A vegan dish made out of banana hearts with a perfect balance of flavours.
Words by Iyay Ignacio
We at Sigla have been on a quest for the perfect nourishing vegan ulam (viand) using ordinary and easy to find local ingredients, and we think we may have found it!
I recently received a bayong (a local bag made of interwoven leaves) of seasonal permaculture produce from our friends at Kai Farms. In it were native resilient crops like alugbati (Malabar spinach) and talinum (fameflowers), and some edible flowers like blue ternate or butterfly pea. At the bottom of the bag were banana blossom and niyog (mature coconut), which instantly prompted me to make kulawo.
Kulawo is a Filipino dish traditionally made by grating mature coconut, charring and smoking the meat with live coconut husk coal, putting out the fire with vinegar, and squeezing out the burnt and smoked coconut milk. This is then used to cook banana blossom with some aromatics.
I was first introduced to kulawo by Tina Decal at Ugu Bigyan’s Pottery Garden in Tiaong, Quezon, during her Kulinarya Tagala tour 10 years ago. Tina explained that it’s an heirloom recipe and a pre-colonial dish, using a distinct Filipino cooking method and food preservation technique: cooking with vinegar. It arrived at our table so nicely adorned with butterfly pea flowers. We, a bunch of college kids at the time, all agreed it was the favorite, outshining the pork and seafood dishes it was served with.
I relished the experience so much that I decided to take my family on a self-guided Viaje del Sol tour soon after. I took them to Sulyap Gallery Café in San Pablo, Laguna, which was also a part of Tina’s Kulinarya Tagala tour. Roy Empalmado, the owner, had mentioned that they will be opening boutique hotels, and I loved the transported and restored colonial house that the restaurant was in. There we tried Laguna’s version of kulawo, which is made with roasted eggplant instead of banana blossom. It was equally pleasant as its Quezon counterpart, with the bold smoky flavor and rich coconut milk nicely balanced by the tartness coming from the vinegar, highlighting the main ingredient, be it banana blossom or eggplant. Laguna and Quezon are both rich in coconut trees so it only makes sense that their cuisine and way of living feature a lot of coconut products.
We also went to Patis Tito Café, where we got to meet famed fashion designer Patis Tesoro, who we have to thank for sharing the wonders of her hometown with us. She organized and spearheaded the Viaje del Sol map, which has become a powerful tool in enlightening people about the food, arts, and culture of Laguna, Batangas, and Quezon.
Wouldn’t it be nice to be transported to those places right now? If only we could.. Well, maybe we could. With food!
We have recreated this dish at the Sigla test kitchen and now you can easily make this at home with just 4 ingredients. We hope you and your loved ones enjoy this dish!
Optional: Edible flowers like butterfly pea or oxalis
Top tips: Best served with steaming hot native brown rice
Get your prep on! For quick and seamless cooking, always read through the recipe first and understand every step. Wash, cut, measure and weigh all your ingredients before you begin cooking. Then place all the ingredients on a single tray. Never measure as you go.
1. Prepare the banana blossom to remove the bitter sap. Massage your chopped banana blossom with 4 Tablespoons of salt, then set aside for at least 15 minutes.
2. Make burnt coconut milk using one of these options:
a) Butane torch: spread the grated coconut meat on a sheet tray and torch it until it is nicely charred. Be careful that nothing around it or near you catches fire. Transfer to a bowl.
b) Coal: put your coconut meat on a heat proof container (a stainless steel bowl) and light up one piece of coal, when it’s live, put it in the center and bury it with some coconut meat, cover slightly and allow to it to smoke for a few minutes, and then remove and discard the coal.
c) Oven: spread the coconut meat on a sheet tray and put on the top shelf of your oven. Broil for about 5-10 minutes or until it has gotten a nice char, and transfer to a bowl.
While it is still hot, pour in the vinegar and put aside as you finish preparing your banana blossom
3. With your hands, squeeze the banana blossoms. Discard the liquid. Wash it in running water, and squeeze again. Do this twice to make sure it's not too salty.
4. Extract the smoked coconut milk by squeezing the coconut meat with your hands. Discard the meat.
5. On a saute pan, on medium low heat, pour in the smoked coconut milk, add the onions, and some freshly ground pepper. Simmer for about 5 minutes.
6. Add the banana heart and cook for about 8-10 minutes or until you reach your desired consistency. Taste and adjust your seasoning with salt.
7. Garnish with flowers or herbs of your choice. Enjoy!