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A Nourishing Filipino-Inspired Soup for Fall

The chef Angela Dimayuga grew up in San Jose, Calif., the fifth of six children in a Filipino American family, and still remembers the slowly simmering soups and stews that seemed to be constantly bubbling away in the kitchen of her childhood home. Because both of her parents worked — her mother as an administrator for IBM and Intel, her father as a manager at McDonald’s — her mother would often cook a week’s worth of food at once. One of her standbys was nilaga, a simple yet flavorful soup of slow-braised beef shanks, bone marrow and earthy vegetables. “Nilaga was something we had on regular rotation because it’s nourishing and could feed a lot of us,” says Dimayuga, 36, who, until recently, was the creative director of food and culture for the Standard hotels. “It’s an easy dish to make, since it’s all passive cooking: You throw the meat in with some water.” Come dinnertime, the family would gather around the huge pots, ladling steaming broth, marrow bones and fragrant rice into their bowls before crowding together to eat.

One can almost hear the household’s mealtime din ­­in the pages of “Filipinx: Heritage Recipes From the Diaspora,” the new cookbook Dimayuga wrote with Ligaya Mishan, a writer at large for T, which comes out Nov. 2. It features roughly 100 recipes capturing the lively, communal spirit of the Filipino table — from those for rich stews and crunchy merienda (or snacks) to bracing condiments and acid-hued sweets — and paying tribute to the archipelago’s hodgepodge of culinary influences: China, Japan, Spain, America, to name only a few.

Dimayuga first conceived of the cookbook while working as the executive chef at the New York outpost of the San Francisco-based Mission Chinese Food. She began weaving Filipino ingredients and flavors — sour notes inspired by sinigang, a usually tamarind-based stew, for example — into the restaurant’s eclectically Pan-Asian dishes, and was thrilled to discover a fan base for her home cuisine. Around the same time, she inherited a trove of family recipes punctiliously compiled by her mother, and when she adapted a handful of them in the Times, the reception was more enthusiastic than she could have expected. “I heard people from around the world say they were so happy to find out the name of a dish that they had through their Filipino nanny, or that their military bunkmate showed them,” says Dimayuga.

Some of the ingredients for nilaga and for a side dish of lumpia, or fried rolls.Credit…Flora Hanitijo

The authors were intent on showcasing the diversity of the Filipino diaspora, which spans more than 100 countries, including Saudi Arabia, Italy and Australia. They invited people of Filipino descent to offer their perspectives on modern identity: The novelist Jessica Hagedorn discusses how she had to fight for representation in the literary world; the model and transgender activist Geena Rocero notes that Tagalog was a gender-neutral language before colonization smuggled in masculine-feminine binaries.

Researching Filipino history and cuisine also allowed both Dimayuga and Mishan to connect to their families in deeper ways. “It became this project around our own curiosity of self,” says Dimayuga, who came to empathize more deeply with her parents’ experience of leaving their homeland — they emigrated from the Philippines in 1976 — while at the same time inviting them more fully into her life as a queer person. Mishan, who grew up in Honolulu, the daughter of a Filipino mother and an English father, ate Filipino food only occasionally as a child; “It wasn’t a big presence in my life,” she says. Writing the book and delving into her heritage “brought me very close to my mom for the first time in a long time because I was constantly consulting her, trying to learn. I was also consulting all of my Filipino friends. I felt like I had this wonderful sense of the barkada, which is the term for your friend group in Tagalog.”

Dimayuga and Mishan had planned to cook, recipe-test and write together, but the pandemic intervened. And so, in a sad irony, a book celebrating the sense of community that food can foster took shape with all of its collaborators isolated from one another, convening over the virtual table of Zoom. That is, until one unseasonably warm day in October, when the authors reunited at Dimayuga’s Brooklyn apartment to toast the upcoming release of “Filipinx” over a meal of lumpia, rice coffee and the aforementioned nilaga, the first recipe they worked on for the book. It’s a dish reminiscent of the French pot-au-feu — the classically trained Dimayuga nods to that here with the inclusion of turnips and leeks — with one difference being the addition of fish sauce and its telltale umami, which brings depth to the sweetness of the simmered vegetables. “Because nilaga was such a constant for me,” she says, “it’s one that I crave all the time.”

Bowls of nilaga, surrounded by (clockwise from left) lumpia; a sawsawan, or dipping sauce, of apple cider vinegar, garlic and serrano chiles; sautéed kale with crispy garlic; and a sweet chili sauce.Credit…Flora Hanitijo

Angela Dimayuga’s Nilaga

Ingredients:

  • Kosher salt and coarsely cracked black pepper

  • 1 pound bone-in beef shanks with the most marrow you can find

  • 3 bay leaves, fresh or dried

  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce

  • 1 medium yellow onion cut in 1½-inch pieces

  • 2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1½-inch pieces

  • ½ pound baby white turnips or 1 large turnip, peeled and cut into 1½-inch pieces

  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed

  • 1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained

  • 6 medallions beef marrow bones, cut crosswise into 1½-inch pieces and soaked for 12 to 24 hours in brine (optional)

  • 1 large leek, cleaned and cut into 2-inch lengths

  • ½ small head savoy or green cabbage, cut into wedges

  • Steamed rice for serving

1. Fill a large pot with 2½ quarts water. Salt and pepper the beef shanks and add them to the pot, along with the bay leaves. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so that the liquid ripples without bubbling. Keep the lid on the pot. For the first 10 minutes of simmering, periodically lift the lid to check on the stock and skim off any foam that rises to the surface. Continue to simmer, skimming occasionally, for about 2 hours.

2. Break apart the meat by prodding it with a spoon; it should fall off the bone. Do not discard the bones, as the marrow will continue to melt into the broth. Season the broth with the fish sauce and 1 tablespoon kosher salt (or to taste), and check the texture: If the broth is too thick and syrupy, add a little water to loosen. Then add the onion, potatoes, turnips, garlic and garbanzo beans and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the vegetables begin to soften. If using marrow bone medallions, add them to the broth now. (If your pot isn’t big enough to hold all the medallions, cook them in a separate, smaller pot with a ladling of the nilaga broth.) Add the leek and cabbage and let simmer for another 15 minutes.

3. To serve, ladle the stew over warm rice, and be sure to give each bowl at least one piece of beef, potato, turnip, cabbage, a few garbanzo beans and a finish of coarsely ground pepper — plus, for special occasions, a bone medallion, for each diner to scoop out the buttery marrow.

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