After several days in the kitchen testing and altering recipes, I finally perfected my Vegan & Gluten-Free Kare-Kare (Filipino Peanut Stew) with banana blossom, adapted from the recipe of the fabulous Astig Vegan and served with her tasty vegan bagoong (’shrimp-free paste’), which is now available to order here. I have ZERO experience in Filipino cooking, but I enjoyed devouring Filipino cuisine back in Manila. I had this tasty Kare-Kare in Manila two years ago at Corner Tree Cafe – it was a sweet and savory peanut stew of banana blossom and an assortment of vegetables with a vegan bagoong on the side.
A traditional Filipino Kare-Kare is an ox tail & tripe stew with eggplants and green beans in a peanut-based sauce and accompanied by a salty and pungent shrimp paste called, ‘bagoong alamang.’ This is a staple dish in many Filipino households – and I was told to try “Kare-Kare” by several Filipino vegans before my visit in Manila.
To start off with, I would like to share a few cooking notes in regards to Astig Vegan’s Kare-Kare recipe:
I followed her recipe and the dish turned out too red and thick, likely due to the annatto powder I was able to find in my area. I used Mama Sita’s Annatto Powder (Natural) (contains cornstarch) because it was the only annatto powder available at my local asian market. The one I had in Manila was a saucy and brownish stew and I knew it wasn’t supposed to be vibrantly red. So I made it again with less annatto powder.
Annatto is used extensively in Latin and Asian cooking as a natural and plant-derived colorant to build bright yellow to deep orange colors and is described as having an earthy and slightly peppery flavor. They come in whole seeds, powder or flavored oil. Most annatto powders come with cornstarch – which was what I used for the dish. The seeds can be ground into a powder, a paste, or infused into oil. While annatto is not a common ingredient in the U.S., you can try finding them at Latin and Asian supermarkets or spice vendors/ethnic markets or even Amazon.com here. If using annatto seeds or annatto powder without ‘cornstarch’, add more toasted ground rice to thicken the stew. I’ve provided notes regarding annatto powder in the recipe below.
Most kare-kare recipes use fresh banana blossom and there was no visual instructions on preparing banana blossom on Astig Vegan so I created a photographic tutorial here. I’ve had banana blossoms during my travels in Southeast Asia, but have never used them in my kitchen. The instructions from ‘Asian in America Mag‘ blog were pretty helpful, except it lacked a visual tutorial. Remember to always soak parts of fresh banana blossom in acidic or salted water to eliminate the bitterness and prevent browning – it is like soaking eggplants. Fresh banana blossoms are available at most Asian groceries. There is also a canned version since it is not a common ingredient in the U.S.
Note: I found fresh banana blossoms at an Asian market in SE Portland (Oregon). I’ve heard that there are plenty in California.
Astig Vegan used Chinese snow fungus (Tremella fuciformis) to substitute the ‘beef tripe’, which is a brilliant alternative, but totally optional for the dish. In my opinion, a vegan kare-kare is delicious on its own with an assortment of vegetables. So if you happen to already have the Chinese snow fungus, use it, but it’s certainly not essential to the dish.
Snow fungus is a pale white-yellowish yet translucent fungus with a snowball-like structure. When rehydrated or wet, they become seaweed-like and the fronds tend to have jelly-like texture, often crisped at the ends. They grow on dead branches of broadleaf trees throughout Asia and subtropical regions. There are many monikers for this type of fungus: silver ear fungus, white jelly mushroom, white wood ear, tremella, etc. Used in Chinese medicine for centuries to treat ailments, snow fungus is sometimes used in savory dishes, but it is usually prepared as a sweet, dessert-style soup.
They are available fresh or dried at Chinese specialty stores or Asian supermarkets (or on Amazon.com here), but dried snow fungus is pretty common in the U.S.. If purchased dried, rehydrate snow fungus and soak for about 20-25 minutes before using. Once rehydrated, the body will change from pale white-yellowish to semi-transparent and expand to more than twice their original size – pretty cool. Remove the yellow tough parts of the fungus and break them into smaller fronds for the stew.
