The un-curry Filipino curry

In the Philippines different versions of this dish can be enjoyed in restaurants called pansiterias.

turkey stew 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
turkey stew 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Last month more than 2,000 Filipinos from all over Israel celebrated Philippine National Day at a "Piyesta sa Holy Land" in Tel Aviv. Filipino food is becoming more familiar in Israel and it was central to the celebration. I was introduced to Filipino cuisine in Givatayim by Alice, a Filipina who cared for my elderly mother-in-law. She taught me to prepare some of the islands' signature dishes, including the famous Filipino noodle specialty, pancit or pansit, which has become a favorite of mine. In the Philippines different versions of this dish can be enjoyed in restaurants called pansiterias. Recently in Los Angeles, I came across a dish called kare kare (or kari-kari) at a Filipino restaurant. I was eager to try it. The name sounded like curry, and with cubes of meat in a thick, orange-brown sauce, it looked like a curry too. Since I love most curries, whether Indian, Thai or Vietnamese, I expected a rich, spicy dish. When I sampled the beef and vegetable stew, I realized that the sauce was a peanut sauce. It was tasty, but it wasn't peppery and had none of the spices I usually associate with curries. Maybe, I thought, it wasn't a curry at all. The authors of the Filipino and Southeast Asian cookbooks I consulted consider kare-kare an important dish but none of them mention any connection with curry. Finally I found an explanation in an article, Flavors of the Philippines, written by the Philippine Embassy in Paris in collaboration with the Ethnic and Specialty Food Show, which appeared on "Karinderias are small restaurants that take their name from the word 'kari' (curry), a spice introduced into Manila during the British occupation. The word curry became kari-kari and refers to a dish of beef, vegetables and peanuts served with fish sauce. Karinderias today offer their own specialties." Experts on Filipino cooking agree that kare kare is central to their cuisine. According to Jennifer Brennan, author of The Cuisines of Asia, it "typifies Philippine cooking." Rafael Steinberg wrote in Pacific and Southeast Asian Cooking (Time Life Foods of the World) that "to find the truly native Philippine cuisine is a difficult and probably pointless task... my nomination for the best purely Philippine dish goes to kari-kari... the tender chunks of meat, the faint saltiness of the bagoong (seafood paste), the background flavor of peanut... add up to one of the finest concoctions from lowly ingredients that I have tasted anywhere." In his version, as in most, the stew is made with beef cubes, oxtail and beef tripe, as well as green beans and pieces of eggplant, with annato seeds coloring the peanut sauce bright orange. Ground toasted rice gives the sauce additional body. Sauteed onions and garlic contribute good flavor to the stew and some versions are spiced with chilies as well. Reynaldo Alejandro, author of The Philippine Cookbook, simmers wedges of cabbage in the stew with the other vegetables. The stew is ladled over a plate of rice and served with a seafood paste sauce flavored with a citrus juice "to kill any lingering fishiness," wrote Steinberg. Filipino cuisine blends features of East and West. It has some elements from India and Indonesia, as well as some relatively recent ones from the US More prominent is the influence of Spain. Yet long before the Spanish arrived, wrote Steinberg, the Filipinos adapted foods and cooking methods from China. He emphasized, however, that the Philippines are "outside the chopstick belt"; "although it shared with the Chinese many vegetables and a dependence on rice, to assert that Philippine cooking is basically Chinese is like saying European cooking comes from Mesopotamia because it uses wheat." Like my Filipina friend, who adapted dishes of her native land when she made them for Israelis, I prepare kare kare without seafood sauce and color it with the more readily available turmeric instead of annato seeds. To simplify the dish, I follow Karen Hulene Bartell, author of Fine Filipino Food, and thicken the sauce with peanut butter instead of pulverizing roasted peanuts and toasted rice. You can make it with beef if you like (and increase the simmering time of the meat to two hours) but for summertime I opt for a lighter version made with turkey and a generous proportion of vegetables. TURKEY AND PEANUT STEW WITH EGGPLANT AND GREEN BEANS This stew, inspired by Filipino kare kare, is rich and satisfying thanks to its thick peanut sauce. For best results, use natural peanut butter made from peanuts alone, with or without salt. The sauce thickens on standing; if you make the stew ahead, add a little more broth when reheating it. Serve the stew with steamed rice. If you like, you can prepare a vegetarian version: omit the turkey, and substitute vegetable broth for the turkey broth. Cook the broth with the sauteed onion mixture for 10 minutes. Cook the vegetables in the sauce, and add 450 gr. of tofu cubes during the last 5 minutes of cooking. 1.4 kg. turkey thighs 4 cups water salt and freshly ground pepper 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil 2 large onions, sliced 4 garlic cloves, chopped 1⁄4 tsp. turmeric 1 medium eggplant (about 450 gr.) 225 to 350 gr. green beans 1⁄3 to 1⁄2 cup peanut butter, preferably unsweetened 1 Tbsp. soy sauce, or to taste (optional) cayenne pepper to taste 2 to 3 Tbsp. chopped green onions (optional) Put turkey in a large stew pan. Add water, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 1 hour. Remove turkey and reserve. Pour broth from pan. Skim fat from broth. Heat oil in stew pan, add onions and garlic and saute for 7 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring often, until lightly browned. Add 2 cups of the broth from cooking the turkey, salt, pepper and turmeric and return turkey to pan. Cook for 1 hour, turning once, or until turkey is tender. Remove turkey. Remove skin with aid of a paring knife. Discard bones, cartilage and visible fat. Pull or cut meat into strips. Skim fat from turkey cooking liquid. Peel eggplant if you like, and cut it in 2.5-cm. pieces. Add eggplant to turkey cooking liquid; add more broth if needed to cover eggplant. Bring to a simmer and cook for 7 minutes. Add green beans, cover and cook over medium heat for about 7 more minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender. Mix peanut butter with 1 cup of the sauce. Gently stir into casserole and bring to a simmer. Stir turkey into sauce. If stew is too thick, add more broth by tablespoons. Cover and heat through gently. Add soy sauce; taste and adjust seasoning. Add cayenne if you want a hotter sauce. Serve sprinkled with green onions. Makes 6 servings. Faye Levy is the author of Faye Levy's International Chicken Cookbook.