Sinigang… the Tamarind Stew
What is with the onset of cold weather and comfort foods? Why don’t I crave comfort foods in the summer? And why are most comfort foods full of all those good things that we have been told over and over, are not good for us? Questions, questions…
Comfort foods are usually food items that we are familiar with, and I believe those that have strong associations with good times. So maybe we are trying to bring back those times, or at least memories of them, by eating the same foods. Yeah, the same old food therapy, looking to make things better with food!
Every culture has its own favourite comfort foods, which very often are not the best of their cuisine. And individual childhood memories also play into a person’s choice of comfort food.
However, there are common threads connecting all these food items, regardless of which part of the world you are from… they are invariably rich in calories and have high carb and fat levels. And also, they are mostly not complex and easy to prepare items. Say, fish and chips instead of bouillabaisse?
The term ‘comfort food’ was first used in 1977, according to Webster’s and Oxford English dictionaries. Whoever invented that, I like it very much; quite an evocative phrase!
I have a very straight forward approach to the concept… comfort food is for when you are uncomfortable. And what makes me uncomfortable right now is the slowly advancing cold weather. Which is the way it is every year. However, this year instead of going for my routine items, I’m planning to check out comfort food from different parts of the world.
Let’s see… Shepherd’s pie, fish and chips, bangers and mash and a jam roly-poly from the Brits, onion soup and a chicken liver pate from France, pierogies and potato latkes from Poland, blintz, borscht and vareniki from Russia, goulash and paprikash from Hungary, a seafood paella from Spain… the list goes on. Of course, not forgetting local mac and cheese, meatloaf, fried chicken and chicken pot pie.
And I’m starting with sinigang, a Filipino dish which truly deserves the name comfort food. A combination of many vegetables, it can include chicken, pork or beef. Fish goes well too, and shrimp sinigang is one of my favourites. The tanginess of tomatoes and tamarind combined with the hotness from black pepper, lots of it, will bid ‘paalam’ to any gloominess in no time!
Generally I prefer to prepare all my spice mixes at home, but in this case, I have used a packaged mix. In case you can’t find it, you can use the extracted juice of tamarind. A half-inch diameter round of tamarind or 1 tbsp of tamarind extract will work fine. And of course, as usual I have made some minor adjustments to the original recipe.
Now that you have read all that about comfort food, one question… do you believe comfort food makes you feel better? Here is a recent news item, reported right on NPR – National Public Radio! Interesting, right?
- 2 medium sized red onions
- 3 tomatoes
- 4 cloves garlic
- ½ lb yard long green beans (sitaw)
- ½ lb radishes
- 3 small red potatoes
- 1 each red and green bell peppers
- 2 banana peppers
- 1 lb tail-on shrimp
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 tbsp cooking oil
- 1 packet tamarind seasoning mix (can be replaced with tamarind juice)
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- Slice the onions into thin wedges.
- Cut the yard long beans into 1 ½ inch pieces.
- Cut the tomatoes, potatoes, bell peppers, and banana peppers into bite sized pieces.
- Slice the radishes thinly.
- Crush the garlic.
- In a large pan, heat the oil and sauté half the onions, cut tomatoes and crushed garlic.
- When the onions turn transparent, add the vegetables and sauté for five minutes.
- Add enough water to cook the vegetables.
- Add the fish sauce and crushed black pepper to taste.
- Cover and cook.
- When the vegetables are almost done, check that there is enough water left in the pan. There should be enough water to make it look like a soup.
- Add the shrimp and enough salt.
- Stir and allow to come to a boil.
- Cook for three more minutes or till the shrimp is cooked.
- Check seasoning and remove from heat.
- Serve over steamed/ boiled rice or thick slices of bread. No weather blues for a long while!