My favorite food growing up was a Filipino dish called sinigang. It’s a dish that is very close to my heart.
Okay, so what is it? It’s a soup that consists of meat, vegetables, light broth and, specifically the one I grew up with, a sour component. In this case it’s tamarind.
There is something so tribal and comforting about gathering around together to share a meal. For me this was the one meal that we all gathered around and shared. Except for my dad, it was a bit too exotic for his Midwestern palette.
Whenever I make sinigang it always reminds me of my mother, who brought this dish with her from the Philippines. She taught me how to make it when I was very young, and to this day it remains one of my go-to comfort meals. I hope to one day pass it on to my children.
Obviously so they can involuntarily think of me whenever they have it.
The great thing about sinigang is its versatility. You can make it with any number of vegetables and different types of meat. My favorite is a variety called sinigang na baka, meaning it’s made with beef. It’s also great because it’s a relatively healthy dish, packing plenty of veggies into your meal.
I should warn you, I don’t really measure things out, so just add as much as you think will fit in your slow cooker or soup pot or serve the number of people actually willing to try this out.
I like to use beef short ribs, but I’ve used stew beef as well or even both! But I find ribs give the broth the most flavor. For one regular size crock pot (meaning not tiny, but not one of those huge ones) I got about 1.5 lbs of short ribs.
My favorite part of sinigang. For this batch I used what I had in my fridge, but there are so many possibilities for the vegetables you can use. Here I used one long thin pepper (to give it some kick!), pechay (baby bok choy), one large fresh tomato, 1/2 a large white onion, 3 garlic cloves, and I decided to throw some broccoli in last minute as well.
Also, in traditional Filipino recipes it is customary to include small taro roots, called “gabi” in Tagalog, also called eddo roots in the grocery store. In the interest of keeping this as low carb as possible I omitted the gabi, but if you don’t plan on eating it with rice it is delicious and little different.
Some of the vegetables you might want to include. I also like to include spinach, Chinese eggplant, broccoli and string beans.
Soup base and flavorings
Most Filipinos that I know (my mom included) really like to use beef bouillon cubes to flavor the dish. I have to admit it is reallllly good that way, but I’m watching my sodium intake so I used reduced sodium beef stock because I’m already using a packaged soup base. The soup base can be found in the Asian store, my favorite is Knorr brand but Mama Sita brand has a tamarind seasoning mix that’s also pretty good. I’ll update this when I figure out how to make the tamarind soup base from scratch. It’s my next project!
You can usually find Knorr Tamarind base in any Asian or international grocery store.
Also, since the pepper I chose wasn’t spicy enough for me I added some red pepper flakes. Really spicy and really sour are my favorite ways to serve this dish!
Note: By using more veggies, substituting vegetable broth for the beef broth, and substituting lemon juice for the tamarind base you can also make it vegetarian-friendly. FYI the tamarind base by Knorr contains shrimp powder, so it’s not vegetarian. It’ll taste a little different but I’ve tried it myself and it’s pretty good!
Dice your half-onion, don’t be too worried about making everything pretty, this isn’t a pretty dish.
Also dice up your garlic cloves nice and tiny.
Brown your ribs on the stove in a little olive oil. I didn’t do it this particular time, but you can throw your onions and garlic in with your ribs while they brown to give the meat a bit more flavor.
Put them in your crock pot, cover with as much of the tamarind base packet as you like. I used 1/3 of the packet at this point because it’s easier to add more than try to take it out!
Add your onions, garlic, and long skinny pepper. If you like things really spicy you can go ahead and add your red pepper flakes now since the longer they’re in there the more spicy your soup gets. If you decide you want to use the taro root, add it now. It needs to be cooked a long time so it gets soft enough to be edible.
Add 2 cups of the beef broth, then add enough water to cover the meat.
Cover your crock pot and set on low for ~4 hours. I tried doing it for 6 hours once but the meat ended up so tough I had cut the time down. My pot might just run hotter than some of the others.
When you have about 30 minutes left go ahead and cut your tomato into big chunks and add to the pot. At this point make sure to taste your broth and add additional salt, tamarind seasoning, or beef broth if it’s a little bland. You could even sneak a little beef bouillon in if you like, I won’t tell anyone.
When you have about 20 minutes left add your baby bok choy, string beans, broccoli or other veggies. If you are using spinach I suggest adding it last around the 10 minute mark so it doesn’t disintegrate.
Voila! You’ve made yourself a Filipino dinner. For our Paleo and grain-free friends if you add enough veggies you don’t need to eat this with rice. Since being diagnosed with diabetes I limit my rice intake so I frequently enjoy this dish without the rice.
For those of you who want to try this the traditional way serve with -my favorite- Jasmine white rice. You could even try this with brown rice, which happens to be my boyfriend’s favorite rice.
What’s your favorite dish from your childhood?