Meal 140: Republic of Moldova

Moldova, as far as I can gather, is essentially the part of Romania that became part of the Russian Empire about two hundred years ago, and then the USSR about a century after that. The socioeconomic legacy of that border is stark: Romania's economy was deemed strong enough to join the EU in 2007, while Moldova remains the poorest country in Europe. However, linguistically and, crucially to us, culinarily, they're extremely similar.

"But wait," you ask, "why is Moldova alphabetized under R?" I'm so glad you asked, because it's been bugging me too. You see, the list published by the UK's Permanent Committee on Geographical Names shows 90 of the 195 countries they recognize as having an official name beginning with "Republic of." Yet the UN, lists precisely two as beginning that way. Republic of Korea is what's better known as South Korea, and there's a geopolitical rationale, because neither they nor North Korea (aka Democratic People's Republic of Korea) want to officially admit they're only half the peninsula. But the other is the Republic of Moldova, and I can find no logic whatsoever in why they can't just call themselves Moldova like everyone else does and get in line after Micronesia. (Which, by the way, is officially the Federated States of Micronesia but they were courteous enough to drop the formality for the alphabetization.)

Anyway. Romania is right after Republic of Moldova in the alphabet, the foods are similar, and thanks to its Ottoman Empire legacy, a lot of it is in that eggplant-pepper-tomato-bean spectrum. So we decided to make this meal fully vegetarian, and the next one all about the meats. 

Around the table were Nancy, Eric, Zef, Desi, Annette, Chelsea, Dee Dee, and three generations of Abraldes family: Grace, Robert, Michael, Tim, Christine, and little Celeste.

 

Murături | Pickles | Recipes: Grapes, Scapes

When I noticed that Moldova's got a fierce pickling game too late to ferment my own, I explored what could be done the faster way with vinegar, and found grapes mentioned a few places. Wine has been made in this region for thousands of years, and In fact, I read that Moldova's wine-based brandies were favored by the Soviet elite. So I pickled grapes! This was the very definition of sweet and sour, with a cup each of vinegar and sugar, along with mustard, peppercorn, and cinnamon. Having sat for only two days, the flavor was certainly a bit brash, but the grapes preserved nearly all their pop, and it was a great snack.

Since it's mid-June, it's scape season, and I noticed the quick-pickled garlic scapes when flipping through the Kachka cookbook. The recipe isn't specific to Moldova or Romania, but I figure I was in line with the spirit if not the letter of the national proclivity toward vegetable souring. I harvested all my garlic scapes plus the enormous (we're talking two-plus feet!) leek scapes, simmering the latter a few minutes before adding the former because they're thicker and needed the extra heat to break down. Their relatively mild pungency and toothy texture stand up to the vinegar brine, making this really the perfect way to highlight this fleeting and lovely gift of the garden.

Zacuscă | Summer vegetable spread | Recipe

Zakuska in Russian refers to an appetizers or snack typically eaten with booze. In Romanian, the term has come to be applied to one specific dish, of roasted peppers and eggplants simmered for hours with other vegetables like onions and tomatoes until it's rich and spreadable. Zacusca is typically made at the peak and end of summer to preserve the bounty, and canned for year-round enjoyment.

I went a bit overboard and cooked it over a slow fire in the grill, figuring that since the eggplant ought to be fire-roasted, why not just keep the flame going gently. It was a novel way to cook, but unfortunately the hours of smoke didn't really seem to impart much flavor on the dish, so I just should have done it on the stovetop and saved myself a few blasts of smoke to the eyes. Anyway, it's tasty enough, and I'm sure it'd be a welcome jolt of flavor and vitamins in the middle of a long winter, but I didn't find it particularly exciting.

Fasole bătută | Mashed beans | Recipe (in Romanian)

Plenty of places mash up beans, but this method has the genius to add a lot of onion sauteed in a lot of oil and some tomato: half blended up (along with a lot of garlic) to make the mash proper, and the other half making a pretty topping. Very nice spread on bread, though next time I'd add a bit of chili pepper and maybe a bit more salt.

