You Can Do These: NILAGA and PUTSERO

It’s the stock of jokes about kitchen klutzes*: she can’t even boil water, much less fry an egg!

When I left Manila to study in the USA, I hardly knew how to cook to save my life.  Mom was always there to prepare standard and favorite foods; in better times, there was a housemaid to do the chore.

In time, I learned to prepare my own sustenance, thanks to the vast collection of cookbooks in the university library, as well as private lessons from the Ates, wives of Filipino graduate students who lived in Married Student Housing.

There are two easy ulams that you can cook with very little effort: nilaga and putsero.  I am giving general instructions; it’s up to you to determine ingredient proportions for the amount of food you intend to serve.

NILAGA is just what the word implies: boiled whatever – beef, pork, chicken, or vegetable such as sweet potato shoots (talbos ng kamote), or whole elongated eggplants.

Step 1.  Ensure that the meat pieces are cut into serving-size pieces.  Wash, drain, then add enough water to cover, plus a quartered onion, a pinch of salt, and about 12 whole peppercorns.

Put a lid on your cooking pot, set it on High on the stove.  When the mixture reaches the boiling point, reduce the heat to Low and let it simmer until the meat is tender.

Step 2.  Take several layers from a head of cabbage, cut the leaves into serving-size pieces, and add to the pot.  Increase stove temperature back to High.

When the leaves turn bright green and they appear half-cooked, turn off the stove.

Step 3.  Taste the broth.  Add fish sauce (patis) until the liquid is pleasantly salty.

Step 4.  Serve your nilaga in a bowl, with a separate bowl of steamed rice (sinaing) and a small saucer containing patis and some lemon, lime, or kalamansi juice in your desired proportion.


PUTSERO is also easy to prepare, but has a few more steps and added ingredients.  Pork is the meat of choice, but you can safely use beef or chicken, too.

Step 1.  In a little oil, saute minced garlic, onion, and tomatoes.  Add the meat, already cut into serving-size piece.  Cook until the meat turns light brown.

Step 2.  Add fish sauce (patis), whole peppercorn, tomato sauce, and water.  Let the mixture boil until the meat is tender.

Step 3.  Add peeled and cut-up potatoes, peeled saba bananas, and drained garbanzo beans from a can.  Cook about 5 minutes.

Step 4.  Add leaves of cabbage and long beans (sitaw), both cut into serving-size pieces.  Cook for five minutes.

Step 5.  If you have it, add some whole baby bok choy.  Cover the pot and turn off the stove.  After 5 minutes,

Step 6.  Taste the broth.  Add fish sauce (patis) until the liquid is pleasantly salty.

Step 7.  Serve your putsero in a bowl, with a separate bowl of steamed rice (sinaing) and a small saucer containing patis and some lemon, lime, or kalamansi juice in your desired proportion.

*Word Study: KLUTZ = a clumsy, awkward, or inept person

Sarsiyado and Sangkutsa

One of the first dishes I learned to cook is sarsiyadong isda.   I was about 11 years old when I learned to make it and, boy, did I cook it often!

First I fried pieces of fish such as lapu-lapu, dalagang bukid, or pompano.  (If your choice of fish has scales, make sure those are removed.  After frying until slightly crisp, set aside to drain.)

Then I sauteed:
* sliced onion and diced tomatoes
* enough water for some token sabaw, and
* some patis to taste.

When the veggies look wilted, I added the fish and simmered everything until heated through.

Then I added two beaten eggs, stirring until the curdles were well incorporated into the sauce.  That’s it!  Easy enough for an 11-year old wanting to dabble in the kitchen.
Until yesterday, I thought sarsiyado was derived from salsa (sauce).  Leafing through a Spanish-English dictionary which I consult often for a summer class, I chanced upon salteada, meaning “sauteed” (fried quickly in a little hot fat).

Note that I sauteed the onions and tomatoes, to which all other ingredients were added.  And that is why my dish was called sarsiyadong isda.

Now, repeat after me: salteada, SARSIYADO,  salteada. SARSIYADO .

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

And now for sangkutsa.  I often heard this word from my mother, who hails from Nueva Ecija.  She always emphasized that when making tinola, the chicken  has to be sangkutsa-d until the animal juices “sweat” from the chicken parts, thus making a sauce.  That done, water and the vegetable ingredients (pieces of green papaya or sayote) can be added.

My mother also noted that all meats, when sauteed in whatever seasoning, need to be sangkutsa-d for optimal flavor extraction.  An example would be sauteeing pork, chicken, or beef for afritada.
Reading a feature on Colombian cooking in an old issue of Food & Wine magazine, I happened upon a recipe for sancocho.  It was another AHA! moment for me, because I’ve long wondered where-in-Heaven my mother’s sangkutsa came from.

