Lasang Pinoy 2: Binakol

The 2nd round of Lasang Pinoy is finally here! This month's theme is Cooking Up A Storm and is hosted by the lovely Celia Kusinera of English Patis. We are supposed to blog about food that we associate with the wild typhoons and monsoons that beset our country every rainy season (fyi: we have 2 seasons here, wet and dry, i.e. rainy and, uh, summer). At best, rainy season meant you didn't have to go to school, at worst, it meant total devastation.

I don't really remember a specific food that I ate during the rainy seasons. I do remember though a very specific night, during one raging typhoon, when the heat of this particular soup (both in temperature and in flavor) soothed my soul and warmed my insides.

Things warm and soupy always comfort me during gloomy weather, but this soup is special. Binakol has always been my grandmother's absolute favorite soup and she has it every time she can. No surprise then that it was part of the menu for her 80th birthday party. As 80 is quite a milestone, my family planned a big to-do for her birthday dinner. Turns out that mother nature also planned a big to-do on the same the form of a wild, signal # 2 (that means bad) storm. I remember the rain pelting ferociously on our car window as we drove across town. I thought we were nuts! We were (well, still are actually). The power was out in various parts of the city yet we pressed on. It was my grandmother's 80th birthday after all.

We got to my uncle's house to find a full blown gala dinner: Long buffet table laden with all sorts of food, from roasts to pasta to oysters resting in a huge silver bowl (yes, oysters during typhoon season, I told you we were nuts), fresh coconut shells filled with binakol, eager wait-staff ready to refill your wine glasses, a kesong puti and pan de sal toasting station (!), linen, crystal, china, silver, huge floral centerpieces with candles, the works. Nice? It get's better. This whole event was held...outdoors! Yup. Under a billowy white tent straight out of My Best Friend's Wedding, this affair was set up. A billowy tent with a chandelier. I kid you not. Now the brilliant caterers who arranged everything had the foresight to not only secure the tent firmly to the ground, but also to anchor it to the house. There were moments though when I swore it would just take off as the wind pulled and tugged at it. I felt like I was in the middle of a Guns N Roses video.

Amidst this surreal setting, what I remember most is happy faces of my relatives shouting "Tuloy ang ligaya!", which means "Let the fun/happiness continue!", the love and cameraderie so palpable in the air, the absolute craziness of my family (which is the very thing I love about them) and my unflappable grandma graciously smiling and holding court, a glass of wine in one hand and an oyster in the other...all this as the tempest raged about us, ignored. I happily observed everything from a slightly damp seat, sipping at wickedly hot binakol which warmed my tummy as the scenes around me warmed my heart.

Binakol (aside from being my grandma's favorite soup, which for me is the most important detail to note) is a soup very much like our Tinola (a local chicken soup). It has, however, the addition of lemongrass (giving it some heat to warm yourself during a storm) and fresh coconut meat and coconut water (which adds a touch of sweetness, reminding you that this storm too shall pass). Comfort in a bowl.

Here's the recipe:


- One whole chicken (around 1 kilo), cut up
- 9 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 onion, chopped
- 20 grams fresh ginger, peeled and cut into ½ inch chunks, each chunk given 2 firm pounds with a mortar and pestle
- 6-8 stalks tanglad (lemongrass), use only the white part and smash this with the bottom of a heavy glass on your chopping board (don’t use the mortar and pestle, don't know why, be we don't, we like it smashed flat...ok, fine, use it if you don't want to get the glass out)
- Black peppercorns, pounded a bit in the mortar and pestle (I like this better than the pepper mill, at least for this dish)
- 3-4 tablespoons patis (fish sauce), to taste
- One young (unripe) papaya, peeled and chopped (don’t forget to remove the seeds!)
- A bunch of sili leaves (chili leaves)
- The meat from 3 fresh coconuts
- 3 – 3 1/2 cups fresh coconut water
- 6 cups water or rice washing (got the rice washing tip from Market Manila, check out his great post on Binakol! Thanks Market Man, it worked brilliantly!)

Here's what you do:

- Pour patis on your chicken pieces and rub in the crushed peppercorns.
- Sauté the garlic, onions, ginger, and tanglad in some hot oil for a couple of minutes.
- Toss in the chicken (make sure all the patis and pepper goes with it!).
- When the chicken pieces have browned, pour in the water/rice washing.
- Add the young papaya pieces.
- Bring to a boil and then lower heat and simmer until chicken is tender.
- Add the coconut meat, coconut water, and sili leaves
- Bring to a quick boil once more, immediately lower the heat, and taste to see if it needs more patis (don’t let it cook too much after you add the sili leaves because they cook super fast).

Important: Use fresh coconuts!

Some notes: The first picture shows how I had my binakol on that wild and wonderful eve of my grandma's 80th, inside a fresh coconut shell. I love eating it this way because you can scrape some extra coconut meat from the inside while you have your soup. The second picture is just for you to see more of the soup.

More notes: Invited my grandma over for dinner after I made this batch today. We had a great evening!

To conclude: Nothing cures the rainy day blues like a whole lotta love, a good sense of the insane, and a hot bowl of soup :)

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