Mămăligă | Thick polenta | Recipe

I knew that polenta, once cold, became something you could slice, fry, etc. But I didn't know that if you make it a bit thicker and dump it onto a board, you can slice it within a few minutes and hold it like a slice of bread. This is the core of Moldovan cuisine, and it's very convenient and cheap and filling and satisfying, especially if you mix a bit of butter in.

Mujdei | Garlic sauce | Recipe

There seem to be infinite recipes for this condiment, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say this is among the best. Garlic actually constitutes only a fraction of the ingredients, the rest being onions and a lot of butter in which the onions were fried, plus a bit of lemon juice and salt. The result is a rich, versatile, and insanely delicious spreadable sauce that I'm putting on just about everything now, and you should too.

Sarmale cu nuci | Walnut-stuffed cabbage rolls | Recipe

These little bundles of joy are a direct, and delicious, descendent of Turkish dolmas. Rather than grape leaves, these are preferably made with whole-leaf sauerkraut (see above discussion of Moldova's pickling), but that's hard to find and I should have started it a few weeks prior so I just blanched fresh cabbage leaves. These are typically made with some sort of ground meat, but Valeria, who'd done Peace Corps in Romania, suggested we could use ground walnuts to keep it vegetarian. What a fantastic idea, a great balance to the homogeneously soft texture of everything else after the better part of a day in the crockpot. Note on the recipe: on a hunch, I used two heads of cabbage instead of one while keeping the rest of the recipe the same, and the proportions worked out right.

Salata de vinete | Eggplant salad | Recipe

This recipe's a bit more of a production than most that I found, with bold additions like prunes and mint and pine nuts, but as a Kachka partisan I had to make their Moldovan eggplant salad. It was pretty good, with a nice variety of textures, though I wish I'd made it a bit spicier (I used sririacha and under-dosed out of an abundance of caution), and it probably could stand to be more oily. It also, frankly, felt pretty redundant with the zacusca, I'd recommend making one or the other.

 

Ghiveci de ciuperci | Mushrooms in sour cream | Recipe

My god, another dish?! Well, I wasn't planning it, but when I found a porcini mushroom the size of my face at the farmers market, I figured I'd find a use for it. Indeed, here's a classically Eastern European preparation, smothered in sour cream. I left out the bacon because vegetarians, and I'm sure that would have tasted great, but there was plenty of flavor and texture to go around. Worth a go, even if all you have on hand is normal mushrooms.

 

Plăcinte cu vișine | Sour cherry flat pie | Recipe

If that word looks like "placenta" to you, congrats, you're right. But the naming went the opposite way from what you may think: the flat pie came first, in Greek, and then someone thought that this component of pregnancy bore enough resemblance to the food to merit adopting the name. Anyway, it's made with a wide variety of sweet and savory fillings, with simple or complex dough, pan-fried or baked.

I'm sure they can be very good, but this one was a disappointment. The dough turned out too thick, the filling insufficient, and the flavors unexciting. Perhaps it was my error — certainly not that of Nancy, who did a fantastic job rolling and folding! — but I'm certainly not craving this again. If you've got a need to cook this, I'd look to do it in a pan, if only to get some extra flavor from the frying.

Meal 139: Qatar

Qatar. You may have seen a plane with this name at an airport, or heard something about how it's hosting the World Cup in four years despite the fact that it's a small country in the heart of the Persian Gulf which means it's very hot for a lot of the year. The well-informed among you might know that it's the home of Al Jazeera, which has a bit to do with the fact that since June 2017 it's been blockaded by neighboring countries over foreign policy disputes. (One odd consequence is that 1,000 cows have been airlifted to Qatar to ensure self-sufficiency for milk.)

Anyway, after Pakistan last year, the Qatar meal marked the second year in a row where a Muslim country's Nosh fell on Ramadan. A bit of research revealed that it's not at all obligatory to break the fast with traditional foods, as I found menus for iftar (fast-breaking) specials ranging from Japanese to Italian to even Applebee's. Since pretty much all food is imported — precious little grows in Qatar other than date palms — so is the variety on the plate. (It's also hard to begrudge anyone for wanting an exotic treat after enduring daily fasting during the very long and hot days of mid-May.)

