One of my biggest goals as a dietitian is to break the stigma that healthy food is tasteless, boring, expensive, or too long to cook. (If you agree with the last two, I suggest you read my May article, “How you can eat healthy when you’re pressed for time. â) You already know that eating more fruits and vegetables has health benefits, but the task of preparing and cooking healthy foods can be daunting.
I wanted to start this column to encourage the discovery of healthy dishes and explore the variety of vegetables. I’m not saying you have to get rid of the romaine lettuce and spinach salad you eat frequently to hit your recommended veg intake, I just want you to try something different.
The Kitchen Dietitian section will highlight cuisines from around the world that I have cooked and which I think you might like. As a bonus, I’ll include cooking modifications that align to meet health goals.
As a tribute to my Filipino ancestors and in honor of Philippine Independence Day on June 12th, I wanted top quality food from the northern Ilocos region of the Philippines. My parents grew up in this area and immigrated to Hawaii in the 1980s.
As a Filipina in Hawai’i, I loved food not only for the flavor and the nourishment it provided, but also for the sense of community and brotherhood. Food was plentiful at church, potlucks, graduation ceremonies, wedding showers – you name it, there was always some kind of party.
From a young age, I loved listening to adult âstoriesâ as I rolled glutinous rice flour into balls for the paradusdus, a sweet coconut milk dessert served with baking banana, purple sweet potato, jackfruit and tapioca. I even loved the tedious task of helping my mom remove the marunggay (ilocano for moringa leaves) leaves from the stems.
In my childhood, the inabraw dish (also known as dinengdeng), pinakbet, eggplant omelet, and sari-sari were staples.
This dish is a variety of vegetables simmered in water and bugguong, a brown-colored condiment of fermented fish. Bugguong would be equivalent to using a flavor enhancer like salt, soy sauce, or monosodium glutamate (MSG). Bugguong gives inabraw broth the umami or savory flavor that makes food so desirable.
To make inabraw, add your choice of vegetables to a boiling broth. I would suggest adding hard vegetables (kabocha, boiled beans, Chinese long beans, etc.) which require longer cooking time first, medium cooking time vegetables (mushrooms, bamboo shoots, bitter melon) in second, and sweeter, quick-cooking leafy vegetables (jute leaves, watermelon leaves, marunggay) last.
A lot of people like to add a whole grilled fish to the broth, but truth be told, I find it tedious to avoid the risk of choking on fishbones. I often get my protein from lentils, shrimp, mussels, clams, etc.
With this inabraw, I added ginger (perfect pairing with seafood), Chinese long beans and kabocha. I included deveined and peeled shrimp, canned clams, eggplant, precooked lima beans, and black-eyed peas. Finally, I added some marunggay leaves and for fun, some spinach leaves.
Versatile your vegetables
I make sure my vegetables are versatile and can be used in another dish to avoid waste. So my recommendations include trying a stewed vegetable dish, egg omelet, and vegetable soup.
This dish is a mixture of colorful vegetables, steamed in water and bugguong. You might be surprised that Ilocano’s pinakbet is different from what you might find in Filipino restaurants where the vegetables are fried in alamang, a fish paste. I assure you both ways are delicious.
The veg options are endless again! My favorite low-carb vegetables include Chinese long beans, tomatoes, garlic, ginger, watermelon, eggplant, and okra. If you want, you can include a starchy vegetable like kabocha, or beans and peas. Chicharon or bagnet (ilocano version of fried pork belly) can optionally be added.
With eggplants you can easily make an omelet. They should first be broiled or roasted in the oven, then the skin of the eggplant is removed. Second, mix the eggplant with a beaten egg. Finally, you fry. You can prepare a few ahead of time for a great breakfast. If you’re not a fan of eggplant, some tomatoes, onions, and a small amount of fish sauce would make a perfect delicious egg scramble.
Sari-sari vegetable soup
With eggplant, Chinese long beans, tomatoes, onions, garlic, kang kong and the addition of tabungaw (gourd), you can make an amazing soup. Sari-sari, which means variety, was also a childhood favorite.
To make sari-sari, I like to melt the fat of the bagnet and sautÃ© it with garlic, onions, tomatoes and patis. I then sautÃ© the eggplant and tabungaw. Once the vegetables are soft, I add just enough water to the pot to cover the vegetables and the bagnet. When it starts to boil, I add the kang kong and turn off the heat once it has wilted.
Things to keep in mind, sodium and saturated fat
A little goes a long way with bugguong, alamang and patis. I would encourage a light hand when adding the condiment as 1 tbsp could quickly exceed your sodium requirement for the day.
If these condiments are your ânon-negotiableâ items that you’re not ready to give up or avoid, be sure to find other ways to reduce your sodium intake before or after eating the dishes. Options include cutting down on salty chips, snacks or crackers, or ready-made frozen foods that may be higher in sodium.
Bagnet is a very delicious and rich protein that could be very easy to abuse. If you choose to use the bagnet, make sure you know what other saturated fat choices you will be eating that day and in the week. You may want to choose leaner protein chunks, like brisket, loins, flank, rounds, or experiment with plant-based proteins, like tofu, beans, peas or lentils before or after eating dishes with bagnet.
Good food !
I hope you will discover one or more of these dishes from my culture. If you try, I would like you to send me an email and a photo. July’s Kitchen Dietitian section will feature a cuisine that I love to explore. Stay tuned for CHAmoru food!
Richelle Rada is an online dietitian coach and owner of Richelle Rada Nutrition LLC in Tamuning. You can send her questions and comments at [email protected]