dinengdeng, glorious dinengdeng!

I'm a typical Ilokano who can't live without dinengdeng, come share my passion...

various authentic, exotic, ilokano pinakbets

Concoction or variations of this kind of exotic Ilokano dish, of this ever ubiquitous vegetable stew...

sinanglaw? paksiw? which?

What do you prefer, Vigan-sinanglaw or Laoag-paksiw? What about pinapaitan and singkutsar?

unnok/ginukan, freshwater shellfish

Want some unnok soup or ginukan bugguong?

baradibud a tugi, lesser yam vegetable stew

Tugi, for some, is only meant to be boiled and eaten simply as is. But for me, it's an indispensable ingredient for yet another hearty Ilokano dish...


dalag/attasi/burikaw/buntiek (mudfish, snakefish)

Mud fish is so common a freshwater fish in the Philippines you can find it everywhere in creeks, rivers, lagoons, lakes or in small and big irrigation canals and in the muddy fields and ponds. And it has quite a share of names, aside form the generic dalag, in Cagayan it's generally called attasi. While in some places, it has a name according to its size or growth. It's called burikaw when it's quite that big, and buntiek when it's small.

And there's a variety of ways and means you can prepare a sumptuous dalag dish. It's commonly cooked sinigang or paksiw a dalag, (or pesang dalag, as the Tagalog prefer) soured with any agent preferred (young tamarind fruit/flowers/shoots, pias, green mango, tomatoes, or vinegar) with soup or stewed dry. It's also great when grilled/broiled (tinuno/inasar/pinulpogan) to consume as is or made into a tinenneb, broiled mud fish poured in with hot water and then soured with crushed young tamarind fruit or with sliced tomatoes, garnished with sliced onions, and swpiced with hot chilis.  Or even baked. Or fried. Or made into a buro, pickled with rice.

Paksiw a dalag.

Tinuno a dalag.
Baked dalag.


dinengdeng/inabraw, more, once more

Just can't get enough with dinengdeng (inabraw, if you will), this Ilokano gourmand in me (yes I consider dinengdeng kind of a gourmet), I have it in almost daily basis, my life could be so sorry and bleak, truly incomplete without it in my table in a day. I have exclusively blogged about it here and here today, once more. And more to come next blog entries. For dinengdeng is so versatile a dish it can be done in countless of ways and means with a variety of available veggies (especially green leafy) in season or all year round, as long as there's the blessed bugguong ready to lend its distinct flavor and aroma to every dinengdeng combination you can think of.

So, here are some more of my dinengdeng creations:

Winged beans (pallang), string beans (utong) and camote tops soured with young tamarind fruit.

Kuditdit or kudet (bracket fungi, tree ear fungus) and wild ampalaya (paria a balang/paria ti bakir)shoots with kinirog nga udang (fried freshwater shrimps).

Wild ampalaya shoots and straw mushrooms (uong-garami or uong-saba) with fried fish.

Chayote with dried ipon (goby fries). This is my personal favorite, that of chayote and/or papaya (green papayas) solo dinengdeng, which I usually flavor with lots of crushed laya (ginger). The soup is so savoury and gingery hot.

Uong, young tarong, sabong ken uggot kabatiti, with shrimps. 

A very savory dinengdeng I promise you, mainly because of its prized gamet (dried red seaweed). Gamet is like the Japanese nori. It enhances the flavor and aroma of the dinengdeng, especially its broth. Gamet seaweed is primarily gathered and dried in the northernmost towns of Ilocos Norte (mainly Burgos, and Pagudpod), and even in Cagayan (like Claveria). In this dinengdeng, you have there young tarong, sili nga aruy-oy (sweet pepper), and the flowers and shoots of kabatiti (the native, angular sponge gourd, patola).

Kalunay, katuday, uggot ken sabong kabatiti, with broiled native paltat (catfish).

Boiled utong (cowpeas) and sabong ken uggot ti karabasa (squash flowers and shoots), with bits of deep fried pork. Quite a different dinengdeng, you say, but it's good.

Tugi ( lesser yam, Chinese yam, Dioscorea esculenta Lour.), pallang, katuday (katuray, West Indian pea), and kalunay (spinach, amaranth, kulitis) with udang. This one, with the presence of the tugi, can also be called a buridibod. And it's so good, the soup is sweetish.


saluyot adventures in molokhialand

(This was written and blogged during my brief stay in the Sultanate of Oman.)

