I’m feeling a wee bit excited tonight (okay, A LOT excited) because I just made my first Filipino cuisine-inspired dish! I’ve been saying for years that I need to learn the recipes I’ve enjoyed my entire life. When I moved out, cooking Filipino food seemed like a waste of time. Why go to all that trouble when I could visit my parents and eat it there? I was certain that my attempts would never equal the calibre of my Dad’s cooking, so why try? As the years passed and I spent more and more time thinking about the food I ate, I realized how health-conscious my Dad was in preparing our meals. Filipino foods can be quite oily, salty, deep-fried, or laden with animal fat. He was able to keep the tradition, but leave out most of the fat and sodium. My Mom, retired and more able to spend time in the kitchen, has also come up with delicious modifications to some of my favourite Filipino comfort foods. Inspired by my parents’ ingenuity, I decided to take things to another level. Can these meat-centred dishes really taste just as good in vegetarian or vegan form?
Careful to choose a relatively simple and easy dish for my first time, I decided on “balatong;” a traditional soup dish made primarily with mung beans and vegetables, but also consists of shrimp and fatty pork. It can also be called “munggo guisado,” which translates as sauteed mung beans. Mung beans (I grew up knowing them as “mungo”) are small green beans that when sprouted, become what we all know as bean sprouts. Mung beans are native to India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, but have made their way into several Southeastern Asian cuisines. I was pleased to find out that one cup of mung beans equals over 60% of the daily minimum amount of fiber and has three times as much protein as a glass of milk or an egg! Here I was looking for new protein super foods and it’s been under my nose for the last 30 years!
My recipe has a few vegan modifications: I nixed the pork, shrimp, chicken stock, and fish sauce. I amped up the veggie content and I used two huge handfuls of kale instead of bitter melon leaves. I’m not sure how the bitter melon leaves taste in the recipe since my Dad always used spinach. A combination of kale and spinach is also a very healthy option, but I didn’t have both in the apartment. Some of the recipes I found online called for ginger, which I did not include (my Dad doesn’t either), but I’m not ruling it out in the future. I also left out the soy sauce of my Dad’s recipe and the salt that my sister usually adds. The vegetable broth I bought was very flavourful and I felt there wasn’t a need for those additions.
The verdict? Well, it’s not my Dad’s balatong, but I really enjoyed it! In the past, I’ve always eaten balatong over rice alongside a piece of chicken, fish, or sliced corn beef (the kind out of the can, dipped in egg and pan-fried). My parents missed the mark with the corn beef, but as a child, it was part of what made balatong a favourite meal. I don’t think I need to tell you that it’s been many years since I’ve done that! Corn beef or not, I seldom ate balatong alone as a soup, but my veggie-hanced version was hearty enough for me to enjoy a big bowl all on it’s own. I can’t wait to tell my parents about my vegan balatong and how it was a yummy success… even without the corn beef!
E’s Vegan Balatong
1 cup mung beans
1 yellow onion
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 Tbl. of crushed garlic
1 Tbl. of olive oil
2 large handfuls of kale, hand torn to pieces off the stem (about 7 leaves, but you could definitely add more)
3 cups of low-sodium vegetable broth
Rinse mung beans and pour into a large pot. Add 2 – 3 cups of water and boil for 20 minutes or till soft. Simmer and allow some of the water to dissolve (I left some of the mung bean water in because it makes the soup thicker). While mung beans are cooking, put olive oil and onion in a sauce pan. Sautee till onion is translucent, then add chopped tomatoes. After 5 – 10 minutes, add the mung beans and remaining water into the sauce pan. Add broth and bring to boil. Turn to low heat and add kale. Simmer till kale is soft. Makes 2 – 4 servings.