A variation of the dish Bicol Express, a meat-heavy, cholesterol-rich ulam, this recipe uses a local protein-rich bean called bataw and oyster mushrooms.
Despite learning of bataw at an early age thanks to the song Bahay Kubo, few of us know what it actually looks like. So when I was told that one of the CSA farmers sent a small bag for us to try, I immediately snapped it up.
Bataw sits smack in the middle of the popular sitaw and the relatively more common patani in the folk song, so we can surmise that it is also a trailing/climbing plant that bears pods with seeds inside. From a distance, bataw looks like sitsaro (garden peas or snap peas), but bataw is firmer and usually has purple margins. It’s also known as baglau and bulay in some parts of the Visayas and itab and parda up north.
Choosing and eating bataw
Bataw is usually eaten with the pods, so choose young immature pods, which become tender when cooked. To tell them apart from the mature ones, remember that young pods are flat, where the seeds have barely developed, compared to the latter that already have larger seeds inside.
Do not even try to cook the pods of mature bataw, which remain tough and stringy even with cooking. It is best to just use their seeds. While they are edible, remember to cook the seeds thoroughly in two changes of water to remove the toxins. Raw mature seeds are toxic, but cooking completely destroys their toxic properties.
Named after the railway train that ran from Tutuban Station in Manila to Legazpi in Bicol, Bicol Express was actually an entry to a cooking competition in the 1970s, made in the traditional Bicolano style, and popularized in Manila. Versions of it are known in the region as sinilihan (made with chilies) or gulay na may lada (vegetables with chilies).
Thanks to my Bicolana mother who relished spicy food, the combination of coconut milk and chilies has become a go-to when cooking most vegetables. Our dad called such dishes “pataranta,” or something that flusters or confuses, because of the amount of chilies she would use. She is not one to shy away from heat, and I grew up thinking that the main ingredient in Bicol Express were the green chili peppers.
In this recipe, we use the fermented chilies (seen in photo, habanero [top] and siling labuyo) that we made a few months ago. You’re free to add as many as you like. We suggest serving this dish with hot rice and a cooling side like our pineapple and cucumber salad.
- 2 Tbsp virgin coconut oil
- 1 Tbsp thinly sliced ginger strips
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 red onion, sliced thinly
- 2 pcs. fermented chilies, sliced
- ½ kg bataw, sliced at a bias
- 1 to 1 ½ cup gata (coconut milk)
- 250 grams oyster mushrooms
- Salt and pepper
- In a pan over medium-low heat, add the coconut oil, red onion, and ginger. Cook until the onion is translucent, around 5 to 7 minutes.
- Add the garlic and cook for a minute or until fragrant.
- Add the bataw and ¾ cup of water. Cover and simmer until the bataw is tender to the bite. Season to taste.
- Remove the cover and add the mushrooms and fermented chilies. Mix gently and cook the mushrooms for a few minutes.
- Lower the heat and add the coconut milk and let it simmer.
- Cook until the gata releases oil. Serve immediately with hot rice.