Thursday, September 20, 2012

Filipino Sauteed Mung Beans: A Childhood Favorite

In six days, I will be on a plane to the Philippines with my family.

While a cross-global flight is significant in and of itself, there are a couple more details that make this flight even more special. 1) We'll be celebrating my grandmother's 104th birthday while we're there, and 2) this will be my first time back in 25 years.

Even though I was only 9 the first time around, so many details of that visit are still vivid in my mind. Collecting seashells (and even the animals still living in those shells) on a white-sand beach, racing against my sister and the quickly setting sun to fill my plastic pail. Driving up the winding road to Baguio, the city in the clouds, face and hands plastered to the window to ooh and ah at the huge lion statue on the way up. Buying orange soda in plastic bags with straws and steamed rice cakes in charred banana leaves from vendors on the side of the road, listening to my Mom bargain to get something dirt cheap even cheaper. Rushing to change into my swimsuit at the first clap of thunder so my brother, sister, and I could go "shower" in the midday downpour.

And the food. Don't even get me started.

Amazing food was a given wherever we went, and true to the stereotype of Filipino hospitality, I never left anywhere hungry or without a doggy bag. And there was something beautiful about eating and not having to wonder if someone would think what I was eating was "bizarre" or "gross," like in school. Everyone there ate like my family did, and more important than what we were eating was the fact that we were eating together.

So when the tickets were bought a couple months ago, while I was definitely looking forward to going back and seeing my grandmother and how much everything has changed, I was also a little sad. My dietary constraints combined with the fact that gluten-free is still barely on the horizon in the Philippines would mean that eating out and even eating in could be a challenge. Usually when you 're on vacation, cooking for yourself is not something you plan on. But chances are that I, along with my newly vegan sister, would be doing that for most of the 3 weeks we would be there.

But rather than let that depress me, it inspired me to revisit some favorite childhood dishes, the ones that remind me of home and eating family style, and see how I could make them gluten-free and vegan without compromising the flavor nor the nostalgia.

And this dish of sauteed mung beans, pretty darn close to the top of my favorites list, has both in spades.

Ginisang Munggo (Filipino Sauteed Mung Beans)
Gluten-free & Vegan

Active Prep Time: 5 minutes
Inactive Prep Time: at least 8 hours (recommended)
Cooking Time: 30 minutes (for beans); 15-20 minutes (for cooking)
Yield: about (6) 1/2 cup servings

3 c cooked mung beans
at least 1 c stock (reserved from cooking mung beans)

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 c diced onion
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
1-2 teaspoons fresh ginger, chopped
1/2 c diced tomato
2-3 tablespoons GF tamari

1 c baby kale leaves
1/4 c red bell pepper, sliced
1 tablespoon melted coconut oil

scallion & sliced chili pepper (optional), to garnish

1. To get 3 cups of cooked mung beans, you will need approximately 1 cup of dried. Though it isn't technically necessary for such a small bean, I highly recommend rinsing and then soaking the mung beans overnight. Not only will they triple in size, but they should actually begin to sprout, thus making them much easier to digest, quicker to cook, and actually more nutritious.
2. Drain, rinse, and then cook in a medium-sized saucepan. Begin with cold, filtered water, bring to a boil, and then lower to a simmer for 20-30 minutes until beans are tender (or cooked otherwise to your liking). Skim any scum that collects on the surface. When beans are finished, drain, and set aside at least 1 cup of the cooking liquid.
3. In a saucepan or large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Begin sauteing the vegetables starting with the onions, then adding the ginger and garlic, and then the tomatoes.  The goal is to semi-caramelize this mixture (about 5-8 minutes).  Add tamari and mix well to pick up all the flavor from the pan.
4. Add kale leaves, bell pepper, mung beans, and coconut oil.  If you do not have baby kale leaves, devein and chop larger kale leaves into bite sized pieces.  Cook for 3-5 minutes.
5. Add warm/hot stock and bring to an active simmer for 3-5 minutes.  It is important that the stock is not cold for this step so as to not interrupt the cooking process.  In the pictures, I only added a little more than a cup, but if you'd like a more "stew-like" result, add closer to 2 cups. While cooking, feel free to mash some of the beans against the side to thicken the stock.
6. Garnish with scallions and pepper slices and serve hot.  But like most stews, the flavor will be even better the next day.

From the bottom... the top.  Check out the sprouting!

Can't go wrong when you begin with beautiful ingredients.

Stirring + Mashing = "Mirshing"

While tasting very similar to the dish I remember, there are several differences in mine that set it apart. First, I prefer the mung beans to stay a little firmer as opposed to falling apart at the slightest pressure.  Feel free to prolong the initial cooking of the mung beans if softer mung beans or a more stew-like consistency is what you'd like.  Also, I love ginger, and while many recipes for this dish don't call for it, there was no way I was going to make it without it.  That and the coconut oil make the broth amazingly rich, and good enough to drink on its own.  And speaking of calling for certain ingredients, traditionally there would also be pork, shrimp, and fish sauce (staples in a majority of Filipino dishes).  You can certainly incorporate them, but for the sake of my sister and making this vegan, I, of course, left them out and developed the flavor in different ways.

I am beyond excited for this trip to the Philippines - to see my family, my dearest grandmother, and the dozens of cousins, aunts, uncles, and family friends who last saw me when I was short, round, and overly-hyper.  My father laughed that they're in for a surprise.  But as so much has undoubtedly changed in 25 years, I'm sure the same can be said for me.

I feel like a new chapter of my life is just about to begin - that it's time for me to make peace with all that I've done to this point so I can take those lessons and embrace what's next.

And what better way to move forward than to go back to one's roots?


  1. Wow- what an amazing journey to go on! Much love and luck to you! Hope you find many naturally GF foods along the way too ;)

    1. Thank you so much, Stephanie! So excited I can hardly sleep (even less than usual). ;)

  2. Finally getting to read this! There is a mashed munggo bean dish my grandfather's sister makes regularly and that everyone loves. She told me how to make it one day while I was scarfing it down. I can't even remember how to make it and forgot to ask her again when I was home earlier this year. Always a joy to walk into her home and hear, "You like munggo beans?" (like meaning in pidgin English, do you want)

    That hospitality is what I miss about being home. You walk into anyone's home (Filipino or not) and the first thing you are asked if you want something to eat (not even something to drink, but to eat!). My grandma and all the other grandmas used to try to force feed me in college because they thought I was to skinny. LOL It was all the walking I did!

    I know you're having a great time. I hope it continues!

    1. That is so true, Debi! "Anong gustamong kumain?" I've already had ginisang munggo while here, complete with ampalaya and malunggay leaves - heaven. And the hospitality? In spades. :)

  3. Just found your blog! Looking forward to reading more. Will have to try munggo with ginger in it.

    1. I'm looking forward to you reading more, too! Thank you for your comment and enjoy the luya in your monggo!


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