SABAW ENTREE #1: TOFU ARROZ CALDO
I was vegan for two years and vegetarian for four. Or five. I forget. Anyway, it was a long time ago but I'm still vegetarian about 30% of the time when I'm home and 90% of the time I'm on tour. 0% of the time when I'm traveling in places like Hawaii or the Philippines.
Growing up Filipino in Hawaii also meant that I started seeing all types of uncles and aunties with diet-related health problems. Things like hyperuricemia and gout, the result of a new immigrant population from a 70% farm peasant country where food is scarce but familiar drastically switching up their diet in an abundance of cheap processed food and fatty meats.
I decided one day while listening to Nas that I wouldn't eat pork any more. Then KRS-One made me not want to eat beef. Soon, it was chicken, and, reluctantly, seafood. I tried to make myself like the shit you'll find in white people vegan spots where they have shit like cold balsamic garbanzo beet salads. I tried the "vegan" recipes in cook books and online and hated almost all of them.
Thankfully, being in militant and progressive organizing circles exposed me to "healthy" versions of traditionally heavy dishes. Tofu Arroz Caldo was the all-day dish at many of the day-long retreat meetings I've attended. Every egalitarian batch was different than the last, collectively prepared and seasoned by multiple individual tweaks until everyone's agreed standard was met. Tofu was the compromise between veggie heads and meat heads, and the arroz caldo meant that rice usually made for one person can feed two. The shit had to be good enough to satisfy everyone's taste. To have cooked two separate dishes would have been an antithesis to the collective unity we were trying to establish in the first place.
From this collective recipe comes a version with individual signatures: the lugaw base of the dish uses broken Jasmine rice mixed into a vegetable stock made with garlic, onions, carrots and shiitake mushrooms. The tofu is diced and marinated in tamari and calamansi before stir-frying. Garnishes include fried minced garlic, pickled shallots and an annatto & saffron oil. There's a lemon slice in there too. No animals were harmed in the making of this dish, unless you request an optional soft-boiled egg.
So, this Tofu Arroz Caldo on the SABAW menu wasn't made by some carnivore who doesn't fuck with vegan food on any level but wanted to appeal to a market. It isn't just my recipe, either. This dish is the result of a collective effort, passing the double-test of being sarap to vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. Most of all, this dish was made out of a belief and mission Fiipino food, often thought of as necessarily greasy and sloppy, can be cooked healthier and still be just as flavorful.