Savouring a spoonful of my most recent piece of art after it left the saucepan and moved to a serving bowl, I asked myself why I don't make it often. It's effing amazing, but the last time I cooked it was over a year ago. Then I looked at the wall clock and saw that it was 7:30pm--two hours after I had started cooking. I got my answer: It takes super long. And, on top of that, it could get very painful if you're not careful enough.
Taro, as a vegetable, can categorically be considered a risky ingredient. Unlike onions and garlic that will simply turn unpalatable if you mishandle them, this stuff could actually cause harm. Kind of like cassava. Why do we use these ingredients, you ask? Because if you pull things off, they are heavenly and irreplaceable! Also, we Filipinos are adrenaline junkies! We sweat and palpitate as we stir stews in a cauldron, awaiting the very moment when we need to take a sip of the broth during the seasoning process and ultimately find out whether we would be giggling at the dinner table afterwards or bleeding from the mouth in the ER.
So do yourself a favour if you decide to cook this dish and follow the full detoxification process. Don't take shortcuts. Maybe I overplayed its toxicity a bit in the previous paragraph. I hope that didn't put you off. If you, you daring kitchen diva you, still want to make this dish, read on.
If you follow this recipe strictly, granting that this is the only food item eaten for a meal (with rice, of course), you will be able to feed:
- 3 regular sized people,
- 2 large people, or
- 1 very hungry person of any size
You will need:
- 200 grams of fresh taro leaves (100 grams if dried), stalks and main rib chopped off
- 6 cups of fresh coconut milk, ideally using the coconut water to extract it (use 1½ large coconut or 2 smaller coconuts; 3 cans if you don't have access to fresh ones)
- 4 large sheets of nori, roughly chopped or ripped to bits
- pieces of seriously spicy chilli, ideally 10 pieces of bird's eye or 12 pieces of siling labuyo or 1 ghost pepper, finely chopped and seeds included (you may use more or less depending on your tolerance for spicy food)
- 1 large onion, very finely chopped
- 9 cloves of garlic, very finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons of finely grated ginger
- 2 teaspoons of salted black beans, also known as tau-si, douchi or tochi, mashed with a fork/spoon
- 1 cup of minced tofu adobo or minced vegemeat adobo, meaning marinated in garlic, vinegar and soy sauce, and fried (purely optional; I mean it's so optional that I didn't even use it)
- 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil (ideally coconut oil; other neutral-tasting vegetable oils will do; avoid olive oil as it has a distinct taste)
- water as needed
- sea salt for seasoning
Traditionally, this dish is not vegan at all. Purist omnivores in northern Philippines would spit on the ground in front of me for forgoing shrimp paste and pork shoulder, but I don't really care.
To replace the oceany taste of shrimp paste, I use a combination of nori sheets and salted black beans. Married, they basically become vegan bagoong.
To replace pork, if one feels that they must, you can use minced vegemeat adobo or minced tofu adobo. I didn't, though. I didn't feel it was necessary.
For best taste, cook this dish in a pot/cauldron made of clay on top of actual wood instead of an LPG stove. Of course, not all of us have this option, so boo-hoo!
First of all, let's make sure the taro leaves are edible before we cook with them:
1. Put all the leaves in a saucepan.
2. Push the leaves down and cover with water about 2 cm higher than the pile of leaves.
3. Close the saucepan with a lid and bring to the boil.
4. Simmer for 20 minutes.
5. Drain the water completely. Rinse the leaves and squeeze out remaining liquid.
6. Repeat this process two more times, reducing the simmer time to 10 minutes and 5 minutes, respectively.
7. After squeezing for a final time, chop the leaves roughly.
Now, let's make vegan laing:
1. Heat your pan and pour in 2 tablespoons of oil.
2. Maintain medium heat, drop in your chopped onion and chillies together.
Saute until the onion softens.
3. Add the garlic and ginger and sautee for 2-3 minutes, stirring continuously. Make sure nothing burns and sticks to the bottom of the pan because, god almighty, that would be a disaster!
4. Pour in 2 cups of coconut milk. Drop a generous pinch of salt. Add the prepared taro leaves and stir to mix everything well. Bring to the boil.
5. When it boils, stir in the nori and mashed salted black beans together. Add the rest of the coconut milk. If you elect to put tofu or vegemeat in your vegan laing, now would be the time to drop them in. Stir to mix everything.
6. Bring to the boil and simmer until the sauce reduces and thickens. When I say "reduce," I don't mean dry up. I mean around the level of the solid ingredients when you can actually see the taro popping up, not swimming but still soaking.
7. Season with more salt if necessary. Stir. Taste.
8. Take off the heat and serve.
Note: Don't worry, you'll live.