It’s been often said. Pork is king and seafood is queen in Philippine cuisine. So what would Filipino food be without meat, seafood or any animal-derived products? Well, it would be vegan Filipino food. Quite unheard of. It’s like reading the word “humble” beside Donald Trump’s name. It sounds more of a contradiction, but nevertheless worthy of investigation.
Born and raised in Cavite, Philippines, Richgail Enriquez aka RG, is a cook and purveyor of traditional vegan and veganized Filipino food. She grew up helping her mother prepare traditional Pinoy dishes at home. At 15, she and her family immigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, USA, which exposed her to a new world of varied cuisines. But it was in college when she began her gradual transformation to veganism. What led her to stop consuming animal meat and their by products? Is it possible for vegans to enjoy Filipino food? The Q & A below is a revelation.
MFB: What prompted you to go vegan?
RG: My journey to veganism started when I took a nutrition class in college. That class opened my eyes and made me aware of what I put inside my body and the impact of what I consume. The transition was very gradual from “clean eating” to becoming vegetarian then vegan.
MFB: Why vegan Filipino food?
RG: When I became vegan about ten years ago, I didn’t want to give up on the food I grew up eating as a kid. With the help of my mom, we both found ways to veganize Filipino dishes without losing its soul. Since then, I was hooked on veganizing Filipino food.
Photo credit: Astig Vegan
MFB: How strictly vegan are you? No eggs? No milk? No cakes?
RG:I still eat cakes, lots of them! Delicious vegan cakes 🙂 The concept may seem unique, even strange for some but vegan food has come a long way that I don’t really miss and consume any animal products anymore. Almost anything can be veganized including cakes, milk, eggs, and yes- even Filipino food.
Vegan Maja Blanca : Astig Vegan
MFB: How has turning vegan affected your lifestyle?
RG: Since I went vegan, I’ve discovered my passion for food and cooking. I have also become more compassionate and open-minded. Health-wise, my skin cleared up and started glowing. I have more energy to tackle my day.
MFB: Is everyone in your family vegan?
RG: My family is not fully vegan yet but has become receptive to vegan food. They cook vegan food for themselves, they invite me to vegan restaurants, and they text or call me when they’re shopping for vegan ingredients and needed my opinion.
MFB: Are vegan options widely available in restaurants and shops in San Francisco?
RG: The San Francisco Bay Area has many vegan-friendly places. It has restaurants that are either fully vegan or have plenty of vegan options. I don’t usually eat out though; I rather cook at home. The ingredients I use could be found mainly at Asian grocery stores and are not necessarily specialty products.
MFB: Can you please share with us one of your vegan Filipino food recipes?
Vegan Filipino Spaghetti Recipe
by RG Enriquez (this recipe originally appeared on www.astigvegan.com)
There used to be only one way I knew how a spaghetti sauce should be -savory, sweet, and meaty. Growing up in the Philippines, I was exposed to only the Filipino-style spaghetti sauce. While the Italian version focuses on the flavors of the tomatoes, the Filipino version focuses on the sweet meat. You could just imagine my shock when I bit into the Italian kind, too sour! Now my palate has developed and I have found both versions equally satisfying on their own right.
In my household, we make Filipino Spaghetti for special occasions like birthdays, town fiestas, and noche buena or Christmas eve. It could be just as popular as the other Filipino noodle dish, pancit (if you ask a Filipino kid though, spaghetti might win over pancit). Filipino spaghetti may not be typical everyday food at home, but it’s widely accessible at Filipino fast food restaurants like Jollibee’s (Philippine counterpart of McDonald’s). Jollibee’s spaghetti is one of their most popular items on the menu.
For the “meat” of the sauce:
12 ounces extra-firm tofu, frozen overnight or for at least 4 hours, then thawed, then crumbled (using your hands or food processor)
3 vegan hotdogs, thinly sliced
4-5 tablespoons canola oil
3-5 tablespoons refined coconut oil
For the sauce:
5 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed, and minced
1 cup roughly chopped yellow onion
1 cup roughly chopped celery sticks
1 cup roughly chopped carrots
½ cup roughly chopped, red bell pepper, seeds removed
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon sweet pickle relish
¼ cup maple syrup (agave or regular natural sugar works too)
3-4 tablespoons soy sauce
¼ cup non-dairy milk
4 cups tomato sauce
For the noodles:
1 pound Spaghetti pasta
medium size pot of hot water
For garnish: (optional)
¼ cup grated vegan cheddar cheese as topping (optional)
- Heat medium size pan over high heat. Once hot, pour oil until it covers the base of the pan. Wait until oil is very hot. Carefully add crumbled tofu (do not overcrowd the pan) and fry until tofu is golden brown on all sides. Transfer to a plate.
- Using the same pan, fry hotdog slices and sprinkle sugar and salt. Fry both sides and turn off heat. Transfer alongside fried tofu.
- Place onions, celery, bell pepper, and carrots in a food processor and pulse for one minute or until finely minced. Transfer to a bowl.
- Using the same pan you fried the tofu and hotdogs on, saute garlic until light golden. Follow with finely minced vegetables, salt, and pepper. Stir and cook for 3-5 minutes.
- Add tomato sauce, tomato paste, sweet relish, soy sauce, maple syrup, and non-dairy milk. Mix well, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring every minute so sauce won’t stick on the bottom of the pan.
- Add fried tofu and hotdogs. Mix well and if desired, add more salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off heat.
- Cook spaghetti per package’s direction (usually 1 lb of spaghetti in 4 quarts of boiling pot of water) until pasta is tender . Drain well using a colander.
- To serve, place sauce over noodles and top with grated vegan cheese. Serve warm.
To help crumble the tofu, use a food processor.
To successfully fry tofu, make sure the oil is very hot and that you do not overcrowd the pan. Fry in batches if needed.
If you have a small food processor, pulse the vegetables in batches.
If you couldn’t find maple syrup, you may use natural or evaporated cane sugar of the same amount.
If you’re watching your sugar intake, use stevia instead of sugar and maple syrup.
If you’re watching your fat intake, skip the refined coconut oil.
Connect with RG Enriquez:
Facebook: Astig Vegan
by Jacqueline Lauri of My Food Beginnings – a Filipino food anthology project
Bringing people together through food and stories.