I absolutely loved Astig Vegan’s vegan bagoong, a salty fermented ‘shrimp paste’ version and it is available here to order at $5.99 for 4-ounce. It’s a fine condiment for any Asian dish and I love adding a spoonful to any bowl of rice. It paired really well with my Kare-Kare dish and reminded me of a fermented Asian black bean paste – slightly sweet and salty to go with anything that is not salty or rice. This veganized Filipino condiment is consisted of only fermented black soybeans, ginger, garlic, brown sugar, flax oil, canola oil and roasted nori.
There is a spicy version as well for anyone who wants spicy bagoong. Vegan Bagoong is a fabulous component in stir-fries as well as a condiment to peanut or coconut milk-based dishes (sweet and savory) such as this Kare-Kare. Additionally, it can be served as a topping for fruits or vegetables: especially tasty on green apples, green mangoes, young jicama and cucumbers. I highly recommend her product, in fact, I wish I had a gallon of it on hand – that’s how much I love this vegan bagoong!
Prepare the Annatto Mixture: Dissolve 1 tablespoon achiote or annatto powder in 3 tablespoons warm water, whisking until powder is well dissolved. Let it sit for awhile. If using annatto seeds, please see Notes below.
Heat oil in a large French oven or pot (preferably cast-iron) over medium-high heat. Sauté the onions about 6 to 8 minutes until they are translucent and soft. Add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes until fragrant. Stir in eggplants and beans and cook, about 5 minutes. Add tamari and 2 tablespoons of water, and sauté for 8 minutes until the flesh of eggplants are almost translucent. Add the ‘annatto mixture’, ground peanuts, broth, ½ cup of water, and ground rice. Bring to boil, reduce to a simmer and cover with a lid. Simmer 10 minutes. Add peanut butter and stir constantly, then the banana blossom, bok choy, snow fungus, and let them simmer for another 10 minutes. Add more broth if you want the stew to be more soup-like, or toasted ground rice to be thicker.
Serve the stew with cooked rice on the side topped with vegan bagoong and cilantro.
Inspired by Astig Vegan's Vegan Kare-Kare.
Prepare the Banana Blossom: Fill a large bowl with cold water and salt, lime/lemon juice or vinegar. Use my visual guide page to prepare banana blossom. Peel away tough reddish leaves (bracts) until you reach a white or pale-colored ‘heart’ once the leaves become too small to peel. Trim off the conical stem and discard. Slice it in half lengthwise and into fourths (crosswise): four pieces in total. Massage and immerse them in acidic water for several minutes and let sit for two hours to remove the bitter sap and avoid browning. Drain in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse in cold water before using.
Prepare the Snow Fungus: In a large bowl, soak dried snow fungus in room temperature water for 20 to 25 minutes until it expands to more than twice its original size and turns semi-transparent. The snow fungus should be submerged in plenty of water. Drain and trim the hard stem and tough yellow parts using your hands or a scissor. Tear the fungus into small, bite-sized florets and rinse. Set aside.
To ground peanuts: Grind them in a spice/coffee grinder or small food processor until finely ground, being careful not to overprocess or peanuts will turn into a paste.
To toast and ground jasmine rice: Place the jasmine rice in a skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly until lightly browned and aromatic, about 6 to 8 minutes. Let them cool and grind in a spice/coffee grinder or small food processor until finely ground.
For the annatto powder or annatto seeds: Dissolve 1 tablespoon annatto powder in 3 tablespoons warm water, whisking until powder is well dissolved. I used Mama Sita’s Natural Annatto Powder (with Cornstarch), which is the only product available at my local Asian market. Let it sit for awhile. If you are using annatto powder without cornstarch, add more toasted ground jasmine rice to thicken the stew (see above).
This is a lengthy process. If using annatto seeds, they come in whole seeds, but they are tough to grind. First, soak about 1½ tablespoons annatto seeds in hot water for 2 hours and drain. Finely ground them in a spice/coffee grinder or with a mortar and pestle.
They can also be simmered in oil to create ‘annatto oil’ and removed. Heat 1½ tablespoons annatto seeds in 2 tablespoons oil for about 2 to 3 minutes until the oil becomes red. Strain and discard the seeds. You can use the ‘annatto oil’ instead of cooking oil.