Asim or sourness, as Filipino food writer and historian Doreen G. Fernandez puts it, is a “preferred Filipino flavor.” Paksiw, which simmers food in vinegar, is just one of the varied sour cooking methods we have.
Another technique that harnesses acidity is kilaw, where one marinates cuts of fresh seafood in vinegar to “cook” them. There’s also sinigang where one uses fruits like kamias, batuan, sampalok, and bayabas, as milder souring agents, while adobo relies on the acidity of the vinegar as part of the savory, aromatic pickling equation, with soy sauce only a later addition.
Yeah, but tepache?
Sounds weird, right? But to be honest when I find myself unable to drink fermented beverages like tepache and kombucha as fast as I make them and they get more sour over time, immediately my vinegar-braised subconscious goes to how I could use them as vinegar substitutes, whether in salad dressings or savory ulam. Thus this paksiw recipe.
I guess it makes sense to use tepache because the drink is based on pineapple, and we have vinegars made with this fruit. In this recipe, I mix half of the tepache with the vinegar braising liquid, and use it to finish the dish to preserve the mild fruitiness and make sure it does not get cooked out. While this recipe uses spiced coconut vinegar, you can use other local vinegars or even apple cider vinegar. Just taste and adjust the acidity to your preference.
I love paksiw. It’s one of the simplest foods around and takes very little to prepare. It’s also one of the few Pinoy ulam I really missed when I went plant based because it is typically made with fish.
For this vegan version, I used firm tofu and oyster mushrooms as my meat substitute, and took inspiration from the popular versions in the north and the Visayan inun-unan, by adding ginger, eggplant, ampalaya, and siling haba. Dried seaweed like wakame or nori adds the seafood flavor.
- 1 red onion, sliced thinly
- 2 thumbs of ginger, cut into strips
- 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
- 2 pcs siling haba
- 1/4 cup dried wakame (or 1 sheet of nori cut into strips)
- 2 medium eggplants, sliced in half lengthwise then cut into 2-inch pieces (or 1 eggplant and 1 ampalaya cut into 2-inch lengths at a bias)
- 1 block of firm tofu, cut into bite-sized cubes
- 1/2 cup oyster mushrooms
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup plain or spiced coconut vinegar
- 1/2 cup tepache (recipe, here)
- 2 bay leaves
- salt and pepper
- Place onion, ginger, garlic, siling haba, seaweed, and bay leaves at the bottom of the pot or saucepan.
- Layer the eggplant, mushrooms, and tofu pieces on top of the aromatics then add the water, vinegar, and half of the tepache. Let this boil then cover and bring to a simmer for 15 minutes or until the eggplant is soft.
- Finish with the remaining quarter cup of tepache, add salt and pepper to taste, then let it simmer for 1 to 2 minutes. Serve hot with rice.
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