When you walk along the streets at midday on a Sunday, the distinct aroma of fragrant nilaga would waft in unison as everyone prepares the same dish for lunch. It is a dish that is so simple yet so tasty that one never fails to get that certain longing for it at the end of the week. There is no recipe required as everyone knows how to cook it by heart. It is one of the most basic dishes but one's version would surpass the other with the choice or addition of other ingredients. The meats are usually stewing beef and thick cuts of belly pork. The marrow bone with lots of gelatinous tendon clinging to it is a special addition and would make a more superior, rich broth. Homecured belly pork (similar in taste to ham), ham bones or even chorizo would sometimes be added to ring the changes and to make the dish extra special. Potatoes are essential but some add sweet potatoes and a starchy type of bananas called saba. Added next are the vegetables of your choice: green beans, cabbage, pak choi, chinese leaf, leeks and spring onions. The leftover meat from this dish is re-hashed into a totally different one the following day. That would be another story.
1/2 kg. stewing beef, cut into chunks
beef marrow bones (optional)
1/2 kg. thick cut belly pork, cut into chunks
2 onions in thick slices
3 medium carrots (optional)
3 potatoes, peeled and halved
1/2 cabbage cut into wedges
20 dwarf beans
3 bunches Continental spring onions, halved lengthways
salt to taste
This is the basic recipe for nilaga. The dish starts with all the meats being arranged in a pot of cold water (the marrow bone would have to be cooked beforehand, separate from the other meats as it takes far longer to cook). It is then brought to a boil, the scum skimmed off as they float to the surface.
Sliced onions are added and the whole lot is boiled until the meat is tender. A pressure cooker may be used (is actually usually used) to hasten the process. If using a pressure cooker, cook the marrow bones on its own for 40 minutes, then add in the pork and the beef and skim off the scum. Add in the onions and cook for a further 20 minutes.
The vegetables are added in when the meats are tender. Carrots are added first and when half cooked, the potatoes.
I usually take all of the meat and root vegetables out and transfer to a serving bowl. I then cook the vegetables in the broth, starting with the cabbage and the beans. The last to go in is the spring onions. The vegetables should retain their freshness and should not be overcooked.
Salt is the only seasoning needed as the variety of ingredients gives the dish a rounded flavour, despite its bland name. Served with steamed rice and fish sauce, this dish never fails to satisfy.
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