There's this corresponding relativity to uniquely ilokanistic craving for the luxuriant bugguong, when you are away from your native land, Ilocos land. The same whim, or necessity if you will, the same desire akin to addiction, to please a selfish Ilokano palate's demand for the equally elusive saluyot to grace your dinengdengs. But being in a strange land, I initially thought this is an appettite for the impossible.

Do Omanis, do Arabs ever eat saluyot like we Ilokanos gobble this "slippery when wet" delicacy?

I thought only Ilokanos are crazy about the saluyot.

I was wrong.

Of course, they do have saluyot in the hypermarts. After some desperate scouring and foraging in one of those labyrinthine supermarkets, I finally bumped into a treasure trove of bagged saluyot languidly lying frozen and harder than diamond in one cozy corner of those huge freezers, among slabs of hardened spinach, green peas, beans, sweet corn and other frozen veggies. It's called molokhia. or mulukheyya. Or molokheyya. Whatever. It's the Egyptian Arabic name, according to Wikipedia, of the corchorus plant.

And yes, this one is imported from Egypt. And surprise, surprise, saluyot is a staple food in Egypt since the time of the pharaohs! Some Egyptians are even considering molokhia as their national dish. So that fact somehow demystifies our own popular thought that saluyot is exclusively Ilokano staple food and that it's supposedly endemic in Ilocos land. The Egyptians are devouring saluyot since time immemorial, period.

But the way we Ilokanos and Egyptians ingest saluyot/molokhia differ. While we love it fresh and whole, leaves and all, and boil it, stew it, pakbet it in bugguong, the Egyptians and others prefer molokhia in soups or as a soup base. That's what Ive discovered when I finally opened the plastic pouch of the frozen molokhia. I never thought of saluyot being cooked into a soup, a real soup.I only know saluyot soup as dinengdeng soup, boiled saluyot leaves with mixture of other leafy veggies or with bamboo shoots, its traditional Ilokano partner.

When I spotted the frozen molokhia, I was enthralled with the perfect picture of fresh saluyot leaves in the packaging and then and there readily dreampt of pinakbet a saluyot, saluyot leaves stewed dry in bugguong, vinegar, garlic, ginger, onion and peppercorns.

And I was horrified when I found out that my precious saluyot was a thick mush of a paste meant to be "soupified," indeed! My desire crumbled. What am I going to do with this mucus-like slimy mess? I wanted to say yuck! yuppie-like, but then this is saluyot all the same and I do not want to blaspheme on the sanctity, the sacredness of the blessed saluyot.

I googled for a possible recipe. and I found out an original egyptian molokhia soup recipe called "Egyptian greens soup" or simply "molokhia" (the dish and the plant are one, amongst Egyptians and Sudanese and other peoples in the Mideast). It requires some spices like coriander, chilli, cayenne and bay leaf. And chicken stock for soup base. And butter, to "fry" the soup.

I followed the recipe to the letter and here it goes, the saluyot soup boiling with a distinctly unfamiliar aroma wafting tantalizingly:

And after some time, here it is. It's still saluyot, flavor and fragrance and all. Although because of the added spices as contrasted to the simple Ilokano way, it become more of the aromatic herb that it was popularly intended and consumed in its Egyptian origin. But it's a very tasty, delicious, thick soup best for entrée. Or as is the Ilokano practice, it can go with your rice as labay and of course, it's perfect for that "bumanerber nga igup" that we usually enjoy with dinengdeng broth, especially with saluyot with that distinct "gumalisgalis" texture.

But still I'm not satisfied with my first Oman saluyot meal. I still crave for a whole and fresh saluyot with its leaves intact and not chopped or minced or pulped into a paste.

And imagine my joy when I finally came upon fresh saluyot bundles in the vegetable section of the hypermart. This is a local produce and I learned later it's plentiful in the local veggie souks (markets) though its availablity is not regular. And again, a sizeable chunk, or the whole of it, of the saluyot-ilokano-exclusivity myth in me is shattered. Of course, Omanis, the locals, the Arabs love saluyot, too. And it's a part of their own cuisine as well. Who else are buying these and for whom are the local farmers are planting these saluyots? Certainly, not only for the handful of expat Ilokanos or Filipinos here. But for themselves. They are also molokhia lovers and this is molokhialand. Get that.