But all the same, there are dishes that, while very similar if not identical to those prepared in neighboring Gulf countries, are indelibly Qatari. Alex, a guest who'd lived in Qatar, helped me pull together a menu, and so we made an iftar-esque meal celebrating the rich flavors and spices that make the cuisine from this part of the world one of my favorites.

Our crew this evening was Alex, Rachael, Nick, Allison, Melia, Marissa, Kate, Sonu, Chitra, Jessica, and Cheri.

Al-kahwat wal-tamar | Coffee and dates | Recipe (scroll down)

There are so many ways you see coffee made here in Portland, but this one is totally different from what I've experienced. You simmer light-roast espresso grounds in water for as much as 30 minutes, pour through a filter into another pot with ground cardamom, then heat that up and serve. It's really strong and delightfully fragrant and with zero sugar — you nibble on a date for sweetness. (I cheated by serving decaf, but I've found I get more takers for dinnertime drinks if they don't have caffeine.)

Speaking of dates, they're the classic first bite at sundown during Ramadan. They give you a hit of sugar as well as potassium, kind of like nature's Gatorade in solid form. We had two different types: big, meaty, medium-brown, wrinkly, fresh Medjools from California, and a smaller, darker, glossy, soft variety from Iran (!). They were both very good, though the Iranian ones were like I'd never tasted before so I gravitated toward those.

Vimto | Fruit cordial

Nope, that's not wine, it's a drink made from a syrup based on the juices of blackcurrant and black carrot. It's a recipe developed by an English company, yet through the twists and turns of colonialism and globalization, it's become an indelible part of Ramadan for millions around the Gulf. According to Alex, the Qatari government fixes the price of Vimto around Ramadan to prevent price gouging, that's how popular it is. I could see this being a flavor you grow to love when you grow up with it, but I found it fairly odd, almost in the V8 direction thanks to that carrot. I think sparkling water would have helped, but it's typically mixed with still water so that's how we did it.

Harees | Wheat and chicken porridge | Recipe

If you thought, "That name sounds like Tunisian harissa but looks nothing like it," you're on to something. What this warm, gentle, nourishing dish and the pungent spicy paste have in common is that they're mashed — for which the root in Arabic is haras

As with many comfort foods, the recipe can vary widely: lamb is a common substitute for the meat, you can add rice along with the wheat, and sometimes there's a complex assortment of spices thrown in. But I got the sense that a simpler version would do, especially for Ramadan where you've got to ease into eating. The whole wheat grains, soaked overnight and then simmered for hours, provide the complex carbs your body craves and bring with them plenty of moisture, and the chicken is a gentle protein. A drizzle of ghee with some spices — I chose cumin and cinnamon because that sounded tasty to me — adds the flavor. All in all this was a nice dish, and I can see why so many people consider it comfort food. (Note that this recipe makes a lot. I did a 1.5x version, but I would have still had leftovers after serving 12 dishes even with the normal quantity.)

Machboos | Meat with rice | Recipe

As far as I can gather, this fantastically spiced meat-and-rice entree is the national dish. It goes by the same name as what we cooked for Kuwait but is somewhat different — there's nary a split pea to be found here, and this one is less fussy about keeping things separate until combined.

I read plenty of descriptions of the meats you could use, and goat's one of them. I bought a whole goat for the Palestine nosh last year, and was excited to use last remaining bits from the chest freezer for Qatar. Alex confirmed that goat machboos is a legit thing in Qatar, so despite not finding any recipes explicitly calling for it, I took this one calling for chicken and simply cooked the meat much longer.

I expected this to be really tasty. It matched, and perhaps exceeded, my high expectations. It's such an efficient dish, with the rice perfectly absorbing every last bit of broth so you get all the rich flavors of complex spices, of falling-apart goat, and of everything else in every bite. I have three portions' worth of leftovers in the freezer, and am practicing great self restraint by not defrosting and eating one right now as I write.

Salatat arabiya | Arabic salad | Recipe

The Middle East's ubiquitous salad is always welcome. What I like about this version is the addition of mint, which makes it particularly refreshing. I don't know if that's necessarily a Qatari thing, or simply that this recipe showed up on a Qatari site, but I like it all the same.