Turn out, sancocho is the ultimate comfort food in Colombia.  Foodie Nancy Cabrera says it’s such a beloved dish in that country, that it is served at every party.  One can safely bet that there are versions of sancocho in many parts of Latin America.  The recipe probably came to our shores via the Galleon Trade.

If you want to learn how to prepare it, just Google “South American sancocho.”  My personal assessment is that it is quite similar to our putsero, since it includes a variety of banana.

Let’s Go PALEO

The word “diet” is often associated with short-cut efforts at losing weight.

In truth, diet is plainly the collection of food and drinks that a person habitually eats.
A diet can be good or bad. One might be eating a bad diet that could result in diseases such as diabetes, stomach ulcers, or whatever. To remedy certain ailments, a diet might be prescribed to help a patient regain good health. For example a diabetic could be given a diet with minimal sugar, as it is harmful to that person’s health.

PALEO DIET has received much attention in recent years. Unlike fad diets intended to help people lose weight (often without the accompanying exercise), the paleo diet recommends a way of eating to promote good health.

Paleo is derived from “Paleolithic Age,” a pre-historic period when there were no written records of life on earth.  Humans during paleo times used tools made from stone, which is why that period is also called the Stone Age.

The Stone Age began 2.7 million years ago and ended about 20,000 years ago.  Philippine history has a Stone Age period in the Tabon Man, who is said to have lived in a cave in southern Palawan around 47,000 years ago.

Another term used for paleo eating is “caveman diet,” because humans during the paleo period lived in caves; they didn’t have constructed homes. They obtained food by hunting and gathering; their diet consisted of wild plants and wild animals.  They did not plant crops or take care of animals; those practices arose during the subsequent Neolithic Age.

The diet of hunter-gatherer paleolithic humans consisted of wild food: grass-fed animals, birds, fish and other seafood, eggs, insects, roots, nuts, berries, fruits, and vegetables.

Current diets cannot be truly paleo because modern agricultural practices include:
* feeding grains and additives to cattle, chickens, etc.
* raising fish and other seafood in aquaculture farms,
* commercial cultivation of crops (which use artificial
fertilizers and pesticides).

Still, we can try to go paleo by selecting grass-fed beef, organically raised chicken and other birds, wild-caught fish and other seafood, eggs from chemical-free fowls, insects, nuts, berries, fruits, and vegetables.  Also recommended are fermented foods (atsara!), tubers such as sweet potatoes (kamote!), coconut oil, and others.

What are some “no-nos” in a paleo diet?  Avoid legumes and grains (yes, that includes rice), dairy products, refined sugar and salt, and processed oils — all products of large-scale agriculture, which developed during the Neolithic Age.


The Order of a Meal

I can’t recall how I wound up in the website of the Philippine Rice Research Institute.

That’s what web-surfing does to us: you click on one subject, and pretty soon you’re led on a train of related subjects.  This can be a great advantage because one’s interest is sustained by the availability of related materials on a subject.  On the other hand, one can get “lost” in the worldwideweb (www, remember?) and forget the original specific topic of one’s surfing activity on the internet.

Anyways… A feature story posted during the first week of 2017 — in time for New Year resolutions — presented some eyebrow-raising ideas on how to eat a proper meal.  Tapping the expertise of nutritional oncologist Dr. Romulo de Villa, the article contradicts some of our long-held notions about eating.

The most controversial meal suggestion by the doctor is for people to eat fruits first, vegetables second, and proteins and carbohydrates last. The reasoning is that the fiber in fruits and vegetables facilitate digestion and help to make the diner feel full more quickly.  This is like the wisecrack, “Life is short; eat dessert first.”

The doctor is further quoted, thus, “What you eat first, you eat more; what you eat last, you eat less.” He added that a healthy plate consists of the following:
* two parts fruit,
* three parts vegetables,
* two parts protein, and
* one part carbohydrates.

Therefore, if rice is your carbohydrate for a certain meal, it shouldn’t be the highest volume on your plate.  On the contrary, it should be the smallest portion; “equal to the amount that would fill you close-cupped hand,” said the doctor.  It should never be as big as the size of your fist, he added.

A second controversial idea presented by Dr. de Villa concerns the timing of meals.  He recommends that meals be five hours apart.  Eat more often than that, you will tend to overeat.  Let more than five hours pass between meals, you will tend to go hungry.

Well, what do you think?

Our culture features rice as the bulk of all major meals, including most peoples’ breakfasts.  On top of that, many of our desserts are also fashioned from rice, whether whole grains or pulverized; just call to mind our many types of puto.

