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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Kare Kare (a traditional Filipino dish)

How is it that something brand-new can seem so familiar?  I'm standing in my kitchen, thirty four years old, one minute...and the next, I'm thirteen years old again and running up my friend Christine's staircase.  The one in her gigantic or so it seemed house. My bangs are plastered up...the sides of my hair plastered out.  Waterfalls and wings.  My stocking covered toes are digging into the plush carpet as I practice my dance moves and sing along to Paula Abdul ...he's a cold-hearted snake.... Christine hands me her camera so I can take a picture of her with her larger-than-life-sized poster of Martin Gore and the rest of the Depeche Mode guys (though he's the one she has a crush on).   These are the things that I remember on the surface...but underneath lies the exotic, seductive smell memories.  The ones that crept out of the kitchen where her tiny Filipino grandma was every single time I went to her house.  And I was at her house a LOT!  We would walk through the front doors- double doors... that was unheard me. ...and the scent would begin to seduce me.

I'm sure that underneath that mysterious medley, there were individual scents that I would recognize if given the opportunity, but by the time we walked through the doors, they were already in the midst of their heady marriage and my chance to take a peek had vanished.   I was always mesmerized by those unfamiliar smells that came from Christine's kitchen.  And yet, looking back, I cannot remember ever eating a meal in her Filipino kitchen.  Not once.  I mean, how does two years of being close friends with a 100% Filipino somebody pass by without ever sitting down to an authentic Filipino meal?  We ordered a lot of pizza.  That I remember.  Could it be that thing that first generation children go through?  Trying to "forget" their ethnic identities and just blend in with their friends?  I'm thinking it probably was...although I wish that my thirteen year old self had just once thought to ask her friend if she could eat a home cooked, authentic-Filipino meal that her grandma had made.  Typical kid.

Back to the present my very own kitchen...the smells of friends home some twenty years ago...are bubbling away in the pot in front of me.  Who would have thought that fermented shrimp, tail, peanut butter, vegetables, and stomach lining could all go into a pot together and come out with a taste so silky, deep, and delicious?  Not me.  Now I know different.

Kare Kare was my first venture into the world of Filipino cooking.  I arrived at it in a somewhat roundabout manner, though.  When faced with the challenge of picking a classic dish from a cuisine I was unfamiliar that would challenge me...I was at a loss.  My brain was blank.  Nada.  Nothing.  Sh*t.  What in the world literally could I make?  Bypassing French and Italian was a of course my brain kept going back to French things.  And Italian things. Oh, and you bet your sweet cheeks it kept focusing on Mexican, too.  But, those of you who know me would scoff at my choice of making Mexican cuisine...since it is not unfamiliar to me.  In the least.  

Sooooo, back to the web of confusion.  I scoured the net...and my bookshelves...and the library bookshelves...and the brains of anybody who dared cross my path.  My notebook had pages upon pages three things written on one page....that were subsequently scribbled out furiously.  Sheesh.  I usually work so well under pressure.  Or is it just that I am a procrastinator, so I'm forced to do my best under the pressure brought about by my own bad habits?  Either way, nothing was reaching out and grabbing me I like to be grabbed.  By food, at least.  My last minute decision actually came about when I was talking and by talking I mean emailing with my friend Dani who wanted to make Kare Kare if certain things had worked out differently {Ahem}.  Having no clue what Kare Kare was, I did what any self-respecting food blogger would do.  I googled it.  In that instant, could feel a tiny Filipino hand grab me by my senses and pull me back into time.  I asked Dani if she'd mind if I made it.  She gave me her blessing with a clink of our virtual bottles glasses and the rest is recent history!
Kare Kare is a traditional Filipino dish that is served on special occasions or for Sunday dinners.  Although, I'm sure it's okay to eat it other days of the week.  BUT, it just so happens that today is Sunday, so... bonus.  This is traditionally made with Oxtails and Tripe...the honeycomb version, the stomach lining of a cow.  Like that?  Me neither.  Not especially.  All the more reason to make Kare Kare.  It's been years since I've made and/or eaten's about time for me to try it again!
Oxtails on the other hand, I actually one will balance out the other. Right?  That's what I kept telling myself.  Plus, Kare Kare has some other fabulous flavors added in...thus, fabulous, intriguing smells that set your senses afire!  One thing I'd never heard of or worked with...and actually was not able to locate was  Bagoong Alamang (fermented shrimp paste).  So, I just went ahead and made some. Just a small amount for this meal.  Annatto oil is also traditionally used to add color to the dish, so I went ahead and made some of that, as well.  I'd always meant to anyway, and I had annatto seeds in my pantry, so I was feeling good and Filipino-y already!  I ended up combining these two recipes to make my final dish. One contained both the tripe and the oxtails, but no veggies.  One contained oxtail and veggies, but no tripe.  So, I altered them a bit (without changing anything, just enhancing, so as to stay true) and came up with this....

