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