The Happy Home Cook: Vegan Nilaga

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 Vegan Nilaga (Photo by Astig Vegan)

Vegan Nilaga (Photo by Astig Vegan)

If I have to name a dish I’ve cooked the most, that would be a Filipino soup called Nilaga. Often times I want a dish that I can cook fast with ingredients I already have in hand like celery, carrots, cabbage, and squash. When I’m feeling generous, I’ll add quinoa too. And once I put the vegetables to a boil and mashed the squash into the broth, I’ll turn off the heat and enjoy a hot bowl of this nourishing soup. Just like that, it has become my go-to favorite. Simply hearty and comforting.

But it’s not just me who loves a good bowl of Nilaga. Another fan are my parents. When I visit them on weekends, I shop at the local farmers market and make my parents a big pot of vegan Nilaga. After all, they’re not just requesting for a Filipino dish, they’re looking for a healthy Filipino dish.

Unfortunately, my parents have physical ailments and conditions so they’re taking precaution with their health. And one precaution is watching what’s in their food. Lately, they have been conscious and they prefer to eat more vegetables than meat. And because they love their Filipino food, they’re more than happy to try my vegan Filipino cooking.

As much as I would love to say that Nilaga is a vegetable soup that’s traditionally vegan, it’s far from being one. For example, the traditional version uses bone marrow and meat. As a kid, I loved the lard swimming in my broth because it brought richness in my soup. Now, I can definitely go without it and so do my parents. As long as our vegan Nilaga has that rich umami taste and hearty ingredients, we are perfectly contented with our version.

After all, the key to good vegan Nilaga is to have good quality vegetable broth. Another tip is to mash the squash and blend its flavors into the soup. With the mashed squash, the broth will taste slightly sweeter and richer. But you don’t need a blender. For me, I simply use the back of my ladle and push the squash on to the side of the pot. Aside from the broth and squash, the celery and onions also bring out great flavors.

After you have prepared a good base, the rest of ingredients are very flexible. Meaning, you don’t have to use all of them and you can cut them any way you want. For example, you can use omit the saba bananas or you can use corn kernels instead of corn on the cob.  In case you’re wondering how come I presented the recipe the way it is, I wanted to show you the traditional way on how it’s presented. But, you’re more than welcome to change it up a bit.

Another tweak is to omit the use of tremelle or white fungus. It was only there to substitute for tripe and mimic the chewiness of marrow. Unlike marrow, tremelle is much more nutritious. But if you can’t find it at the store, please feel free to skip.

Ingredients

  • 2 quarts water

  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped

  • 3 celery stalks, chopped

  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

  • 3 cups vegetable broth, plus more if needed

  • Salt

  • ½ small kabocha squash, peeled, deseeded and chopped, (divided)

  • 3-5 tablespoons vegetable broth powder added to 3 cups water, or 3 cups liquid vegetable broth

  • Few pinches salt

  • 2 potatoes, peeled and cut into big chunks

  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut into big chunks

  • 1 bunch green beans, ends trimmed, sliced into 2-inch lengths

  • 1 Napa napa cabbage, base removed, sliced into big chunks

  • ¼ small green cabbage, same cut as the napa cabbage

  • 1 bunch Bok bok choy, base removed, same cut as the napa cabbage

  • 4-6 pieces mini corn on the cob, cut in half

  • 2 pieces dried Snow fungus (/tremella mushrooms), reconstituted in warm water, cut into chunks

  • 2-3 pieces Saba bananas, peeled, cut into big chunks

Instructions

  1. Place 2 quarts water, onion, celery, peppercorns, vegetable broth, a few pinches of salt, and half portion of the squash in a pot and put bring to a boil. Cook until squash is mushy. Mash squash with the back of your ladle, a large fork, (you may also use or a potato masher).

  2. Add potatoes, carrots, and the rest of the squash. Cook until you can pierce the potato with a fork, about 15 minutes.

  3. Taste and add more vegetable broth and more salt, if needed.

  4. Add rest of the ingredients: green beans, napa cabbage, green cabbage, bok choy, corn, snow fungus, and saba bananas. Add more vegetable broth, if needed. Mix well and put bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked through.

  5. Serve by ladling broth and vegetables into bowls. Turn off heat and serve hot.

Notes

You could can buy find bok choy, napa cabbage, snow fungus/tremella, kabocha squash, and saba bananas at Asian grocery stores. They’re all all in the produce section except for the snow fungus/tremella, which will be with with the dried shiitake mushrooms in the dried fungus section.

I’ve lost count how many times I’ve made vegan Nilaga soup. It’s simply convenient to cook and easy to love. Not to mention, it’s very healthy too. For the traditional touch, you may add a touch of oil, but I prefer mine oil-free. As long as I have good quality vegetable broth and mashed squash, my Nilaga is just as satisfying as I remember it as a kid. I would make it again and again, planned or on a whim.

Kain na, let’s eat!

First published in http://www.astigvegan.com/vegan-nilaga-soup/


 Chef Richgail Enriquez

Chef Richgail Enriquez

RG Enriquez at astigvegan.com discovers ways to show that Filipino food can be vegan, healthy, and delicious without losing its soul. Born and raised in the Philippines, RG veganizes the Filipino food of her childhood. She has appeared on the television show, "Adobo Nation" and given demonstrations and talks at "Savor Filipino", "Taste of South Lake”, “Barrio Fiesta”, Pitzer College, and Cal-State East Bay.


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