The idea of a vegetable salad today is a mix of mostly lettuce leaves, tomato, onions, and other fresh vegetables. But before this Western dish came to this part of the world, Filipinos already have their own version of the vegetable mix—the ensalada.
I don’t know if we got the inspiration from the Spanish but the word ensalada was borrowed from them. The greens we use, however, are far from the lettuce people use today. We use what’s commonly available in our own backyards making them cheap to make. A basic Filipino salad is composed of one kind of green vegetable mixed with tomatoes and onions. Dressings vary as well, from the use of bagoong (shrimp/fish paste) to vinegar. Here are some of the most common local salads:
TALBOS NG KAMOTE
Kamote or sweet potato is widely common in the country. It’s easy to grow and much easier to maintain, which makes it a good source of food. Filipinos use the plant’s tops in the salad. These are handpicked, cleaned, then boiled. Then it is mixed with slices of onions and vegetables. The dressing is just fish paste heated in oil or sauteed shrimp paste.
Lato or arosep is a kind of seaweed that is common in Philippine waters. Also called sea grapes, it resembles small grapes but the plump “fruits” only contain water. The seaweed is best eaten fresh and usually mixed with tomatoes and onions. Dressing is either vinegar or fish paste.
This is my personal favorite. I love pako salad. I first had this in Ilocos and have craved for it ever since. Pako or fiddlehead fern is usually harvested in Philippine rainforests and is rich in potassium, vitamins A and C. These furled fronds are also used in other parts of the world. In the Philippines, it is blanched first then mixed with tomatoes, onions, and topped with slices of salted egg. It is tossed in a vinegar dressing—vinegar, sugar, and ground black pepper mixture.
HILAW NA MANGGA
This is probably the most favorite among all Pinoy salads. This is the only salad that uses a fruit as its main ingredient—green mangoes. Mangoes are widely common in the Philippines. In fact, we produce the sweetest mangoes in the world. But unripe mangoes are very sour, although may be eaten alone with shrimp paste or salt. The salad tosses the mango with tomatoes, onions, and a very salty shrimp paste. Best paired with grilled meat.
Talong or eggplant is another common vegetable in the country. This salad requires roasting of the eggplant over direct fire or hot charcoal. This burns the skin of the vegetable and softens its flesh. Peel the burnt skin and spread out the flesh of several eggplants on a plate. Then sprinkle chopped tomatoes and onions and serve shrimp paste on the side.
This salad is good if done right. Mustasa is mustard greens and it has a pungent and strong peppery flavor if eaten fresh. The key here is soaking the leaves in a saline solution or simply washing them and adding salt then squeezing them to get rid of the strong taste. It’s also key to let it sit in the vinegar dressing for a few minutes before serving. Other ingredients in a typical mustasa salad is like pako‘s—tomato, onion, and salted egg.
Did I miss any Pinoy salad? What is your favorite?