Nestled among the many lists predicting 2019’s hottest food trends, Filipino cooking is frequently mentioned. Filipino recipes exemplify chefs’ most common advice — balance a dish by incorporating a range of complementary flavors (bright, funky, salty and sweet) so it’s a mystery why it’s just now hitting the trendsetters’ lists. It might be linked to the release of Nicole Ponseca’s cookbook “I Am Filipino: And This is How We Cook” (Artisan 2018), as it appeared on several year-end ‘best cookbook” lists. (Ponseca runs restaurants Maharlika and Jeepney in New York City.)
Filipinos make up the second-largest Asian population in the United States. Leslie Damaso (Mineral Point) moved from the Philippines when she was 11 years old. She grew up on her grandparents’ tropical orchard -- she used to pick mangoes from her bedroom window. They also grew pineapples, coconuts, tamarind, starfruit, papayas and more. Damaso recalled her grandfather making a dish called “jumping salad.” It was fresh-caught shrimp, still alive, doused in calamansi juice (a local citrus) that was eaten immediately — if you weren’t fast, the shrimp would jump out of the bowl. She now resides in the artistic and agricultural haven of Mineral Point, where she runs Buttonhill Music Studio. Damaso teaches piano voice lessons, but also uses the historical building to showcase artists, composers and from time to time hosts interesting dinners.
In January, Damaso hosted a Filipino-Wisconsin fusion dinner with her friend Eve Studnicka. Studnicka has roots in Mineral Point but lives in Chicago, where she hosts regular pop-up meals called “Dinner at the Grotto”. This collaboration featured a multi-course menu of Filipino dishes but incorporated classic Wisconsin ingredients, like apples, cranberries, New Glarus beer and cheese (of course). Here she shares her recipe for Pork Adobo, braised in New Glarus beer and classic salad of mangoes, tomatoes, onions and local apples.
The rest of the menu included achara — a dish of pickled vegetables, green papaya and dried cranberries (traditionally it has raisins). Venison sausages with maple syrup were a nod to the garlicky Filipino sausage called longanisa, and additional dishes included an oxtail stew called kare kare and pancit, a rice noodle salad. The meal was concluded with a traditional Wisconsin kringle, but stuffed with a purple sweet potato called ube, served alongside cheddar cheese ice cream.
Damaso said it is common for Filipinos to merge flavors with the local cuisine where they have settled. “Because we are scattered everywhere, we have to adapt to create our new home, and it results in exciting flavors. It’s not straight up Filipino, but it includes the new place. You can create a new home that way. It boils down to creating community through food and drink, because everyone eats and drinks.”
Damaso strives to create community by bringing people together for concerts, art installations and special dinners. (She’s featuring a local artist and chocolate maker on International Women’s Day March 8, an exhibit titled “Of Sea and Hill”.)
Traditional Filipino ingredients are fairly easy to find. Damaso says “Filipino food has big flavors and textures. You have salty, sweet, bitter, fatty, and sour — mostly from different types of vinegar like sugar cane and rice.” The dishes aren’t too spicy, but often have a funky element from different types of fish sauce like patis and bagoong. Jasmine rice is almost always served as a calming counterpoint to the bold flavors.
For a taste of Filipino cuisine closer to home, try the recipes below or check out Meat on the Street, a family-owned Filipino restaurant at 1125 N. 9th St. in Milwaukee.
This is the recipe Damaso and Studnicka used for their special Filipino/Wisconsin dinner in January. The ingredients and method are traditional Filipino, with the added twist of a local Wisconsin beer for braising. It’s served over a mango and vegetable salad.
Tested by Anna Thomas Bates
Makes 6 servings
- 1 tablespoon lard or vegetable oil
- 2 pounds pork shoulder roast, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 20 garlic cloves
- 1 bay leaf
- ¾ cup coconut vinegar or apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
- ½ of a 12-ounce bottle of Spotted Cow
Warm oil or lard in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add pork to pan and cook until all sides are browned. Reduce heat to medium, add garlic cloves and bay leaf and cook 1 to 2 minutes until garlic is fragrant. Add remaining ingredients and simmer over low heat, uncovered, until most of the liquid has evaporated and you are left with a thick gravy and pork is tender, about 1 hour.
This Filipino standard can be found with many different ingredients. For her Filipino/Wisconsin dinner, Leslie Damaso added pomelo and local apples. It is also common to see this salad served with salted, sliced duck egg and calamansi juice instead of lime juice.
Tomato Mango Salad
Tested by Anna Thomas Bates
Makes 6 servings
- 2 mangoes
- 3 large tomatoes
- 1 small onion
- 1 ½ tablespoons fish sauce
- Juice of 2 limes
Chop up mango, tomato, onion and any other fruits or vegetables you are using. Toss with fish sauce and lime juice.