM for the powdered milk, so it’s the only powdered milk I will use for polvoron. Even if you don’t swear by a specific brand, do make sure you use a full-fat (definitely not non-fat) powdered milk. For the malted milk powder, I used Horlicks, which is unsweetened and has a strong malt flavor.

Vanilla malt polvoron
makes about 40 candies

1-1/2 cup (190g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (60g) Horlicks malted milk powder
2 vanilla beans, split and scraped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cup (160g) powdered milk
1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
8 ounces (200g) melted butter

  1. In an medium-sized pan, toast the flour over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a heat-proof spatula or wooden spoon. The flour will become fragrant and should become the color of sand. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
  2. Add the vanilla bean, malt powder, salt, sugar and powdered milk to the flour. Pour in the melted butter and stir until the mixture resembles wet sand. (My son calls polvoron “sand sweeties”) Set in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
  3. Using a polvoron mould, shape the candy and place them in a container or baking sheet in a single layer. Freeze for several hours. I like to eat them straight from the freezer, but they can also be wrapped in tissue paper and eaten at room temperature.

Palitaw (sweet rice dumplings with
sesame sugar and coconut)


Recently my friend Justine posted a link to a Korean dessert called gyung-dan, which are basically little chewy cakes of rice flour, sometimes filled with sweet bean paste, and rolled in sesame seeds. Right away this made me think of palitaw, one of my favorite Filipino kakanin, or desserts. Palitaw is boiled sweet rice flour (no filling) that is then coated in sugar, toasted sesame seeds and, in the usual Filipino tropical twist, grated coconut.

This is the easiest dessert ever to make if you have the ingredients on hand. You will need sweet rice flour, such as Mochiko. Some (like my mother, of course) would argue that to make proper palitaw you really should soak sweet rice, then make it into a paste. Frankly, I will admit that with this step, I probably would never make palitaw myself, so I’ll stick to the Mochiko. She did convince me, however, of the worthwhile step of grinding the toasted sesame seeds with the sugar to “get the most sesame flavor from it”. She is right about that.

For the grated coconut, ideally you would have fresh grated coconut extracted with one of these dangerous bad boys (The way it works is you sit on the grater on a low stool, and hold the coconut and grate it with the sharp metal bit. Why do I call it dangerous? My auntie, as a child, ran into one of these, resulting in a huge bloody gash. I guess the moral of the story is don’t run in the house when there are coconut graters lying around.)

If you don’t have access to fresh coconut, check the freezer at the Asian grocery, or use desiccated (non-sweetened) coconut as I have here.

Finally, make sure to eat the palitaw right away. There’s basically no point if it isn’t piping hot; after that it gets insanely chewy and soggy. But when it’s fresh, it’s a little piece of tropical heaven.

serves 4

2 cups (300g) sweet rice flour (such as Mochiko)
3/4 cup (180ml) water
1 cup (90g) grated coconut
1/2 cup(100g) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

  1. Stir the flour and water in a bowl until smooth. Form the dough into 1-inch balls and flatten slightly into patties.
  2. In a food processor, combine the sesame seeds and sugar. Set aside in a shallow dish (you will roll the patties in them after they’ve been cooked. Set the grated coconut in a separate shallow dish (also for coating the patties later).
  3. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Drop the palitaw into the boiling water. Cook until they float to the surface.
  4. Roll them right away in the sugar-sesame mixture, then in the grated coconut. Serve immediately.

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