Sinigang refers to the dish you cook using the “sigang” method. Cooking sigang style is to cook with broth and other condiments according to the online Tagalog dictionary. I always thought the term meant sauteing without oil. Sorry about the picture, I guess the steam rose and fogged up the camera lens.
Sinigang is a very versatile dish. There are different versions of sinigang: beef, pork, chicken, fish and shrimp. Sinigang with beef, pork or chicken starts out the same way, which is, sauteing the meat with the onion and tomatoes without any oil, then adding a spoonful of fish sauce. It’s the perfect dish for the rainy season….warm and satisfying.
You can also put in a variety of vegetables: sigadillas(winged beans), bataw, eggplant, sitaw (long beans) and the green, leafy vegetable could be kangkong (swamp cabbage), or mustasa (mustard greens) or even turnip greens as I’ve discovered living in the US.
Seafoods are different. You start with a broth of onions, tomatoes, the fish sauce, maybe rice rinse water (the second rinse please), then add the seafoods and other ingredients when it comes to a boil. This is a dish for the dry season, when the sun is strong and rain, sparse. Fish sinigang with miso (similar to the Japanese miso) is another variant, fantastic with mustard greens.
For any Sinigang you need a souring agent or “paasim” as it’s called. The most common for pork and beef is green tamarind. You put it in a strainer over your boiling pot and dunk it into the hot liquid until it softens. Keep dunking your strainer while mashing the tamarind and pretty soon, the light green pulp from the tamarind will seep into the broth. A chinoise strainer would be perfect for this. I remember my mother had her favorite bamboo strainer.
Here’s an interesting trivia related to “paasim”: the Indonesians have their Sayur Asem, which is basically a vegetable stew using the ripe tamarind to give it a very mild acidity. Filipinos can take more acidity and use the unripe green tamarind.
For chicken, the usual souring agent is the young leaves of the tamarind. This is chopped and put in last minute. This gives a milder acidity, with a slight bitterness of the young leaves. The leaves also turn the broth milky.
For seafoods, the best souring agent is the “kamias” or bilimbi. Sun-dried, this fruit gives yet another layer of flavor to sinigang.
The trick is not to put in the souring agent before your vegetables are cooked. Otherwise, they won’t cook properly. This is a rule of cooking sinigang I have yet to break, so I can’t really say if it’s just an old wive’s tale or whether there is some real chemical reaction of the acid to the vegetables. I hate to ruin a good sinigang for the experiment…and haven’t so far.
For convenience, I have turned to using the instant sinigang mix availabale in most Asian stores. It’s very good, very similar to the original. I would advise to adjust seasonings after you put it in because the mix does contain salt.
1.5 lbs. beef chuck, cut in 2 in. cubes
1 onion, diced
2 roma tomatoes, diced
2 tbsps. fish sauce
1.5 c. water
1-2 green siling haba (I use the Italian pickled pepper commonly used for salads)
5-7 small gabi (taro) tubers, peeled and cut in half (peel with dry hands and do not wash immediately after or you will develop a mild and temporary itch – this is not an old wive’s tale)
1 medium-sized daikon raddish, peeled and sliced in half-inch rounds
1/2 c. longbeans, cut 1-inch long
1 med. sized Japanese/Chinese/Filipino eggplant, sliced in 2 inch. strips
2 c. swamp cabbage (kangkong) leaves (I used fresh turnip greens)
2-3 tsps. sinigang mix
salt to taste
Dry saute your beef, onions and tomatoes until the meat’s redness is gone. Add the fish sauce and stir for another 3 minutes. Add the water and the pepper and bring to boil. Bring down heat and simmer till meat is almost tender. Add more water if you want more soup.
Bring to a boil and add taro tuber. Add the daikon, bring down heat and simmer another 15 minutes. Add the longbeans and eggplants, cook 3 minutes. Add turnip greens and cook 2-3 minutes more depending on how tender you like your veggies.
Meanwhile, put a few tablespoons of the broth in a bowl and stir in the sinigang mix. Pour this mix into your pot gradually, adjusting to your taste as you go. Some like their sinigang very sour, some prefer it milder.
Serve with steamed rice.