 

Umm Ali | Puff-pastry casserole | Recipe

Nobody's certain why this dish is called "Ali's Mother," but we do know it originated in Egypt and that it's tasty and incredibly indulgent. Baked puff pastry forms the base, which is then covered with nuts, dried fruit, sweetened milk, and rosewater. A final layer of pastry on top, followed by whipped cream, and ten minutes under the broiler later you've got a heart attack on a plate. With the pastry pre-baked and the ingredients assembled, it was surprisingly easy to whip up at the end of the meal, and it was awesome.

Meal 138: Poland

Soon after sending out the invite for the meal, we got an email from someone named Ron. He couldn't make it to the date as scheduled, but he asked all sorts of questions and gave a bunch of advice and it was clear that this meal would be crafted under his guidance. After plenty of back-and-forth and an all-caps-and-bold insistence that I take some rare kielbasa from his freezer stash, we met up for coffee, a wide-ranging chat covering his growing up in Chicago and 35 years of experience shopping for food in Portland, and a sausage handoff. The stew recipe came directly from him, and he helped me craft a thorough menu. Thanks again, Ron, and we hope to see you at a future meal!

Joining us for this hearty and boozy meal — three shots, plus plenty of beer! — were Soumary, Jonas, Sarah, Sarah, Linda, David, Morgan, Jeanette, Amy, Russ, Lisa, and Eric.

Kapusta kiszona | Sauerkraut | Recipe

It used to blow me away that fresh sauerkraut's like nine dollars a jar in the cold case. Cabbage is extremely cheap, and making kraut is as easy as shred, mix with salt, pack, wait until it's sour, then refrigerate. Then I made kraut and realized that a whole head shrinks down to a quart after salting, and I no longer feel as squeezed.

Lacking the traditional fermentation crock, I found someone to lend me a few mason jar fermentation lids. It's arguably even easier that way, since the rising carbon dioxide forces out the oxygen that you keep away with carefully placed weights in a crock. I let the jars sit — in a pan, which is good because some brine followed the CO2 for the ride — until Laura complained about the smell, about a week later. Just as with the kim chi, the stink test worked: the kraut was crisp and funky, not too flabby and not too salty.

Chleb żytni na zakwasie | Sourdough rye bread | Recipe

I like making bread, and I'm often excited by the result. I'm very excited by how this turned out. Just enough crust to keep it interesting, a flavor rich enough to make it nice to eat on its own but not overpowering when paired with something...but really it's the texture that blows me away. A really consistent crumb, perfectly spongy, both excellent integrity and mouthfeel. YAY.

I replaced about 40% of the flour with locally grown hard red spring whole wheat flour. Otherwise, I did it exactly as specified, including building up the starter over a few days without discarding any — by the end of a few days that thing was funky. The dough was a lot easier to work with than most ryes I've used, I'm figuring because the souring process probably ate up a lot of the sugars that usually make it so diabolically sticky. Anyway, if you've got a sourdough starter and want to make a rye bread perfect for sandwiches, this is your recipe. 

Barszcz czysty czerwony | Clear beet soup | Recipe

Poland is home to some fascinating soups. There's one made with fermented rye extract, another with dill pickles. Even the borscht, the famous Eastern European beet soup, is interesting. There are many ways it can be made, including one where you ferment beets for a few days and then pull that together into a soup, but this one really caught my eye. It's not even a soup in the classic sense, it's really a bouillon because it's an extract of beets and vegetables. For a brief moment it looks like a sparkling clear version of cranberry juice; with sour cream mixed in, it looks like strawberry soft serve.

The recipe above is exacting, and written in a curious sort of English that took a bit of syntactic analysis to unpack. But the result is really good. I ended up running out of time so I didn't make the mashed potato float, but all the same, the flavor was rich but not overpowering, a really pleasant start to a meal.

Bigos | Hunter's stew | Recipe

While pierogi is the best-known Polish dish in America, without question the true national dish is this ugly-but-goodie stew. While there's general agreement that it involves bite-sized meat and both sauerkraut and fresh cabbage, all the other details — what kind of meat, whether or what to use to sweeten it a bit, to add wine or not, the spices, and so on — are subject to some combination of family tradition and what odds bits of fresh, cooked, and preserved meats are laying around. To that point, the term bigos is also applied to anything that's a jumbled variety, much like we'd say "kitchen sink."