Our typical days are marked by breakfast, merienda, lunch, merienda, and dinner.  When we are up late, there might even be a late night merienda.

I see the wisdom in the good doctor’s suggestions.  In fact, there is irony in the fact that our tropical country is blessed with so much fruit, yet people tend to consume more cooked food than fresh produce.  The Thai and Vietnamese are ahead of us in including fresh produce — including sprigs of herbs — in the typical meal service.


To read the full article “New Year, New Eating Habits” click below:


I Want To Be a Pescetarian

Some people will not eat fish.


They say it’s too much work picking those tiny bones.

Well, there are fleshy fish that come in tinik-free slices, or those that are big enough to let the eater avoid the bones, such as this:


Other people object to the smell of fish.  Well, maybe their past experience included eating fish that was past its prime… You know, bilasa.

And then there are those who take pride in being meat-eaters, as if their food preference  gives them something to be proud of.  If you ask me, I’d rather eat fish than any other protein source.

A pescetarian is one who eats seafood and not any other source of meat.  I’m not there yet, but i know that it’s possible.  Off the top of my head, the following ulams provide enough variety, that I need not repeat any one putahe for many days to come.

Tochong bangus
Inihaw na tilapia
Pesang dalag
Ginisang sardinas
Talimusak sa toyo
Maruyang labahita

Pritong hasa-hasa
Ginataang biya
Inihaw na tanigue
Sinigang na bangus
Binusang dilis at sawsawan

Sarsyadong dalangang bukid
Burong hito na ginisa sa bawang at kamatis

Pinangat na salmon
Pritong lapu-lapu
Binusang danggit
Tinapang galunggong
Tilapia sa gata
Relyenong bangus
Adobong pusit
Halabos na hipon
Nilagang alimasag
Inihaw na talaba
Pesang tulya
Inihaw na tahong


See, there are so many choices!  Considering that the Philippines has the 5th longest coastline in the world (#1 is Canada, followed by Indonesia, Greenland, and Russia), our kababayans will find it very easy to stay away from “meat which comes from animals that walk or fly.”

You can be a pescetarian, too.  Do you have any favorite seafood dishes to add to my list?

Go Make Some Peanut Sauce

Peanuts, which we call mani after the Spanish name, came to our shores during the time of the Galleon Trade.  Peanuts are a native plant of South America.

From the Philippines it spread to Indonesia, India, China, and other parts of Asia.  Traders brought the legume farther afield, until it became known throughout the world.


Uses of peanuts in Filipino cuisine are not as varied as, say, in other parts of Southeast Asia.  We boil peanuts for snacks, we pack it with caramelized sugar to prepare sweet treats, we fry it in oil with some garlic to make adobong mani, and we mix pulverized roasted peanuts with coconut milk to prepare kare-kare sauce .

How come we don’t copy the way Thai or Malay and Indonesian people use it in an all-purpose sauce?  When served with pork or chicken threaded in bamboo sticks and roasted over coals, the peanut sauce is called satay sauce.

Peanut sauce goes a long way in making the plainest vegetables more palatable.  Fresh or steamed leaves, sprouts, or fruits get a flavor blast when complimented by peanut sauce, which you can easily make from the following ingredients:
* ground peanuts or peanut butter
* some cooking oil or sesame oil, if available
* some soy sauce
* some minced garlic
* some minced siling labuyo
* some green onion, sliced thin
* some sugar
* some kalamansi juice
* coconut milk or water to thin the sauce.

You will notice that no quantities are given for the ingredients.  This is to encourage your creativity!  It’s also a way of recognizing that individual tastes vary, and personal preferences will dictate the degree of sweetness and spiciness of this wonderful sawsawan.  Now go and make some peanut sauce and surprise your family!


KODAK Digital Still Camera
Bunches of bananas for sale along a Philippine highway.

Pigafetta wrote:

In this island of Zubu there are dog and cats, and other animals, whose flesh is eaten… there are also figs, oranges, lemons, sugar-canes, cocos, gourds, ginger, honey…

In this island, which we learned was named Palaoan, we found pigs, goats, fowls, yams, bananas of various kinds, some of which are half a cubit long, and as thick as the arm, others are only a span long, and others are still smaller, and these are the best…

============================================================================ Pigafetta, let us remember, was from Venice.  He wrote the account of the Magellan expedition in Italian, which was translated into French… In the meantime, the original Italian manuscript was lost.  The French was re-translated into Italian, and from there to other languages, such as English.

The above material is from a translation into English by Lord Stanley of Alderley.

