I’ve come across many dietary restrictions in my lifetime. My parents are constantly being put on restrictions by their doctors–and me. There’s my poultritarian brother. I have another roommate who was a vegan but is now a vegetarian. And there’s my roommate who’s just picky. Oh, and I have my own battles when it comes to diet as well. The thing is I hate dietary restrictions.
One of my favorite things about cooking is that it’s expressive. Filipino cooking is especially special to me since it’s rooted in family and culture. But Filipino food is quite meaty. When we choose a meal to eat, it’s done by type of meat. So, vegetarian is not something that comes naturally to us. But when we met some of the aforementioned people (ahem, my roommates), we adjusted. So, now I’m sharing these adjustments with you.Hence a post I have entitled: How to Make Vegetarian Filipino Food.
Really, there’s only one way I make adjustments: substitute it. So maybe a more appropriate title would be 5 Things to Substitute for a Vegetarian Filipino Meal. But let’s be honest. That doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as well. Plus it’s really long. And brevity helps my readability and SEO scores go up (blog joke hehe). Alas, I digress. The point is, here are five different vegetarian recipes for Filipino meals. Bonus? Most of these meals’ meat versions are already on this blog–links below!
Technically, I don’t know where people stand on whether or not seafood counts as meat. I mean I’ve met many vegetarians who stand on both sides, usually depending on their reasons for going meatless. But for me, using fish or shrimp is one of the best ways to replace meat in a meal. Actually, many versions of your classic Filipino dish already have a fish version. For example, there’s fish sinigang or adobong pusit (adobo squid). It’s great because cooking fish can sometimes be easier than the meat version. Also, they provide a great amount of protein and flavor that some vegetables just can’t. So, if you don’t have a shellfish allergy or aversion to fish, then this is your best go. Be aware though, seafood has a very particular taste. It won’t work with everything. Use your best judgment.
My recommended recipe: Shrimp Curry, alt. Chicken Curry
Full disclosure: this is one of my all-time favorite meals ever. It’s the same recipe as the chicken version, but the steps are a bit different. Shrimp cooks really quickly so don’t fry it ahead of time like you do with the chicken. Instead, just make the veggies and broth first and add the shrimp in later. It’ll cook with the heat of the broth. Unfortunately, you’re going to have to peel all the shrimp! Just do what I do. Turn on a good TV show and watch while you peel. Trust me. It’s better to peel before you cook than while you’re eating.
This is one that seems super obvious to people who cook vegetarian all the time. But it’s not one that I tried in Filipino food until recently. The great thing about mushrooms is that when it’s cooked it has a similar taste and texture to meat. It holds up well–aka it doesn’t crumble–when you cook it. It also has a natural smokey flavor, which lends itself well to many meaty meals. For example, there are many mushroom steak recipes out in the world.
My recommended recipe: Sweet Spaghetti with Mushrooms, alt. Filipino Sweet Spaghetti
Like I said, mushrooms are a great replacement when it comes to taste and texture. It has a beautiful natural taste that is similar to beef when it’s cooked. For this dish, it works really well to balance out the sweetness in the banana ketchup. Though, it’s not as savory as beef is, so you will have to adjust how much banana ketchup to add. I would recommend half the amount that is listed for the beef version.
This is a huge family favorite. In fact, it’s a huge favorite in general. My mom made this adjustment and recipe a long time ago–back when we started thinking about vegetarian substitutions. The great thing about eggplants is that they can absorb an extreme amount of sauce and oils. So, when you cook it in Filipino sauces, it just soaks up all that flavor. It also doesn’t shrivel up and lose its original taste or integrity. Now, if you use it in the right sauce, the eggplant’s natural flavor can enhance the dish’s taste. Like mushrooms, eggplants are naturally smokey and somewhat bitter in flavor. They do well in savory and meat-centered dishes. Hence…
My recommended recipe: Eggplant Adobo, alt. Pork or Chicken Adobo
I technically haven’t featured traditional adobo on my blog yet. But the dish is so easy to translate into other versions because it’s basically just a sauce. When you cook the eggplant version, it’s opposite steps. You fry the eggplants (or roast them if you prefer) and then boil it. If you’d like, you don’t have to even fry it at all. This dish goes particularly well as a side dish for dry, savory meals like fried chicken.
Potatoes are a great way to incorporate texture when there’s no meat to do that. Like eggplants, they easily take on the flavors of a sauce. The key is to fry them before you boil them. When potatoes are boiled, they are soft and tender. Frying them first gives it a crunchier outside while softening the inside. The seared quality also adds a great level of savory flavor. It doesn’t quite taste like meat, but it does get the job done. I actually just used potatoes in a vegetarian version of my braised chicken recipe for Sunday dinner a few weeks ago.
My recommended recipe: Potato Casserole, alt. Chicken Casserole
The great thing is that many Filipino recipes already have potatoes in it. Chicken Casserole is one of those recipes. Like I said before, you fry the potatoes before you get them to boil. That’s really the only difference in cooking other than meat-related things. Another recipe you could try that already has potatoes is menudo.
I have a love-hate relationship with tofu. The best thing about tofu is also the worst thing about it–its lack of flavor. Tofu is great for vegetarian meals because it can literally taste like anything you put on it. You can also get tofu in various types of firmness, which gives it some variability in terms of how to cook it. I’m not personally a fan of its naturally rubbery texture. But I do appreciate its ability to be boiled, sauced, fried, etc. I dare you to find one vegetarian who has never had tofu. It’s practically a staple. But it also works well in Filipino dishes because of its sponge-like quality when it comes to flavoring. It’s not my favorite substitution, but it will do.
My recommended recipe: Tofu Sinigang alt. Pork Sinigang
Sinigang is a Filipino stew. The flavor comes mostly from the soup. Even though it’s already a highly veggie dish, I still recommend adding tofu. Of course, you could just leave it plain with no extra addition. But I like adding tofu because it breaks up the textures. Because it’s a stew, the veggies can get really soft and soggy. So, after a while it starts to feel like one large pile of greens rather than different vegetables. Sure, they have their own flavors, but texture matters–at least to me. Use firm or extra firm tofu to make sure it holds its shape. Give it a light sear before adding it to the broth to add an extra flavor element, if you’d like. Other than that, this recipe is mostly the same!
As they say, that’s all folks! Being a self-proclaimed carnivore–and proud of it–I’m always looking for new ways to adjust meals for a veggie-friendly version. You never know. Maybe one day I’ll be aching for a little palette cleanser and go vegetarian myself! At least I know some ways of making the transition easier. Lord knows I can’t give up my Filipino food! That seems like an unlikely situation. But never say never. Until then, I hope you real vegetarians out there enjoyed this post!