karabasa & utong, squash goodies and string beans stew


This is my usual dinengdeng. Simple, fast, easy, delicious way of cooking veggies with bugguong.

Used here are flowers, tops and fruit of the karabasa (squash), and utong (young string beans, not to be mistaken to mean the Tagalog word).

First things first, the muri or the process of taking or picking out the non-essentials. These are the "beginnings" and "ends" of the string beans and squash tops and flower stalks, which are cut, and with the squash tops "skinned," its stem's hairy peel removed and its coarse leaves "crumpled" (like paper, to neutralize its roughness). And the peeling and gutting and cubing of the squash fruit. And the "deflowering" by removing the sepals and stamens or pistils of the squash flower. But when I muri squash flowers, I do not remove the yellow, pollen-crusted stamen or the "buto-buto." Traditionally, this is a non-essential part of this edible flower and is therefore mercilessly severed ala-Lorena Bobbitt (remember her?) and discarded and thrown away as if it is an odious and evil thing. Some say it is bitter. But not for me, I like the bittery sweetness of the squash buto-buto. For one, it should not be removed so as to prevent the oozing out of the precious nectar pool at its base. This nectar naturally sweetens the broth later. Remove only the buto-buto when it is inevitable as in some extreme cases when it is already rotten or when the base was infested by some worms. So when you muri the flower, check the stamen base for some nasty unsightly creatures. But spare the buto. You'll never regret saving it. It's so heavenly sweet and so wickedly yummy, delicious, the buto is.

Now, to the cooking of the dinengdeng!

The standard Ilokano way of stewing veggies or boiling veggies, dinengdeng and inabraw, is boiling water in a pot and then the obligatory panamguong (panamagbugguong) process.

As much as possible, use "real" bugguong. I mean the one with the rotting, errrr, fermenting fishes intact in it, the munamon, the mataan, and the tirong variety are the most preferred. Not the "instant" bottled or canned liquefied bugguong paste or sauce. Using an instant bugguong denies you a great chance of the noble task of making a hearty and splendid dinengdeng. If you want to really labor and savor the Ilokano dinengdeng, do the panagbugguong act called segseg--the process of extracting the essence of the bugguong into your dinengdeng broth. You put some bugguong, both fish and sauce, in a malukong (bowl) and ladle some boiling water into it and then, with careful and gentle tapping of the ladle's lip against the bugguong paste, extricate flesh from fishbone, mash into a puree-like mush, make it pulpy to extract the soul of the bugguong out of its fleshy and earthly corpus. And then separate and segregate pulped and mashed fishbone from liquid by carefully pouring the puree back into the bubling pot. Be very, very careful of this required calculated pouring act lest some tiny bits of fishbone escape and fall into the broth--it will spoil the entirety of the dinengdeng if there are tiny spurs in it, nobody will ever love a "kasegsegseg a dinengdeng" as it will cause an unpleasant irritation in the mouth and palate.

And then, and then, and then, boil the bugguong broth some more to eradicate its "angdod" or raw smell. Then put in the cubed squash fruit first and let some time to simmer for it to soften. If you prefer, you can put in a crushed "teeth" of garlic and some slices of fresh onion for aroma and flavor. After which, put in the string beans. Cook it some more. Finally, a minute or two before you serve it, put in the squash shoots (tops) and flowers. At this juncture, you can slip some tomato slices in the broth to moderate the salty greed of the bugguong, enhancing the flavor. The flowers should not be overcooked. Cook it just enough for the sweetness of the nectar in its ovule to blend with the broth. Serve immediately while piping hot, scoop up the squash flowers and tops and place atop the heap to prevent over-wilting, eat at once to take advantage of its sweet crisp succulence.

(Originally posted November 4, 2006)