The “figs” seen in Cebu by Pigafetta were probably bananas.  Never having come across the fruit before, he had to rely on previous concepts.  The fig, an Old World fruit, has an interior that looks similar to what turned out to be bananas.

fig - Fruit Photo (31188699) - Fanpop Figs

Banana Cross Section cross section free photos absolutely for download ... Banana

Following their misfortune in Cebu, the Spaniards planned to sail back home, but along the way visited Palawan, where they saw more… bananas.  It is unknown why Lord Stanley chose to use the word bananas instead of figs during the Palawan sighting of the fruit.  Go back to the quote above and see if you can figure out the varieties of bananas described by Pigafetta.

Can you name some varieties?  These are what I remember…

Photo of four several large green, smaller red, very small yellow, and medium-sized yellow bananas
By Timothy Pilgrim on en.wikipedia
Left to right:  plantain, red, latundan, and Cavendish bananas

For sure, there are more I haven’t named.  Cavendish is the most popular variety sold in Western markets.  They are grown extensively in the Philippines and other exporting countries.  Cavendish bananas keep well during transport

Archaeological evidence suggests that bananas were cultivated in Papua New Guinea as early as 8,000 B.C.  The natives called it biku in the Hiri Motu language.

It is likely that other species of banana were domesticated later in other parts of Southeast Asia.  Southeast Asia is comprised by mainland SEAsia and Maritime SEAsia. Mainland SEAsia (known historically as Indochina) includes Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, and West Malaysia.  Maritime SEAsia is comprised by Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, East Timor, Brunei, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, and Christmas Island.

From SEAsia, the banana spread in all directions, to China, India, Arabia, and to Africa.  The word banana is thought to be derived from the West African word banaana.  The theory is that Portuguese sailors picked up the fruit — and the name — in the 1590s.

A search across languages in reveals that banana translates, thus:
Pilipino         = saging
Indonesian   = pisang
Malay            = pisang.
Spanish         = platano

Looks like I have more digging to do in order to discover the root of our word saging, which is a really old term, considering that our islands are some of the incubators of banana development.

The Spanish platano is akin to  plantain, which is the English word for the starchy cooking banana, sort of like our saba.

Drinking Straws


I thought that drinking straws were invented around the time when soft drinks became popular.  I couldn’t be more wrong!


Do you remember Antonio Pigafetta from our study of Philippine history?  Pigafetta served as the historian of the Magellan expedition, which sailed from Spain on Sept. 20, 1519.  Magellan perished at the hands of Chief Lapulapu during the Battle of Mactan in 1521, but Pigafetta was among those who survived and successfully circumnavigated the globe, returning to Spain in 1522.

Pigafetta was a very patient note-taker; he jotted down foreign words and their meanings, he wrote long descriptions of things that he saw and heard.  From him we learn that the people in the Visayan islands, in 1521, were sipping their wines with some kind of straw!

Following is a section from Pigafetta’s account, translated by Lord Stanley of Alderley:

          When our people went on shore by day or by night, they always met with some one who invited them to eat and drink. They only half cook their victuals, and salt them very much, which makes them drink a great deal; and they drink much with reeds, sucking the wine from the vessels. Their repasts always last from five to six hours.

Pigafetta paints the Visayans as consummate hosts.  Whenever the Spaniards came ashore, be it day or night, they were met by someone who invited the visitors to eat and drink.

Pigafetta goes on to say that the Visayans only half-cooked their food, which they seasoned with a lot of salt.  Then he adds that the salty food made the locals drink a great deal.

===========================================================================WOW!  I wonder if the Visayans did that on purpose: I mean salting their food a lot, so that they could drink more wine.  I do know that in modern bars, the management gives away bags or bowls of salty popcorn so that patrons will get thirsty and order more beer or mixed drinks.

Lastly, we see from the Pigafetta quotation that the Visayans sipped their wine with reeds, and that their meals lasted up to six hours!

A reed is the straight stalk of any of various tall grasses.  Here are a few examples:

Home / African Thatch Reed Panels 31" x 18" (6 Pack)   Free photo: Reed, Nature, Marsh Plant - Free Image on Pixabay - 268034


But, guess what, the use of reeds to facilitate drinking is a very, Very, VERY old practice.  The Sumerians were the first to use straws, and they used it for drinking beer, which sometimes had solid by-products in the fermented liquid.  To avoid getting the solids into the mouth, they used reeds to sip from the middle of the vessel.  Artifacts discovered in a Sumerian tomb from 3,000 B.C. included a gold tube, probably used by a ruler or a very rich individual for sipping beer.

