Sinigang (Tangy Filipino Soup)

Sinigang (Tangy Filipino Soup)

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  1. I Was Saved by Filipino Food                                                                                        Marrying a Filipina was the smartest thing I ever did, for many reasons, not the least of which (but not the most of which by any means, or my wife would kill me) because it introduced me to food from the Philippines.

    Most Americans have never tried Filipino food unless they happen to have Filipino friends or co-workers who don’t mind sharing food. This is unfortunate. While most Americans enjoy Chinese food, many are hesitant with other Asiatic foods, such as Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese (I love them all; then again, I think I was an Asian chef in a former life).

    However, Filipino food—while it has its similarities to other Asiatic foods—is quite different, and many recipes have been altered subtly or grossly to accommodate American taste buds over the many years that the Philippines was an American territory. The fact is, no Asian country is more Americanized than the Philippines. In fact, English remains the administrative language of the country. As a result, many Filipino dishes will appeal to many if not most Americans.


     My wife introduced the rest of my family to several Filipino delicacies, such as adobo and lumpia, both of which they all adore. There are a number of Filipino dishes that might not appeal to my family and Americans as a whole, because for some odd and baffling reason, Filipinos like their meat sweet. I’m not talking mildly sweetened, like mild Italian sausage for example, but very sweet. I can’t stand Filipino style spaghetti because it tastes like the sauce is mostly sugar. But there are a number of dishes that aren’t quite so sweet (adobo, for example), and others that aren’t sweet at all because that would just be wrong. Sinigang is such a dish.

    This delicious, tangy soup can be served as an appetizer at the beginning of a meal, or served over steamed white rice and eaten as a main course, because it is a balanced meal in and of itself.


     If you want to make this seafood sinigang, keep in mind that this won’t be an authentic recipe. Real Filipino seafood sinigang contains fish and fish stock in addition to the shrimp, as well as other types of seafood, depending on who’s making it. This is supposedly a “poor man’s” meal, because you can make it with pretty much whatever you have in the fridge… at least you could if you lived in the Philippines (I, for instance, would hesitate to add broccoli, corn or bologna to the recipe). This explains why so many ingredients listed below are optional. Use whichever ones you like and disregard the rest. Just make sure you use the taro, onion, tomato and daikon radish, or it will come out bland. I probably don’t need to point out that shrimp contain a crap-load less fat than pork bellies, so if you’re counting calories go with the shrimp. Personally, I think it tastes better, too, though pork sinigang is also to die for.


     You can also make beef sinigang, but as I have never cooked or even eaten this, I would be the wrong person to advise you. If you follow the pork recipe substituting beef for the pork, it’ll probably turn out fine, but don’t gripe to me if it doesn’t.


    The most essential ingredient is the tamarind base. Knorr makes a find powdered soup base (sour tamarind and sinigang seasonings are essentially the same). In the Philippines, puritans use real sour tamarind, usually cultivated from their own yards. But this is time consuming and a pain in the butt, which is why most Filipinos use the packets of seasoning, even in the Philippines. Also, mothers make sinigang for their kids when they have colds instead of chicken soup, which makes sense because sour tamarind is loaded with several essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C. Personally, I could care less: the stuff tastes damn good, and that’s what matters.


     Although this recipe may look daunting because it contains many ingredients, it is very easy to make, but it takes a while to cook, so plan ahead. You will need a medium frying pan and a medium-large pot, or—if you’re smart and took my advice long ago and purchased one—you can do it all in a Presto Multi Cooker. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if you don’t have one of these, you’re just weird.

    This is my personal take on the classic Filipino dish. According to my wife, no one in the Philippines browns the pork before cooking or uses pork stock to enrich the soup… but then again, I seriously doubt that she knows everyone living in the Philippines. Still, she’s had it the classic way all her life, but prefers my variation, so I must be doing something right.


    Sinigang Recipe

    For this you will need:

    • 1 lb. pork belly, skinned and cut into 1 inch cubes (or 8-10 raw jumbo tiger prawns)
    • 1/4 cup pork stock (*optional* see addendum at end of article)
    • 2 packets Knorr Sinigang or Sour Tamarind seasoning
    • 2 taro roots, peeled, washed and cut into 1 inch cubes
    • 1/3 – 1/2 daikon radish, cut into 1 inch cubes
    • 1/2 bunch bok choy, washed and separated
    • 6-8 jalapeno peppers (or half as many Serrano chilies)
    • 1 tomato, sliced
    • 1/2 white onion, sliced thin
    • 4-6 pieces okra (*optional*)
    • 4-6 string beans (*optional*)
    • 1 chayote fruit cut into 1 inch cubes (*optional*)
    • 1 tsp. olive oil
    • Water


    The procedure:

    1. Fry the tomato and onion slices in 1 tsp. olive oil until tender (use a frying pan, or the Presto cooker; if you use the Presto, wipe out the interior following this step) and set aside
    2. Place the pieces of pork in the cooker, fat side down, and brown them over high heat, turning the pieces occasionally so that they brown on all sides (if using shrimp instead, add them to the soup after everything else to avoid overcooking); no cooking oil is necessary, as plenty of fat will cook off the pork pieces; once the pork is browned, sop up the excess fat with paper towels
    3. Add the tomato, onions, chilies and 1/3 of the cubed taro, then add enough water to cover everything; cover the cooker, reduce heat to simmer and cook for 30 minutes
    4. By now, the taro should be soft and beginning to dissolve; that’s okay, because the dissolved taro thickens the soup base slightly
    5. Remove the chilies once they are soft and before they break open, or the soup will be decidedly spicy
    6. Add one packet tamarind seasoning and the pork stock (if using… and I highly recommend it), then add the radish, the remaining taro and any other vegetables you are using (except for chayote, which cooks quickly); cover and resume simmering for 30 minutes; add water as needed to keep everything submerged
    7. When pork pieces and taro are tender, taste; adjust tamarind seasoning as needed; you want the soup to be quite tangy, but not overpowering
    8. Add chayote if using and continue simmering until the chayote is tender; if not using chayote, skip to next step
    9. Add bok choy and the chilies, then taste again; add water and/or tamarind as needed; simmer for 5 minutes more or until the bok choy is tender
    10. If using shrimp instead of pork, add the shrimp; continue simmering the soup until the shrimp turn pink (about a minute), then serve immediately


    **For improved flavor, use pork stock in this recipe. It’s very easy to make: just buy 3-4 lbs. pork neck bones (and save any bones you may cut out of pork roasts prior to cooking, such as picnic roasts), throw them in a big pot, cover them with water and boil the crap out of them for 3-4 hours over medium-high heat. Strain the broth and store it in glass jars when it cools. It will keep in the fridge for weeks and indefinitely in the freezer. NOTE: a layer of fat will form on top (sometimes a rather thick layer); remove this fat only when you’re ready to use the stock, as it helps to preserve it.

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