And so, without much ado, I cooked my precious saluyot pakbet. You do the usual Ilokano way of stewing. the panagdengdeng act. The panamguong act. Use only a minimal amount of water. Throw in crushed garlic, crushed ginger, sliced onion, cracked or uncracked peppercorns. Simmer a bit, then place the washed saluyot tops and leaves. Simmer for a while. Optionally, put in some sagpaw like dried shrimps, dried fish or meat. Simmer some more. If the the saluyot is already kind of "slippery" or tender, put in some tablespoonfuls of vinegar (suka ti basi or suka nga iloko is preferred, but other blends like paombong is just as well). I do not add the vinegar at the beginning, I wait for some time for the saluyot to cook and only then will I add vinegar. This is for the saluyot to retain some texture and smoothness. Sometimes when you add suka by default (at the start), the saluyot "hardens" or "coarsens." But this is optional or preferential. After putting in the vinegar, simmer some more until it dries up with only a hint of broth underneath. Be careful to moderate the "broth drying" as it may burn at its base if you don't attend to it. You can retain some more broth if you want, to mix as labay with your rice.

And this is it, my favorite saluyot dish, pakbet basking in all its glory:

Once more, a close up of the heavenly dish in its rightful splendor:

But wait, here's more. I soon found out that there's a dried saluyot in the same hypermarket.

Look at those gorgeous Egyptian saluyot leaves in its petrified state. It's as if it promises a glorious psychedelic trip to gastronomic heaven. No, not to be smoked like a pot, you sucker, but to be ingested pakbet-wise after it is boiled up in bugguong in a pot. That, I have yet to try. But then again, we dry aba or taro leaves, paria leaves, mushroom, kudet or kuditdit, even marunggay leaves in the Philippines. And why not saluyot? This dried ambrosia, this saluyot, can be a concocted into an excellent soup or turned into a magnificent pakbet, all the same, fresh or dried or pulverized, it's still saluyot, molokhia or molokheyya. Does it matter?

(Originally blogged somewhere on 26 May 2008)


the panamugguong act: the panagsegseg

(This was written and blogged when I was in the Sultanate of Oman, of which during my brief stay, I craved for bugguong (fermented fish/fish paste) like no other. In that particular place, Sohar City, where we used to stay, no bugguong was in sight. At that particular time. But nowadays, I was duly informed that a newly built big supermarket/mall has rows of bottled bugguong paste in its "Asian" section, to the relief of the many homesick Ilokanos in the area.

This is a follow-up to my entry about my attempt at bugguong-making in an Arab land, in desperation.)

And so I have my own precious home-brewed bugguong at last. Now, I could content myself with a real bugguong to tinker with my simple binugguongan recipes.

So, at last, I should not worry about scouring stores for that elusive bottled instant bugguong which is, by the way, "in vogue" in most parts of the Philippines, Ilocos Region included. Surely, people is used to these instant mix things like instant sampaloc mix, instant kamias mix, instant ginisa flavor mix, instant meaty flavor mix, instant gata mix and so many other powderized and solidified mixes and other bizarre (but admittedly, nifty and practical) compact concoctions that they now prefer these to, well, instantly and without much ado, flavor their cooking. And bugguong is obligatorily included courtesy of the bottled liquefied brew. No more of the bagas of flesh, fishbone and all. Gone also are the canned bugguongs which proliferated the market in the past (remember the famous "naimas ken nabanglo" CK Bagoong? This was the most popular canned whole bugguong when I was younger). Although, of course, you can still have a sinukat or a jar of whole bugguong straight from the bugguong vendors who display their bugguong in big plastic vats and some still sealed in plastic container inside huge straw bags. They`re still there, the bugguong traders as there are still bugguong factories in Lingayen, Dagupan or Balayan (in fact, the enormously popular bottled bugguongs are also made by these big bugguong manufacturers). You'll just have to be keen enough and be wary when you buy sinukat or tingi as some, or most, bugguong vendors has this vicious practice of diluting their wholesome bugguong with boiled tap water just to bloat the quantity of their bugguong. This is one disgusting "business strategy" of most small and big vendors in the Philippines. They dilute your bugguong, they put formalin in your meat and vegetables, they sell you stale and expired and substandard goods, etc. This despite you paying the price they want. so, if you buy fresh bugguong or other stuff, you better have a suki that you can trust.

Instant bugguong is really the easy way to have your dinengdengs and pinakbets. But if you really want a hearty inabraw or pakbet that you can truly savor and enjoy because it's a labor of love, you should use fresh whole bugguong.

And do the process of panamagbugguong act--the panagsegseg.

