Many years ago, I was a college student who loved to eat and kare-kare was one of those dishes that I loved so much. My friend Amie and I used to wait for lunch break so that we could eat and chit-chat and sometimes when we have a huge gap in between our subjects we go father to eat our favorite Filipino food like that place next to my dorm where Uncle Pip’s place makes a variety of home-cooked meals. Amie always orders the same thing: Lechon Kawali. Seriously this is what she eats all the time. Uncle Pips’ restaurant makes a variety of dishes but one thing that they make special was kare-kare so it was a bit more expensive than other “ulam” or viand. Back then, I didn’t care what or where the ingredients come from the way I do today because in the Philippines most food is grown locally. The only imported ingredients could be bought from the big grocery stores or supermarkets. We were fairly at peace with what we ate that time. Or maybe because we didn’t have health issues yet!
Years passed and my taste for food have dramatically changed. I guess traveling and exposure to different cuisines were the biggest factors in my palate change. i don’t like meat anymore. I love fish more than ever. However, one day as I was sitting on the dining table with my laptop browsing for recipes, the smells and taste came back to me. My husband asked me to play something on Youtube just to have some sound at home. He suggested to play some Filipino shows. I couldn’t find a free live Filipino channel so I looked for some documentaries on Youtube. As I was watching, my husband joined me because he heard the word “food’. I felt like I was transported back to the memory lane of those days when life was stressful as a student but fun because you had a monthly allowance that you didn’t work hard to get from your parents. In the documentary, they were talking about how Filipino food is not famous in the world while Vietnamese, Korean, and Chinese food are well-known. Honestly, to me, it’s the lack of good presentation. Another factor for me is that we don’t market it well enough just like our tourist destinations which I guarantee you are one of the most beautiful places in the world. On a side note, You will never see nature like in the Philippines. But please do avoid Manila if you want to enjoy because I lived there for a good half of my life and I never got comfortable in Manila. The air is just too heavy to breathe that you will get sick immediately from the fumes, dust and smog.
The documentary was by Jessica Soho entitled “Isla Kulinarya” or culinary island. My husband was impressed and enamored so he wanted to try them all especially the pig skewers or lechon called “three little pigs” and the fourth one which was a combination of the three little pigs, and definitely the most fatty of all, called “the big bad wolf”. Serbians love to eat pork and they also make “lechon”or skewered pig. Unfortunately, I told him that it is not a healthy dish and is only good to eat during special celebrations. He said he knows that but he still would love to try because although they same something similar back home, our look so much more special and tasty. I told him that Filipino food is extremely tasty… and fatty, and sugary but sometimes really healthy. I told him that I can make them but he shouldn’t blame me if he gains weight once again. he got so hungry watching and asked me to stop the documentary and look for a travel video instead. So I did. However, my mind was still thinking about the food! Then I realized I can make Filipino food healthier! Why not? I can cut out all the fats, sugars, meat, and the unhealthy process of frying by choosing a dish that I can easily give a twist to! Afterall, cooking is an art! The first thing that came to my mind was kare-kare because it is made of peanuts, ground rice, and vegetables. It is bland on its own and relies solely on the quality of the shrimp paste unless of course you intentionally put seasoning to avoid eating shrimp paste. That’s a great option btw especially if it is vegan or vegetarian.
I was still bothered so I asked him to go to Wholefoods with me that night but he said it’s too late and too cold outside so we will go the next day. Then morning came and we did go to Wholefoods that day. I felt like a little girl for the first time in many years choosing carefully what I will use for the kare-kare. I got the unsalted roasted peanut butter for less than $3.00 actually it was $2.54 as you can see in the photo below. I didn’t get a peanut butter cream as suggested in most kare-kare recipes because I love organic peanut butter. Luckily, I was right, I didn’t need it at all. The ones from Wholefoods is the perfect peanut butter ingredient because it’s already creamy on its own. Peanuts release natural oils during the grinding process and it also has very tiny granules in it that you will be needing for the texture of the sauce. For the ground rice, my husband got me an organic jasmine rice which was so aromatic. I suddenly remembered the smell of freshly harvested rice that my grandfather used to bring home from his fields. How I loved the smell and the taste of “real” rice. So, when we came home, the first thing I did was put some 1/4 cup of rice into the blender and used the “pulse” mode to ground it. Our birds were complaining about the noise!