I followed the linked recipe fairly closely, except that for the meats I got the gaminess through buffalo, and used pork shoulder for the other bit. Ron was extremely kind to give me some of his Olympia Provisions kielbasa freezer stash, which he swears is the best you can get in Portland yet they only make it at Christmastime. I also did some research on making it ahead, and ended up cooking it to close to done on Tuesday, reheating it and simmering for an hour on Thursday, and then bringing it back once more for a few hours until the meal on Saturday. I tasted it at each point, and it went from pretty good to really good to wow. I'm glad we have some leftovers!

Pierogi | Stuffed dumplings | Recipes: Fillingsdough

Just about everyone loves dumplings. There's always something fun about dough-wrapped units of tasty morsels. So much the better if, as is often the case with pierogi, it's pan-fried so you get all sorts of textures.

You know what's less fun, at least for me? Making dumplings. I don't like rolling dough, I don't like bending over and doing repetitive fine motor tasks, whenever I stuff things I seem to not always fully enclose things so the filling goes all over the place, and then there's a last-minute rush to get everything onto the table halfway through the meal. To make it easier on myself I got a pierogi maker, a clever little frame where you lay down a sheet of dough, press some filling in, lay down another sheet, then roll down hard to fuse top dough to edges of bottom dough, and pop it out. That did make the assembly quite a bit easier, but still, I ended up running behind and thank goodness for Linda stepping in and helping finish up the assembly

The more fun part was the fillings. Especially the potato and cheese: we had a lot left over and I made patties of it for breakfast the next morning. I could eat that three times a week forever.

Naleśniki | Cheese-stuffed crepes | Recipe

This is the food of my childhood! On special occasions, or sometimes just because, my mom would churn out these crepes one by one — pour some batter, quickly swirl it around, flip it over, remove, repeat — then roll them with sweetened ricotta into little burritos, sear them on both sides with butter, and serve with yogurt and fruit. As most people in America who know this food, we call them blintzes. (It's a Yiddish term that comes from a diminutive of blin, the Russian word for pancake.)

The Poles call their crepes nalesniki, and often it's served other ways, especially rolled up more like flautas or even folded like quesadillas. (Mexican food terminology is useful here!) But blintz style is perfectly legit too, so that's what we did.

Because I didn't think I'd end up at a store that sold it, I made the farmer's cheese myself. Here's how I did it with the Instant Pot. I also threw together a sauce by simmering frozen blueberries, lemon zest and juice, and a bit of sugar. That's the easy part.

The tedious part is making those blintzes, one by one. It took me the better part of an hour to make about 25; next time I'll do two pans at once to reduce the time at the stove! One trick my mom figured out recently that helped reduce the mess is using a fat separator to dose out the batter: just pull the handle to dispense batter. (In an amazing stroke of luck, I found one at a garage sale the morning of the Nosh!) Thankfully this part can be done hours ahead of time, just cover the stack with waxed paper. Then roll up with sweetened farmers cheese right before searing and serving.

One more innovation to add to the blintz game: I was struggling to get my Griddler to open flat, when our guest Russ asked why not to just use it as a panini press to crisp both sides at once. Genius!

Oh, and they tasted great. Despite how much description I just gave, and the time it took, none of the work is particularly hard, and the chorus of delight from around the tables are the sign of a real winner.

 

Meal 137: Portugal

I didn't realize, until researching this meal, just how different Portuguese food is from Spanish. Foolish me, it's really something quite different — I can't remember ever seeing collard greens, allspice, or corn flour playing a role in Spanish food! It's too bad that, outside of New England where there's a substantial Portuguese population thanks to the whaling trade way back when, you just don't see much in the way of Portuguese restaurants, because it's really quite good.

This meal was also Laura's birthday celebration! The friends around the table this year were Deena, Craig, Chelsea, Rachael, Laura, Alley, Annie, Suja, and Douglas.

Broa | Corn and what bread | Recipe

This bread is just perfect for dunking into soup. It's sturdy but not chewy, with a crust that's just strong enough to hold together but doesn't resist too hard to soaking. It's got a subtle nuttiness too, thanks to the corn.