The first of which is of course, you boil some cups of water in a pan. you can calculate the right amount of water according to the type of dinengdeng that you want to cook, or in the amount of veggies, or even in the kind of veggies. Soupy or broth types, naturally, need more water. Pinakbet types require less or even nothing (some extremely dry pinakbets really need only the bugguong juice and the vegetables' own sweet juice to cook).

The right amount of bugguong also depends on the above considerations. Pinakbet types require more, though. But be careful that it won't become too salty. A salty pinakbet, especially if cooked dry, cannot be "remedied" by adding some water later to neutralize its saltiness. Not if you really preferred it dry in the first place. Mind you, adding water to try to reduce saltiness will spoil your precious pinakebbet.

When the water is bubbling, scoop up boiling water into the bugguong bowl. The hot water will actually cook the bugguong and loosen the fermented fish in it so you could separate flesh and guts from fishbone. Use the ladle to squash, mash and squeeze the fish, fishhead and all, until its flesh and other fish parts turn into a kind of a puree and blend with the mixture.

Then with utmost care, slowly and with calculated balancing act, pour in the liquid into the pan. Use the ladle to trap or filter the fishbone while pouring the liquid to prevent fishbone and other thorny bony bits to fall into the pan. Others use a fine mesh to filter thereby saving them of accidentally pouring segseg or remnants. But then, again, we are doing here the traditional way of panagsegseg, no easy shortcuts, please, use the ladle and test and prove your Ilokano skills of the panagsegseg.

First pouring will not at all pour the fleshy liquid so you've got to ladle up some more hot water into the bowl and segseg it again, pour the segregated liquid again, until what's left in the bowl are only fishbones and dregs.

Let the bugguong broth simmer for some minutes, just give it time to boil to cook in its juice, in its own salty sweet essence. This way, to eradicate its angdod or for its peculiar bugguongy smell to evaporate and turn into a heavenly dinengdeng/pakbet scent. Then you can now blend your vegetables and other ingredients for another savory and wholesome binugguongan mélange.


tinuno a kabatiti/roasted patola (sponge gourd)

One of my "most liked veggie fruit" is the native kabatiti (patola, sponge gourd, Cucumis acutangulus Linn.), the native bilidan (angular) variety (I prefer the bilidan kabatii than the one with soft skin and "nabanglo a kabatiti" (aromatic patola); the native bilidan is more sweeter and palatable, while the soft-skinned one is somewhat bland like tabungaw (upo; bottle gourd) or tangkoy. It's a childhood favorite as I was used to a vegetable diet which is typical in a farming community where I was born and grew. My mother would prepare it "special" by sauteeing the kabatiti sliced roundish with fragrant native bawang and native lasona, and then boil it. It's a very savory soup, so sweet, that I enjoy up to my adulthood. I make it occasionally, this time with sotanghon or misua or even bijon, and/or with Spanish-style sardines (in olive oil). Native kabatiti a bilidan is also a perfect veggie fruit ingredient in dinengdeng as it enhances flavor and sweetens the broth.

A kabatiti (bilidan) in trellis in our place in Nueva Vizcaya.

Native kabatiti is cylindrically short and roundish.
And one of my preferred preparation of the kabatiti fruit is roasted or grilled. Not many Ilokanos know that kabatiti can be prepared this way. This is a practice usually in the away or in farms. For me, this is the most delicious way you can consume kabatiti fruit as roasting it with its own juice trapped and intact inside assures you of its raw succulence and sweetness. It's just like roasting freshly picked straw mushrooms wrapped in banana leaves.

Here, I would have roasted my kabatiti over live embers but no charcoals available, so I just contented myself roasting them over LPG fire instead for a quick grilled kabatiti fix.

You know it's well and done when the kabatitis are soft (to the touch). Don't over-grill the fruit or it got burn all over and you'll have difficulty "skinning" the burnt skin that may "badly puncture" the fruit and spill much of its sweet juice.

After removing the burnt skin, cleanse with running tap water (when washing, do it slightly and don't squeeze the kabatiti or you'll be deprived of its prized juice!), and then cut the fruit this way:

See the succulence of it? The juice oozing out?
You can season it with a bit of salt or some drops of bugguong. Don't put in too much salt or bugguong, lest the sweetness will be overwhelmed. Garnish it with sliced tomatoes or young onions, if you like.

Perfect with steaming rice, even without the usual fried fish or meat. The burnt skin adding a unique aroma to the dish, akin to the prized smokiness of a bacon.