This dish takes a little bit of effort for washing, cutting, dicing, chopping, grinding, and cleaning but it is not as complicated as I previously thought it to be. I honestly never wanted to make this dish before because I thought it was so complicated! No, it is not at all and if you want to make this dish vegan you can certainly do so. Just don’t use meat. I used a bit of lean cut beef for the presentation but I didn’t use oxtail as chefs suggest. I find it unnecessary although it does make it tastier. You may also use vegan spices or seasonings instead of Knorr beef cubes if you don’t plan to use or if you are allergic to shrimp paste. This way your kare-kare is already tasty and ready to eat with warm rice or fried garlic rice. To wash off the fats from the meat try to drink a fresh pineapple juice or a cold pineapple smoothie right after.
Remember that you can always make any food healthier if you really want to. Our eating habit is our own choice and in the end what we eat eventually becomes part of our body. Our food choices will show up in our skin, in our physique, and in our overall health. Try to make the right choices because eating meat may not be bad for us but reaching a certain age, it gives us illnesses and makes aging faster. I’ve witnessed this in my own body, my husband, our friends, our family members, and now with so many people in new and groundbreaking scientific news. Just cut back the meat, sugars, and the artificial flavors. Work out, hike, walk for 30 minutes every day and detoxify by eating antioxidants every morning. You’ll be thankful for yourself that you did. E-mail me or DM me on Instagram for any questions or clarifications. I’m always happy to answer!
Okay, enough of the talk and let’s get started.
Please click on the arrow buttons for process photos.
Serves: 4-5 people
Cook Time: 2 hours
4 quarts pot/clay pot
wooden ladle/silicone ladle
3/4 cup ground peanuts
1/4 cup ground rice, powdered
1 tsp annatto powder, diluted in 1/3 cup water
5 garlic cloves
1 red/yellow onion
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp Himalayan pink salt (it has more vitamins and minerals)
5 cups beef broth
1 cup water
4 bokchoi bunch
1 eggplant, quartered
2 cups string beans, 2-inch slices
1 small banana heart, quartered
beef, lean cut (optional), boiled until tender
oxtail (optional), boiled until tender
Shrimp paste (Barrio Fiesta)
1. If you are using meat such as oxtail and lean cut beef, boil in 5 cups filtered water for an hour or two until it’s falling off the bone and the lean cut beef is tender. When it is tender remove meat from the broth and brown the meat with 2 tbsp of oil on both sides. Note that this step is optional. You can use the boiled beef directly without searing it. Otherwise, skip this step.
- On a clay pot or 4-quart pot turn stove to medium-high heat. Pour 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil. Saute garlic until fragrant but not completely brown. Add onions and cook until a bit translucent. If you are using meat this is the best time to add them. You can also add the boiled meat without searing in this step. Once the onions are completely translucent add the beef broth. If without meat add a vegan seasoning. If you don’t have one add only 1 teaspoon salt and 1 cup of water.
- Add peanut butter and stir until fully incorporated. Add half of 1/3 cup the annatto water and stir. Boil for 2 minutes or so. Once the color is visible. It will be yellowish but as you can see above I made it a dark yellow or almost orange. If you like that color add the remaining annatto water and mix well. Lower fire and let it simmer for a few minutes. Now add the rice powder and mix well. The sauce will thicken in a few seconds. If it is too thick add 3/4 cup of water or more depending on how thick or thin you want the sauce to be.
Add banana hearts and eggplants. Cook for 3 minutes covered. Add the string beans and cook for another 5 minutes covered until the veggies are soft. Put the bokchoi on top and cover for 2 minutes. Once the bokchoi is soft enough to mix with the sauce gently mix it. Taste test and remove from heat.
In a small ramekin, a tablespoon of Barrio Fiesta shrimp paste (spicy/regular) and set aside for serving. Pour some kare-kare in a bowl or serve it on top of a white jasmine rice or garlic fried rice. You can also serve kare-kare with fried tilapia or fried scad. It also goes well with a fresh cold pineapple juice. Enjoy your lunch!
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