Monday, March 4, 2013

Tinola-Style Cabbage Stew

When it comes to comfort food, I always bring it back to the Filipino foods my grandmothers and parents used to make for us as a child.  Filipino cuisine is replete with soups and stews, so it's no wonder that most of my favorite foods fall into that category.  Ginataang kalabasa, lugaw, ginisang munggo, kare kare - my heart warms and my mouth waters just thinking of them.  Beyond how delicious they are, it's also that sense of family and communion that I feel goes hand in hand with Filipino cooking.  That sense of nourishing more than just the body, but the spirit as well.

So visiting the Philippines a few months ago, I made sure to take advantage of the opportunity to revisit and enjoy many of these familiar foods.  And while the food was often made for us, either in a restaurant or in someone's home, on rare occasion I was able to jump into the kitchen myself and lend a hand.

Tinola in the large white dish, my grandmother telling a story.

I remember one such occasion the day my Uncle Ruben and his wife flew in from Hawaii for my grandmother's 104th birthday.  After the long flight and driving through bumper-to-bumper Manila traffic, they were exhausted, so I asked if I could make dinner that evening.  I wanted to do something special for not only Uncle Ruben, but also for my Auntie Becky, with whom we were staying, as well as my parents, sister, and my grandmother.  I wanted to take care of them all and let them relax.  And when it comes to rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation, one of the first dishes that comes to my mind is tinola.

A clear, broth-based dish rooted in ginger and onion, it's remarkably grounding and energizing at the same time.  There's a sense of health and wellbeing as you drink in the soup, or sabaw, as we would call it, and if you're feeling lethargic or under the weather, the warm aroma and zing of the ginger can help you rise above.  And it's so simple.  I knew that, but when confirming all that goes into it before stepping into the kitchen, I was still surprised by how minimal it is.  Traditionally, it would involve chicken, chayote squash, and spinach, but as you can see, that needn't be the case.

This un-chicken soup will still nourish the soul.

Tinolang Repolyo (Cabbage, Potato, & Carrots in a Ginger Broth)
Gluten-Free & Vegan

Active Prep Time: 5 minutes
Inactive Prep Time: none
Cooking Time: 20-30 minutes
Yield:  about 6 cups

1 tablespoon oil for sautéing
1/2 large onion, thinly sliced
1 large knob of ginger, peeled and sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
2 medium potatoes, large dice
2 c sliced green cabbage
4-5 c warm vegetable stock or water
salt to taste

1.  Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large saucepan or pot.  Add onion and sauté until translucent and beginning to soften.
2.  Add ginger and sauté for another minute until aromatic.  If you're a ginger lover like me, feel free to add more or simply slice into smaller pieces.  Add carrot and potato and sauté for another 1-2 minutes.
3.  Finally, add cabbage and sauté until just beginning to soften.  As always, when I sauté I prefer to lightly salt with each additional ingredient, layering in the seasoning.   You can choose to do this as well, or just season all at once at the end.
4.  Add warm stock or water to cover ingredients and raise temperature to bring to a boil.  Once it has reached a boil, reduce heat, cover, and allow to actively simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the potato and carrot are fork tender.
5.  Season to taste.  It can be served immediately or it can be served within the next couple days.  It'll just keep getting better.

There are a lot of similarities with the Spanish/Mexican caldo, which is no wonder, given both of their presences in the Philippines.  When I first had caldo, I immediately thought of my grandmother and my family.  Of home.  I'm sure that someone who grew up with caldo and having tinola for the first time would probably have the same reaction.  Comfort foods to the core that can inspire nostalgia to the max.  And in this variation, the sweetness of the cabbage and carrot, the heartiness of the potato, and the palate-pleasing piquant flavor of ginger go so well together.

Avocado making a beautiful addition.

And as much of the country is still shoveling snow and sleet, this simple and easy to prepare soup will do wonders to take the chill off. And as we're still in thick of cold and flu season, regardless of climate, this recipe may very well in come in handy, both to pamper someone you know, or pamper yourself, back to wellness.  The healing powers of ginger and love will never cease to amaze.

And there you have my 2nd contribution to 5-ingredient Mondays, hosted by the always lovely Iris Higgins of The Daily Dietribe.  What I love about this blogging event is how it encourages me to present recipes that come naturally to me - simple, straightforward, and ingredient-focused.  Please  do yourself a favor and visit her beautiful blog for more easy, delicious, gluten-free recipes.

Wishing you and yours Love and Light in abundance.


  1. Yum, the addition of avocados does make it look more delicious.

    1. Avocados make most things more delicious, right? Maraming salamat for the comment!

  2. My favorite part of Filipino soups and stews? GINGER! I think we're both channeling our family this week. :D

  3. You know that we both LOVE the ginger. Good for the body, good for the heart and soul. :)


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