To jog your memory on world history:  Sumer was a civilization in modern-day Iraq; it was about as advanced as the Egyptians and the people of the Indus Valley.  Sumerian farmers cultivated grains and other crops near the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, which enabled them to settle in a permanent place and develop their civilization.


The modern drinking straw was initially made of paper.  It was invented by Marvin Stone in 1888 in Washington, D.C.   Some of you might remember sipping soft drinks with paper straws, but those have now been superseded by plastic straws.

Plastic straws present a problem in garbage disposal; they are not biodegradable.   Fortunately, resourceful people are able to come up with further uses for the plastic straws.  In Uganda, for example, waste straws are collected and cleaned, then woven into mats or bags.

Have you seen some ingenious ways of re-using plastic straws in the Philippines, or wherever you’re located as an Overseas Foreign Worker?


Iyong salitang matsakaw,  parang Intsik ang tunog, ‘di ba?

Dami ko nang ni-research na mga salitang tungkol sa pagkaing Intsik, mga putahe nila, at iba’t-ibang sangkap.  Hindi ko makita ang anumang relasyon sa matsakaw, iyong medyo matamis at malutong na day-old tinapay na bina-bargain sa mga panaderia.

Mali pala ang tinitingnan kong kultura!  Kahapon ay inimbita ako ng isang kaibigan na mananghali sa restorang Mehikano.  Habang binabasa ko ang menu, napansin ko ang isang putahe nila, machaka.

Wow, ika ko sa sarili.  Ito na siguro ang sagot sa matagal ko nang hinhanap na pinagmulan ng matsakaw!


Ang machaca ay hiniwa-hiwang piraso ng karneng baboy o baka, tinimplahan ng iba’t ibang rekado, at iniluto nang matagal sa hurno.  Sa ganoong paraan, pwede itong i-imbak nang matagal.

Kapag kailangan, ang machaca ay sinasariwa sa kaunting tubig, hinihibla-hibla, at isinasahog sa pagluluto ng maraming putahe, tulad ng taco, burrito, enchilada.  Madalas as igini-gisa ito sa sibuyas at inihahain kasama ng pritong itlog.


Hindi ba, kahawig ng matsakaw sa panaderia natin
ang machaca ng Mexico?

Rub the coffee mixture all over your pieces of meat.


Karne Norte

Bakit nga ba tinawag nating karne norte ang corned beef?

Ang corned beef ay karneng baka na inimbak sa pamamagitan ng pag-aasin.  Isang paraan ito sa pagtatago ng pagkain bago naimbento ang refrigeration.

Ang salitang corned ay mula sa kurnam, Aleman para sa “maliliit na buto ng anuman.”  Ilang halimbawa ay ang sumusunod:

buto ng trigo                = wheatcorn
buto ng barley             = barleycorn
buto ng paminta         = peppercorn.

Sapagkat ang uri ng asin na gamit sa pag-iimbak ng karneng baka ay kasinlaki ng mga nasabing butil, ito ay tinawag na corn of salt, at ang resultang produkto ay tinawag na corned beef.

Bakit dalawang hugis ang lata ng corned beef?

Iyong medyo kwadrado ay para sa madaling pagsa-salansan sa knapsack ng mga sundalo.   Mula pa noong World War I, kasama na ito sa mga supplies sa giyera.  May kasama itong susi na pambukas, para hindi kailanganin ang abre-lata.

At kung bubutasan ninyo ang kabilang dulo ng binuksang de-lata, madaling maidudulas palabas ang karne.  Sa ganoon, pwede itong i-slice tulad ng nasa larawan sa kaliwa.

Corned_beef     About the Product:

Iyong bilog na lata ay para sa pambahay na gamit.  Ito ay madaling buksan ng abre-lata, at karaniwang iniluluto bago ihain.


Ngayon, balikan natin ang tanong:  bakit ito tinawag na karne norte?  Alalahanin natin na sa Pilipinas lang gamit ang pangalang ito; hindi sa Espanya, Mexico o iba pang bansa sa Latin America na nagsasalita ng Kastila.

Ang sagot ay natagpuan ko sa isang miyembro ng  Noon daw Digmaang Pilipino-Amerikano (Peb. 4, 1899 – Hulyo 2, 1902), kabilang sa supplies ng mga sundalong Amerikano and de-latang corned beef .  Ang bansag ng mga Pilipino sa nasabing pagkain ay karne Norte Amerikano.   Pagkaraan ng ilang panahon, at hanggang sa kasalukyan, pina-igsi ang pangalan at naging karne norte  na lang.


Kung interesado kayo sa istorya ng ating bansa, i-search ninyo ang:
Philippine-American War
Battle of Manila (1899)
Campaigns of the Philippine-American War.