Coconut is one of the top 5 major crops of Bicol so it is to be expected that coconut milk is a prominent ingredient in this region’s cuisine. Like adobo sa gata, Bicol Express, and gising-gising, laing is another classic example of the Bicolano’s love affair with piquant chili peppers and their wide use of gata in cooking.
And I have to say, this beautiful flavor combination is my favorite, too. Can’t beat the rich taste of meat or vegetables stewed in rich, creamy coconut sauce and copious amounts of chilies in my book. I wax poetic about ginataang talong every chance I get and seriously think it’s one of our best recipes here on the blog.
What is Laing
Laing is a traditional Filipino delicacy made of shredded or whole taro leaves, coconut milk, meat or seafood, chili peppers, and a variety of aromatics including onions, garlic, ginger, and lemongrass (tanglad).
Although said to have originated from Bicol, the original dish is mostly similar in ingredients but different in cooking preparation from the version the rest of the country is familiar with. Authentic Bicolano laing or commonly known in the region as pinangat na gabi does not use shredded taro leaves but instead, whole leaves are wrapped around the pre-cooked meat or seafood mixture to form pouches and then steamed in coconut milk until fork-tender.
This boldly-flavored vegetable dish can be enjoyed alone with steamed rice or as a side accompaniment to grilled pork or fish.
Why do Taro Leaves Cause Itchiness
Gabi leaves should be washed thoroughly and properly cooked as they are high in calcium oxalate, which can cause an “itchy” or burning sensation in the mouth. Drying the leaves under the sun before cooking is said to lessen the amount of these crystals and prevent irritation.
Tips on How to Make Ginataang Laing
- As other types of leaves might have gotten mixed in during the drying process, check the dried gabi packet for any stray leaves and discard.
- Two ounces might not look a lot but the dried leaves will absorb a lot of the liquid and will expand during cooking.
- It can be prepared meatless, with shrimp, crab meat, dried fish or in this case, pork belly strips.
- According to old-school wisdom, it’s best not to stir the gabi leaves during the first 15 to 20 minutes of cooking to prevent the itching sensation. Gently push the leaves down into the coconut milk to soften.
- Adjust the spiciness by decreasing the number of chili peppers or scraping off the seeds and veins of the chilies before chopping.
- 2ouncesdried gabi leaves
- 2lemongrass stalks
- 1tablespooncanola oil
- 1onion, peeled and chopped
- 4clovesgarlic, peeled and minced
- 1thumb-size ginger, peeled and minced
- 1poundpork belly, diced
- 1tablespoonshrimp paste
- 4cupscoconut milk
- 8Thai chili peppers, chopped
- 1cupcoconut cream
- salt to taste
Go through the dried leaves, and shred into pieces. Inspect for any other stray leaves accidentally mixed in during the drying process and discard.
Remove and discard the dark green layers of the lemongrass until you get to the lighter green part. Using the back of a knife, pound ends of stalks to release flavor and then chop.
In a wide pan over medium heat, heat oil. Add onions, garlic, and ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and aromatic.
Add pork and cook until lightly browned.
Add shrimp paste and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 1 to 2 minutes.
Add coconut milk and bring to a simmer.
Add lemongrass and chili peppers.
Add gabi leaves and with the spoon, push down into the liquid until moistened. Do not stir for the first 15 to 20 minutes.
Lower heat, cover, and cook for about 25 to 30 minutes or until pork is fully cooked and leaves have softened.
Add coconut cream and continue to cook for about 10 to 15 minutes or mixture is almost dry and begins to render fat. Season with salt to taste.