Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Doing my part for cultural awareness

It's Ramadan here in the UAE, which means observant Muslims refrain from doing anything enjoyable during daylight hours and the rest of us pretend like that's something resembling a good idea. But still, I feel like I need to do my part. That's why I have taken it upon myself to help make this country just a little more pious by alleviating it of those nasty, sinful pork products and stashing them where no one would think to look -- in my belly.

(Actually, given the size of my belly, that might be one of the first places they look.)

After the rousing success of my curry rice recipe, I thought I'd share with everyone my take on Filipino spaghetti. It's taken a few iterations to settle, but I think I've hit upon a good formula. You should be able to find most of the ingredients fairly easily, and those that are more specialized can be substituted without losing much in the way of flavor.

One of the first questions I get about this recipe, especially from the folks back home, is "what makes it Filipino?". Other than the recipe originating in the Philippines (so far as I can tell), it involves a few ingredients that hail from that country.

Filipino-style spaghetti sauce is a bit sweeter than the bolognese sauce typically associated with spaghetti. I've been told my several Filipinos here in the Dhabs that Mama Sita's is the brand to use, though if you do, lay off adding any salt. There's enough in there as it is. Banana ketchup (or banana sauce) is, as its name would suggest, a slightly sweet condiment derived from bananas. It adds a nice tang to the sauce. And if you're going for that extra bit of authenticity, make sure the hot dogs used in the recipe are red. Nebraska readers will find Fairbury brand hot dogs -- you know, the ones Der Viener Schlinger sends on ballistic trajectories at Nebraska games -- will do the job nicely.

Ingredients (serves 8-12)
Spaghetti pasta (1kg/2lb)

Ground beef (0.5kg/1lb)

Ground pork (0.5kg/1lb)

Hot dogs (1 package, red if possible, sliced diagonally)

Vegetable oil (1 tbsp/15mL)

Onion (1 medium-sized, peeled and diced)

Garlic (1-2 cloves to 1 head minced, adjust as desired)

Shredded cheese (1 cup/225g)

Beef broth (2 cups/450mL)

Spaghetti sauce (1 26oz/750g jar) OR tomato sauce (2 cups/450mL) + tomato paste (0.5 cups/115mL)

Banana ketchup (1 cup/225mL) OR ground sugar (0.25 cups/65g)

Salt and pepper (as desired)

I know what you're thinking -- "Wow, that's a bunch of pasta for one person." It is, but bear in mind I cook in bulk and eat the leftovers over the course of a week. It takes away a little variety but more than makes up for it in saving time and money. In the long run, cooking for yourself likely will end up being healthier than eating out, too.

Once you've rounded up all your ingredients, the preparation is fairly straightforward. If you don't want your sauce to be so sweet, go ahead and leave out the sugar and/or banana ketchup.

1. Prepare spaghetti according to directions on package (or just follow these instructions). Drain and set aside.

2. Heat vegetable oil in cooking pot or skillet over medium heat.

3. Stir in garlic and onion. Saute for 5 minutes or until onion is translucent.

4. Add ground beef and pork. Season with salt and pepper. Stir occasionally and break up meat into smaller pieces, cooking for 5-7 minutes or until meat has browned.

5. Pour in beef broth, banana ketchup and spaghetti sauce (or tomato sauce/tomato paste/sugar mixture).

6. Simmer for 1 hour or until meat is fully cooked and sauce has thickened. Add sliced hot dogs for final 10 minutes of cooking.

7. Serve over spaghetti, topping with shredded cheese.

If the pasta seems large, it's because I used bucatini this time instead of spaghetti.

The more health-conscious among you will notice a distinct lack of greens in this recipe. You could always serve a salad alongside the spaghetti or, as I have done, steam a big bag of frozen vegetables and split that among the batches of spaghetti. It'll add a nice blend of color to the predominant red and nudge the meal a bit closer to the vicinity of healthy.

Enjoy! If you have any personal tweaks or touches you like to use when making Filipino spaghetti, let me know in the comments.

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