Thursday, December 1, 2016

A Philippine Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! The Philippines calendar is stacked with feast days; still, we Americans had to celebrate one of the few feast holidays we do have. For Thanksgiving this year, I traveled up the road 5 hours to Bontoc, Mountain Province, celebrate with 2 other Americans (Tristan, another missionary serving there, and Nancy, a wife of a Filipino priest) and 30+ Filipinos. 

Traditional Thanksgiving ingredients (including turkeys) were a challenge to find, but after much searching and culinary creativity, we found what we could and substituted local ingredients for the rest.

The menu included:

Of course. After tracking down a man who raised turkeys in the province, Tristan slaughtered the first one himself. We had 2, which were considerably smaller than your average Butterball, but naturally fed, and they seemed to have had a good life. Tristan basted one with local honey and orange rind, and the other with bacon grease and rosemary. Mmmm… Delicious. We baked them in the industrial sized oven at the diocese compound canteen... with no temperature gauge! Thankfully, they turned out great. The Filipinos seemed to enjoy them; it was many people’s first time trying turkey.

Rice Stuffing
We had to incorporate rice… since eating is not considered a meal unless there’s rice here! Here’s the rice stuffing recipe I used:

2 cups cooked rice
2 tablespoons butter
1 small white onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
Salt & pepper to taste

Saute celery and onions with butter until soft. Add rice and salt and pepper. Stuff. 

It was my first time with this recipe, but it tasted great and was very moist.

Mango Sauce
Every time I walk in the market, one thing I’m most thankful for is all the new, delicious tropical fruits to which I have access. Cranberries are hard to come by, so the next best local substitute I could find was… Mangoes! They paired surprisingly well with turkey. Will definitely be making again, and stay tuned for mango cobbler come summertime. To make at home, use:

4 medium sized mangoes
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
¼ cup muscovado sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
2 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon cornstarch

Slice and chop mangoes into small pieces. Boil in water until soft. Add sugar and cook till dissolved. Mix in cinnamon. Add butter. Add cornstarch mixed with a little water and stir until you’ve reached your desired thickness.

Candied Ube
Ube, my new favorite food and flavor, is the purple relative of the sweet potato, and often used in ice cream, donuts, etc. When you cut it raw, the color is white with a gelatinous purple oozing out of it, but when you boil, it turns a rich, dark purple. For the topping, pecans are hard to come by, but cashews and coconut aren’t! I’m enjoying substituting coconut milk for fresh milk, too; in large part, because I’m fascinated to watch them make it in the market. They crack a mature coconut open with a machete, grind out the white coconut meat, then mix it with water to squeeze out the milk.

1 kilo ube, boiled
2 eggs
⅓ cup coconut milk
½ cup sugar
2 ½ T melted butter

½ cup cashews
½ cup shaved coconut
½ cup muscovado sugar
2 T melted butter

Mix the filling, mix the topping. Assemble and bake for 35-45 minutes at 350 F. 

Kamote Coconut Pie
When pecans and canned pumpkin were not to be found, I turned to kamote, the local sweet potato and freshly shaved coconut from the market. Here’s the recipe for the filling:

¾ kilo kamote (or sweet potatoes), chopped
2 T butter
2 T coconut oil
½ cup sugar
¼ cup muscovado sugar
¼ cup coconut shavings
1 ½ t cinnamon
½ cup coconut milk
5 eggs

Heat butter and oil in pan until melted. Add kamote and roast until softened. Add coconut, sugar, cinnamon, and coconut milk. Mix until smooth. Add eggs and mix 1 at a time. Bake at 350 F for 45 minutes.

After feasting, someone brought out a guitar and lead us all in singing John Denver and Bob Marley songs into the night. The Filipinos enthusiastically embraced Thanksgiving, not only being excited to share in an American holiday celebration, but also to spend time together over food and drink appreciating our fellowship together, inspiring me to be more thankful for life’s many blessings and renewing my spirit of gratitude to honor of the essence of the day.

The full spread, including 2 turkeys, rice stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied ube, mango sauce, canned cranberry sauce, penne pasta, cranberry-almond coleslaw, Japanese pumpkin pie, kamote coconut pie, and the standard Filipino condiments: soy sauce, vinegar, chili peppers, and tiny limes.