Yes, you read it right. Count me similarly surprised. I encountered the recipe for this unlikeliest of marriages in the book The Coconut Cookery of Bicol by Honesto C. General only very recently. As the child of a Bicolana I was curious if there were edible plants that I have yet to try cooking in gata the Bicol way. Towards the end of the chapter simply titled “Vegetables” there it was: sauerkraut. I knew I had to make it.
The dish has an interesting past. According to the book the recipe was created during World War II in the Philippines. The author’s guerilla platoon, being attached to an American unit, received sauerkraut as part of their ration. None of the Filipino soldiers knew what sauerkraut was, and the cans would remain untouched.
Creativity out of necessity
General recalled, “We did not want to betray our ignorance by asking the G.I.’s how to prepare the sour concoction. One day when our platoon leader asked what to do with our rising inventory of the stuff, somebody suggested cooking it in gata. A new dish was born.”
The recipe piqued our curiosity. It was a lesson in using what’s available, much like in fermentation. I also enjoy cooking sour fruits in coconut milk after learning how to prepare sinantolan or ginataang santol (cotton fruit) and ginataang kamias (bilimbi) from my mother. Both are typical Bicolano ulam that go so well with hot rice. So I could see how ginataang sauerkraut might work. The book only provided general instructions but it turned out to be quite easy to make!
And we’re happy to report that the resulting dish is really good. As we know, fermentation creates umami along with the saltiness and sourness so that the dish is easy to make vegan, and does not require the balao (salted baby shrimp) and badi (dried fish) typical in Bicolano ginataan. Easy-peasy complexity.
- Use fresh coconut milk (first press) from the palengke rather than the canned or boxed ones from the supermarket. Freshly pressed coconut milk has a sweetness that seems to disappear during the pasteurization or sterilization of commercial coconut milk. But if you cannot get a hold of it, then feel free to use canned ones and just add half a teaspoon of coconut sugar for some sweetness when cooking the gata.
- Cook the gata in high heat. This recipe also references the Bicolano way of cooking gata, which is to cook it in high heat, stirring constantly so that it doesn’t scorch or curdle (or spit hot coconut milk!). We need to cook the gata until all the water content evaporates and it starts to express oil. Such a method also means that the high temperature will kill the living organisms in the sauerkraut. I would recommend making this recipe when you have too much sauerkraut at home or you make it regularly so you also have access to the fresh one.
- Go easy on the salt because the sauerkraut is already salty. We recommend tasting the dish first before adding any salt or vegan fish sauce.
- Set aside the sauerkraut juice after draining! You can take a spoonful of it daily as a probiotic shot, use as lemon or vinegar replacement, as backslop to kickstart your next batch of sauerkraut, or mixed in your martini.
- 1 small onion, sliced thinly into strips
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 thumb of ginger, minced
- 1 can of mushrooms, drained and rinsed (or 1 cup of oyster mushrooms)
- 2 cups of gata (first press coconut milk)
- 2 cups of sauerkraut, drained and roughly chopped
- Siling labuyo (optional)
- Vegan patis/fish sauce (optional) or salt
- 1 Tbsp cooking oil
- In a wok or large frying pan, heat the oil over a low flame and cook the onion until translucent.
- Add the ginger and cook for five minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a minute.
- Increase the heat to medium and add the mushrooms. Cook until the moisture has evaporated from the mushrooms.
- Add the coconut milk, increase the heat, and bring the gata to a gentle boil. Stir constantly so that it doesn’t scorch, curdle, or spit hot gata.
- Stirring constantly, wait for the gata to turn into a thick, gently boiling sauce. Into this add the chopped sauerkraut and the chili if you are using.
- Stir constantly for even cooking until it expresses oil. The final dish should have little to no water content from the gata. Season to taste. Serve with hot rice.
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