What intrigues the etymologist in me is that, although it's the specific name of a bread made with a New World grain, the name comes from an ancient Germanic language's word for bread. I wonder what broa was before corn, and how that differed from pão, that is, bread.

Caldo verde | Collard and potato soup | Recipe

Salt cod is considered the most iconic ingredient in Portuguese cuisine, but the national dish is this humble yet tasty soup of potato and collards. In fact, it's so common that throughout Portugal you'll find a purpose-designed machine that feeds collard leaves through a hand-cranked disc of blades to achieve the whisker-thin slices required. The thinness is essential for it to cook quickly, because bigger pieces of the tough green can take quite a long time to soften up. Of course I didn't have access to such a disc, and a food processor would have made a hash of it, so I had no choice but to carefully hone my best knife and chiffonade like mad. Luckily, I had collards in the yard that I was able to put into service, but my goodness, a pound of medium-sized greens is a lot of leaves.

It turned out great! Even though there's not much in the way of flavoring, I credit cooling and reheating with helping the inherent flavors develop. The only modification I made was to cook the sausage separately rather than using its grease to build the soup, to respect a few friends' dietary needs. Maybe it'd have been even better with some linguiça grease in there, but I didn't miss it. 

Bacalhau à Bras | Salt cod with fried potatoes, eggs and olives | Recipe

Some have observed how curious it is that Portugal's waters are teeming with fish and seafood right offshore, yet without question the most popular fish there is harvested in subarctic waters  and packed in salt. Many Portuguese recipe sites quote the old chestnut that there are over 365 recipes for salt cod, so you can eat a different one every day and not repeat for a year. Indeed, there's a boatload, so to speak, of ways to serve the fish, many of which are named after the person or place responsible for the invention. Because bacalhau doesn't need to be cooked, you can throw it into just about anything, whether as a whole fillet or flaked.

After looking through a dizzying array of recipes, I ended up on this one as an inventive combination that became canonical. While I don't much like frying to order, I don't mind as much doing it in advance, so I did the potatoes a bit ahead of time. The rest is essentially a stir-fry with onions, those potatoes, the flaked salt cod, and at the very end scrambled eggs cooked just long enough to be done but not yet an omelet. You drop in the olives at the end. We didn't end up with a good photo, but it hardly matters, because this isn't a photogenic dish. But it's tasty and satisfying and I can attest that it's good re-fried the morning after!

Alcatra | Pot roast in white wine | Recipe

Portugal is more than a notch on the southwestern corner of the European continent, with substantial populations in both Madeira and the Azores Islands. I decided to use the meat dish to represent this other aspect to the country, and I found a great one in this pot roast. It doesn't have too many ingredients, but they're all interesting — allspice! bacon! two bottles of white wine! — and given the eight hours of cooking, all of them have a full working day to lend all their flavor to the broth and the meat. This was just so delicious, the meat tearing apart with barely an effort, and a mouth-filling but far from overwhelming flavor. If you make this, make a lot, because you can throw the leftovers into so many things.

Pasteis de nata | Egg tarts | Recipe

I think every single person I've mentioned this meal to who's been to Portugal has asked if we'd have egg tarts. Of course we had to, it truly is Portugal's international calling card in the pastry world. The national airline serves these in coach, that's how iconic they are for the country.

I gotta say, we clearly didn't quite get it. We definitely cut a big corner by using store-bought puff pastry rather than making our own laminated dough, but I didn't have the time and I very much didn't have the inclination to go through all that folding and rolling. And also these things are supposed to be baked at a blistering 800° or so, while our oven tops out at 500°. But Deena, who took the lead on this dish, did her best given the handicaps, and they turned out particularly pretty. (Protip: you get that nice crust form by putting a disc in the bottom of the muffin tin and pushing out and up!) Flavor-wise, those who'd been, including Deena, said it was a tasty, but far from great, result. Oh well.

Meal 136: Philippines

Combine tropical abundance with Chinese, Spanish and American influence, and you've got yourself a unique cuisine. Tangy meats, sweet breads and banana ketchup are just a few of the components of how people eat across the 7,600 or so islands. Despite the diversity of influence and the disperse geography, the national cuisine is surprisingly coherent, which made planning this meal pleasantly straightforward. Also a huge help was Andrew, our friend who's from outside of Manila.

