Maddie is a freelance writer and is certified in massage, aromatherapy, and health education. She learned Filipino cooking from a friend.
A trading hub since prehistoric times, the Philippines is an ethnic melting pot. Filipino cooking reflects this diverse history, with indigenous, Arab, Asian and Spanish influences coming together to create something new—and entirely delicious.
Healthy Filipino Food
I was introduced to Filipino food by a partner with whom I spent several years. Family gatherings were always centered around food—mounds and mounds of it. My first impressions were that every dish involved a lot of fat, from deep-fried lumpia (Filipino spring rolls), to fried rice, to lechon (whole roasted pig). But as I began to learn to cook Filipino foods at home, I discovered that there are many recipes that are traditionally low in fat, or can be easily made so.
Two of my favorites include adobo (chicken or pork stewed slowly in a marinade) and pancit (a stir-fried noodle dish). My personal recipes, adapted from those given me by the matriarch of the family are below. I may no longer live with a Filipino partner, but I certainly still eat the food!
Recipe 1: Low-Fat Adobo Recipe (Chicken or Pork)
Adobo is a very simple dish involving slow-cooking meat (either pork or chicken, sometimes a mix of both) in a marinade. Chicken adobo is traditionally made with bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and drumsticks, but I make it with boneless skinless breasts to reduce the fat. Once you read the recipe once, you probably won't need to look at it again, because the proportions are so simple. This recipe will serve 6-8 people. Leftovers keep well, but if you'd prefer to make a smaller batch, you can easily divide the recipe in half.
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- 3-4 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts or pork chop/loin
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 3 dried bay leaves
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
- Vegetable oil
- Green onions, chopped (optional garnish)
- Press the garlic. Crush or rough-grind the peppercorns. Cut the meat into 1- or 2-inch cubes.
- In a large pot, combine the water, vinegar, bay leaves, garlic, and peppercorns.
- Add whole chicken breasts, cover, and bring to a boil. Let simmer for about 20 minutes, then add soy sauce and continue simmering (still covered) for another 20 minutes. At this point, if you're saving some for leftovers, set that portion aside (both broth and meat) to cool to room temperature, before transferring to an airtight container and placing in the fridge.
- For the portion you are planning to fix that night, remove the chicken from the broth and allow the broth to continue to cook at a boil, uncovered, until it is reduced by half (about 10 minutes, if you're making the whole recipe) to make the sauce. Allow to cool.
- Meanwhile, heat a little bit of vegetable oil in the bottom of a frying pan, and brown your meat cubes. Skim any fat off the top of your broth/sauce and remove bay leaves, then add to the frying pan with browning chicken to reheat.
- Garnish with optional green onions and serve over rice.
Recipe 2: Pancit (Stir-Fried Noodles)
Pancit is a stir-fried noodle dish vaguely reminiscent of pad thai or chow mein, but with a very distinct flavor. You can make it with chicken or pork, or a mix of both, as well as shrimp, depending on your preference. You can also improvise with your favorite veggies, or whatever you have on hand. The key here is reusing a small amount of oil for maximum taste and minimum fat. This will make about 4 servings, and goes wonderfully with spring rolls.
- 1 (8-oz) package thin rice noodles
- 1 lb lean meat (pork or chicken), cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 2 cloves crushed garlic
- 1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
- 1/2 head green cabbage, chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled and shredded or grated
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- 2 green onions, cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces
- 1/2 lb peeled and deveined shrimp
- Vegetable oil
- Put your rice noodles in a bowl with warm water and let sit until softened to al dente. Drain, cut to a reasonable length (between 4 and 6 inches), and set aside.
- Add a small amount of oil to the bottom of a frying pan and heat. Add meat cubes and brown. Remove from pan (retaining oil), and mix with soy sauce, garlic, and pepper.
- To the reserved oil in pan, add cabbage, celery, and carrots. Sauté until tender (cabbage and celery will start to turn clear).
- Add noodles, shrimp, and green onions and continue to cook until noodles reach desired consistency. Mix in meat with soy sauce and continue cooking for about 5 more minutes, stirring to combine. Serve and enjoy!