Kare Kare
Filipino Oxtail & Tripe Stew
yield: ~4 svgs.

2 Tbs. Annatto (achiote) Oil  (recipe follows)
1 1/3 lbs. Oxtails, patted dry
1¼  lbs. Beef Tripe
2 small onions, sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled & smashed
1 heaping Tbs. Bagoong Alamang (shrimp paste...recipe follows)
1 medium tomato, grated
3 c. homemade Beef Stock
3 c. water
pinch salt
1 medium eggplant, cubed
2 big handfuls fresh green beans, trimmed
8 big leaves bok choy, sliced
~½ c. roasted peanuts, to make ~¼ c. peanut butter
Sriracha sauce, to taste

Heat the annatto oil in a Dutch Oven over medium high heat.  Brown the oxtails on all sides.  Reducing heat to about medium after it starts to feel and look like it's getting too hot.

In the meantime, bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Drop the tripe in and bring back to a boil.  Cook for ~5 minutes.  This will help to get rid of any impurities.  Drain.  Chop tripe into squares.  Set aside.

Once the oxtails are browned on all sides, add the onions and garlic to pan.  Sauté for a couple of minutes, then stir in the Bagoong Alamang.  Stir it around for ~30 seconds or so, it will burn quickly if you don't watch it.  Add the prepared tripe to the pot along with the grated tomato, followed by the beef stock and water.  Season with a pinch of salt.  Bring to a boil.  Cover partially, reduce to a simmer and cook for 90 minutes.

At this point you want to process the peanuts into a smooth-ish peanut butter.  Add a bit of the hot soup to it and whisk to combine.
Whisk it all back into the soup and drizzle in a bit of Sriracha. Add the veggies to the pot, return to a simmer and allow to cook until the veggies are just tender, ~10-15 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasoning with salt & Sriracha as needed.
Kare Kare is traditionally served with white rice and extra Bagoong Alamang on the side.  I also served some extra Sriracha on the side...cuz you know we like a little heat!!  Something I found interesting when reading up on the Philippines was that beer is the alcoholic beverage that Filipinos consume the most (okay, that was according the Wiki's 2005 stats).  I choose to believe, in my mind, that that is still true.  And I searched the whole town...seriously, no joke...the whole town (and the two towns over) for some San Miguel beer, which is produced in the Philippines, only to come up empty handed. People remember it, but haven't seen it in a couple of years.  So, I substituted one of my favorites to drink with my Kare Kare.

 Annatto (achiote) Oil
1 Tbs. annatto (achiote) seeds
1 c. olive oil/veg oil

Combine both in a small pot and heat over medium flame until you see the oil just begin to "fizzle" up from the seeds.  You do not want it to boil, or it will turn bitter and off-colored.  Let sit on stove top to cool, then strain out the seeds.  Store in an airtight container in refrigerator.

Bagoong Alamang
fermented shrimp paste
~1 Tbs. Annatto Oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 small onion, sliced
1 small tomato, sliced
4 Tbs. alamang (fermented shrimp, crushed/powdered)
pinch salt

Sauté the garlic, onion, and tomato in the oil until soft.  Add the alamang and salt and saute for another minute.  Pureé everything in a food processor.  Refrigerate.
Kare Kare is my entry into the PFB (Project Food Blog) Challenge #2.  Voting for this round opens tomorrow (9/27) and if you like my entry, I'd be forever grateful if you'd head over and give me a vote!  I'll be sure to add a link back once voting opens, but you can always click on my "official contestant" badge at the top of my page..when it says "vote for me" in the orange bar, that means voting is officially open!! Thank you ☺.  *UPDATE (9/27) is NOW OPEN! Click HERE to vote for me!*
The full KARE KARE spread...white rice, bagoong alamang, sriracha, beer
I am also submitting this to Souper Sundays and the Hearth and Soul hop!
Update 1/2/11: I am sharing this w/ the 12 Days of Bloggie-mas!