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Sinigang Phở

Let me tell you about rainy days. In the middle of the scorching summer heat, it is a pleasant and an immensely welcomed treat to have light cooling rain-showers paired with a refreshing breeze. This kind of day smells and feels like home to me (aaah, the tropical monsoon), hence comes a craving for comfort food.

Sinigang Phở – a Filipino-Vietnamese fusion of 2 quintessential dishes from South-East Asia. This is the first time I have tried combining these two recipes, and what an incredible surprise!

Sinigang is a classic savoury sour soup from the Philippines, typically taking its signature sour flavor from tamarind, guava, miso or kamias. It can be cooked with beef, pork, prawns or fish, and is commonly eaten with steamed white rice and fish sauce on the side. It is one of those dishes that you remember your grandma or your mom cooking for you, especially when you’re not feeling well. Home-cooked food at its very essence, I tell you.

Phở, on the other hand, is a Vietnamese noodle soup defined by a clear broth, flat rice noodles, a couple of herbs (mainly coriander and mint), and meat (beef or chicken). This might have been my gateway dish to (my-now-in-the-top-5-favorite) Vietnamese cuisine. The simplicity and cleanliness of the taste and flavor of Phở is enough to seduce me to the rest of the Vietnamese fare. I mean, really, a good bowl of noodle soup just makes so much sense, right? And combine that with coriander and meat?! Ha, total sense! Check out this interesting history of Phở to truly comprehend the influence of this dish.

Now, let’s get cooking!

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Sinigang Phở
(serves 4-6)

1.5 L beef/chicken broth (boil beef shanks or scrap bones and meat with sea salt, carrots, celery, onions, and pepper corns for about 2-4 hours, and then pick out and set aside the solids leaving the stock for this recipe)
3 tbsp tamarind soup powder (Sinigang/tamarind soup mix is typically available in Asian shops)
2 tbsp patis/fish sauce
200-250g flat rice noodles
1 small zucchini, julienned and the middle part cut into cubes
4-6 pieces bone marrow
2/3 small cabbage, sliced
fresh coriander
crispy onions
baby lettuce (optional)
1 small red thai chili (optional), sliced
skinless longganisa/Filipino sweet-savory sausage (optional), fried

In a large pot, bring the beef broth to boil. Add the tamarind powder (feel free to add more if you prefer a more sour soup), and fish sauce. Adjust the taste accordingly if you find it lacks salt or tamarind powder. Once the soup’s taste is well-balanced, add in the bone marrow. Let it simmer for 10 minutes. Add the cubed middle part of the zucchini and sliced cabbage. Let it simmer for another 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, and add the noodles. Cover and leave it for 5-8 minutes until noodles are cooked.

Time to serve!

Pour in some soup, noodles and veggies into individual bowls. Place one bone marrow per bowl. Garnish with julienned zucchini, baby lettuce, coriander, chili and crispy onions. Top with skinless longganisa if available. If you have the boiled beef shanks, you can also pull apart the slow-cooked meat and add it into the soup for a more hearty version of this dish.

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Kain na! ✌︎

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Slow-cooked Chashu Pork Bao and the summer solstice

Today officially kick starts summer on this side of the world, and as you can see, everyone’s creeping out of hibernation or simply waking up from all the daily haze. There are these little things called distractions which disguise themselves as meaningful preoccupations, and I have to admit that I have fallen prey to these more often than I would like to admit. Especially in the last 4 months.

With the sun half-way out for the summer (not quite enough for the month of June!), my brain is at the very least sparking some motivation, inspiration and a sense of commitment (albeit delayed) thus this post. We have been M.I.A. on this space for a couple of months, but it has been quite eventful chez nous. The kitchen has definitely been full house and very very crazy. I’m very excited to share with you guys what’s been cooking recently!

First off, an Asian inspired finger-food spread. A few weeks ago, we organized an exhibit called “Graphic Canvas” which features illustrations by one of the best designers/illustrators from Manila, Dan Matutina. We’re huge fans of Dan’s works, so we thought it would be cool to share the love and bring his works to the locals here. The vernissage was also an exciting opportunity for us to make a yummy apéro menu, so the pots and pans were out getting busy for a bao and canapé party.

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It was a fairly small event, so instead of having a big complex menu, we opted for 2 sure-hit dishes: Chashu Pork Baos and Adobo Flakes Canapés. Since the beginning of this year, I have had a fixation on everything Bao – siopaos, cua paos, and mantous! Having such a craving in this tiny city can be frustrating though as there aren’t a lot of options available or prices can get pretty steep for quite possibly a mediocre meal. The advantage though? Well, I learned how to make baos myself! Man, so pleased that it’s pretty doable!

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Slow-cooked Chashu Pork Bao

For the Chashu: (I followed this lovely recipe)
1 kg pork shoulder
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 cup mirin
1 cup Shaoxing wine
1/4 cup coco sugar
8 cloves garlic, crushed
2 medium stalks green onions
2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
2 small shallots, halved

For the Bao: (makes about 8 big buns or 12-14 mini buns)
400 grams Dumpling flour
1 small pack Instant yeast
100 grams white sugar
200 ml almond milk
1 tbsp vegetable oil

On the side:
1/4 medium cucumber, sliced thinly
hoisin sauce
crispy onions

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Since the Chashu called for at least 4 hours of cooking, we started with this first. Preheat the oven to 125°C. Put all ingredients together in a cocotte/dutch oven. Let it cook over over medium heat just until it gently boils. Transfer the cocotte in the oven and leave to braise for at least 4 hours (more if chunk of pork shoulder is quite thick). Do not forget to turn over the pork occasionally to make sure the colour and cooking is even.

Once it’s cooked, let it cool. Take out the pork from the cocotte, and pull out the meat. Drain the sauce to obtain a smooth liquid. You can thicken this sauce a little with a bit of cornstarch. Once you have your preferred consistency, you can put back the pulled pork and simmer together for 2-3 minutes.

While the pork was cooking in the oven, it’s the best time to make the Bao. In a big bowl, dissolve the instant yeast and sugar in the milk. Stir the mixture. Add the dumpling flour. Mix and knead the dough for 10 minutes. Add the vegetable oil, and then knead for another 10 minutes. Form one round mass with the dough, and leave it in a warm dark corner (covered with a cloth) for 60 minutes.

After an hour, your dough would have risen and expanded. Roll the dough into a sausage and cut into 12-16 small portions. You could make bigger buns too by cutting the dough into less but bigger portions. Flatten each piece and fold in the middle to make folded baos, or simply make smooth round balls for easy mini bao buns. Put wax paper at the bottom of each bun (and inside the fold if applicable) to make sure it won’t stick to your steamer. Arrange in the steaming racks.

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Boil water for the steamer. Once the water boils, add 2 spoons of vinegar (apparently, this is the secret to white as snow bao buns!).  Turn down the heat to medium heat and begin to steam the buns for about 15-20 minutes. Make sure to open and dry the lid regularly to keep your buns dry and puffy. And there you go, you have your baos! You can freeze your baos and re-steam whenever you feel like having them.

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Now it’s time to assemble it all together. Spread a dollop of hoisin sauce on the inside of the bao fold. Place 2-4 slices of cucumber on top, and then a spoonful or two of pulled Chashu pork. Sprinkle a generous amount of crispy onions on top. Et voilà!

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Seriously, I cannot get over how delicious these are. We will be experimenting on other fillings soon, so watch out.

In the meantime, bon appetit!✌︎