Also joining us tonight were Laura, Melia, Mike, Kendra, Douglas, Joan, Hannah, Sam, Eric, Chelsea, and friends. Chelsea, by the way, is the one who redesigned this site and took our headshots — thanks so much!

Adobong manok | Chicken adobo | Recipe

Despite the Spanish name, it’s believed that adobo’s been cooked in the Philippines since far before the conquistadores arrived. The acid from the vinegar and the salt from the soy sauce serve to preserve the meat for a while without refrigeration. The unsubtle delight of those bold flavors is what keeps people cooking it far after the arrival of the refrigerator.

It turns out this is a really easy dish to make, pretty much you just cook the meat in the sauce until it’s done to get a basic adobo. To make it even better, you cook remove the meat and cook down the sauce to concentrate it. And to really win, follow the variation in the recipe, and broil the chicken to crisp that skin up nice.

Lumpia | Spring rolls | Recipe

It’s no coincidence these look like spring rolls, as the Philippines’ favorite finger food was indeed introduced by Chinese immigrants. The only difference I can surmise is that this version is slimmer, so there’s a higher surface-to-filling ratio, and hence more crisp per bite. We served it with banana sauce, which for reasons I don’t understand is dyed bright red.

Lechon liempo | Barbecue pork belly | Recipe

A roast suckling pig is a sign of a great Pinoy party, but we’d need a lot more than sixteen people to make it worthwhile. As crispy skin and unctuous fat are the most cherished qualities in lechon, a pork belly was the natural choice for a pig portion. This recipe, along with a few others, advises a roll-up like an Italian porchetta; I used some leeks from the yard as a substitute for the lemongrass because I’ve become allergic. (Here’s hoping that clears up before the Thailand meal!)

Even if we weren’t doing a whole animal, I wanted to get at least half of it right by cooking over coals. I don’t have a spit, but I came close by spearing the roll with two sword-like skewers and rotating it every 20 minutes or so, with a basting of soy sauce at every spin. I kept the coals low, slow, and indirect, so it took several hours to cook. It was so, so good, though it was really rich! I froze the leftovers; I’m thinking I’ll use it in a bean soup or simmered greens soon.

Sinigang na isda | Sour fish soup | Recipe

Some cuisines make a mockery of my inclination to cook a vegetable dish. Filipino recipe sites often have a “vegetables” section, but almost all the dishes in there have meat in one way or another! Sinigang is such an example: it has turnips and spinach and tomatoes so it’s definitely considered a vegetable dish, but it’s typically made with meat too

I was also fairly astonished by how, in a country of 7,107 islands, the standards of the cuisine seems so much heavier on meat than on fish and seafood even though the latter’s eaten plenty often. Sinigang is yet another dish that’s better known for being made with meat, but fortunately the seafood version is definitely a thing too.

In the end, the soup was okay but not great. Maybe I put in too little tamarind or fish sauce, or maybe my expectations were misaligned, but I found it to be pretty mild flavored.

Ube ice cream | Purple sweet potato ice cream

The Philippines has a very solid ice cream tradition. But many of the flavors are off the spectrum of what usually comes in the frozen tub. In addition to corn and coconut flakes, the element that most throws me for a loop is...cheese! Like, the same sort of yellow shredded cheese you’d put on your nachos.

But the most famous, and pretty, Filipino ice cream type is ube, the purple yam. In much the same way as a sweet potato pie, the tuber lends itself to sweet dishes both in terms of a nice flavor as well as adding just a bit of texture.

Champorado | Chocolate rice pudding | Recipe

Although there are plenty more famous desserts — there are multiple Filipino bakery chains in the US! — Andrew insisted not only that we make this chocolatey sweet rice pudding, but that he make it himself. He said the last time he ate it, at a restaurant in Brooklyn, he was immediately transported to memories of home -- and the other Pinoys at the table agreed. I can’t decide whether I liked this thick dessert better warm that night as dessert, or cold the next morning as breakfast, but in both instances a rich drizzle of condensed milk made it all the better.