leave your inhibitions at the door
Once a year, my dad’s side of the family gets together for a weekend of eating, drinking, and passing down embarrassing stories to the next generation. For the past couple of years it’s been at my cousin’s place just north of Indianapolis (I saw some Amish, but none were texting). She’s married to a Palestinian restaurateur – the warmest, kindest guy I’ve ever met – whose brother lives next door. So reunion weekends turn into this huge motley gathering of Filipinos, Palestinians, and a couple token honkies. I’m sure we set off some Homeland Security alarms at these things.
This year, the reunion fell on 4th of July weekend. As I reflect on the weekend’s events, wondering how I gained 10 pounds in 3 days, it occurred to me that this was truly an American celebration. You can keep your parades with child-molesting clowns handing out candy and God-awful marching bands. Give me family, food, beer, games, games involving beer, and music any day. From the outside we looked like a filthy group of swarthy immigrants. But on the inside ….yeah, ok, you could judge our book by its cover.
Food-wise, these gatherings have been an amazing mix of both Filipino and Middle Eastern cuisines. At any point you can find platters of hummus and baba ghanouj sitting right next to pancit and rice. Thankfully there haven’t been any attempts to fuse the two cuisines within a single dish. One thing, though, that both traditions have in common is their love of meat. Copious amounts of meat – literally quintuple servings of meat at every meal. Stock prices for Crestor soar during these reunions. Previous gatherings have had whole pig, whole lamb, lamb shanks, steaks, roasted pork belly, and the occasional boneless skinless chicken breast. Because the Man needs his bland meat.
This year was slightly different. “Chemical Al” just graduated from college and will be attending culinary school at Johnson & Wales this fall. He’s always had an affinity towards food and has been doing some of the cooking in recent years. So the elders decided to pass the cooking torch to him and several others of the younger generation. Damn, he did a great job. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with after he gets some classic training under his belt. With this new influx of talent, this year’s food became a lot more varied, reflecting the tastes of a new generation. (Attention food and beverage industry – That last phrase is for sale. Call me).
Meals at reunion weekends don’t exactly fit the categories of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Sure, we have those, but there’s also snack time and post-dessert dinner. This year the Sons of Palestine – Chemical Al, Shady, and the King – introduced me to 2am dinner. Here’s a partial list of things we ate this weekend:
For those of you who don’t know, that last one is the Filipino equivalent of Scottish Haggis – an ungodly melange of stuff whose mere description will make most people squirm, if not hurl. It’s the culinary equivalent of a dare – a stew made with pork, liver, chitterlings, onions, and hot peppers. OK, mostly mainstream, although the chittlins can be a turn-off. But did I mention it’s all cooked in pork blood?
Still with me?
Sounds utterly disgusting, but we’re not the only ones who cook with blood. Various Europeans have blood sausage, the British have their black pudding, and the Poles have Czerina (duck blood soup). The blood and the liver combine to give it a very rich, earthy flavor. The dash of heat from the peppers really enlivens the tastebuds. It’s probably not the healthiest choice, but it’s so damn good. To my surprise, many of the young adults in my family have never had it. A fair amount of peer pressure got them to try it and they all LOVED it. Amongst my young brood, Piehole A had a sample and she approved.
A cousin had asked if someone could make some so, of course, I volunteered. Here’s the recipe I used. It doesn’t call for chittlins, which was fine by me. I’ve used them before and the house reeked for 4 days.
Pork Dinaguan (from http://www.pinoyrecipe.net)
1 – Heat a large pan and add the oil. When hot, add ginger and garlic and sautee for a minute or two
2 – Add the pork and brown
3 – add onions, peppers, bay leaf, soup mix and sautee until onions are translucent. Season with salt and pepper
4 – Pour in water until just covered. Bring to boil and then simmer for 30-45 minutes until pork is very tender. Add water as necessary.
5 – While the pork is simmering, mince the liver. This would’ve been easier if it was slightly frozen.
6 – When pork is tender, let the liquid reduce a little bit. Meanwhile, mash the pigs blood in a bowl to break up any solid pieces. Pour into pot and let boil.
7 – Cook for about 5 minutes. Add the liver and cook for another couple of minutes. Adjust seasonings.
8 – Serve with white rice or puto (white rice cakes that are similar to Chinese steamed buns).