Nutrition advocate Juana Manahan Yupangco has put a new spin on local but undervalued vegetables. Pasta steeped in cashew cream sauce is topped with pickled puso ng saging (banana blossoms). The kangkong (water spinach) is cooked like a pajeon (Korean-style pancake). Sigarilyas (winged beans) are marinated to taste like barbecue wings.
Following the success of “Mesa ni Misis,” Yupangco’s paperback cookbook on budget plant-based recipes, she has leveled up to a hardbound coffee-table book, “Juana’s Table,” published by ABS-CBN Books.
In 2021, the modest “Mesa ni Misis” won the Gourmand Award for Best in the World (vegetarian category), besting sophisticated hardbound cookbooks written by professional chefs. A writer/magazine editor, Yupangco has been a hands-on mom who constantly experimented with new recipes, especially when she and her family went vegan for health reasons. “Mesa ni Misis” aimed to entice carnivorous Pinoys to enjoy native vegetables by cooking them in quick but innovative ways such as the fusion mung bean Bolognese and camote (sweet potato) gnocchi.
While the paperback cookbook targeted the mass market, “Juana’s Table,” is designed to appeal to discriminating cooks, who can eat anything but want to prepare healthy dishes and can afford more ingredients.
In her new book with a preface by culinary historian Felice Sta. Maria, Yupangco puts the relevance of the plant-based diet in historical and social context and educates the readers about the undervalued local vegetables, their usage and storage and how to cook them to get their maximum nutritional benefits. Armed with a Master of Science degree in Nutrition and Food Security, she expresses her concern about endemic vegetables and legumes that are underutilized due to low demand and supply.
“I have a write-up of each vegetable in the book. Since I know more after studying a lot, I highlighted some vegetables and the best way to consume them to get the most nutritional value. Eating raw doesn’t always provide the highest nutrients. Sitaw (green bean) offers higher protein bioavailability when it’s boiled, not sauteéd or raw. Filipinos don’t like mustasa (mustard leaves) but when made into kimchi, they are high in antioxidants and probiotics,” says Yupangco.
“The challenge was to take all the academic information and make it digestible to people without compromising the scientific content. It was important for me to get that across.”
The reader rediscovers protein-rich legumes that are becoming scarce such as the kadyos (pigeon peas), paayap (black-eyed peas) and tapilan (rice beans). These local vegetables and legumes are elevated into international dishes such as camote rendang (sweet potato curry), African bean stew and native vegetable tart. (In the city, this writer finds them only in Mang Manny’s organic vegetable stall at Legazpi Sunday Market.)
The book is on the same wavelength as such influential tomes that espouse the cost-effectiveness, eco-consciousness and sustainability of a plant-centered diet such as Francis Moore Lappé’s “Diet for a Small Planet,” and the kitchen tips, nutritional guides and anecdotes that go with inexpensive wholesome recipes in Kathy Hoshijo’s “Kathy Cooks Naturally.”
Since “Mesa ni Misis,” Yupangco has adjusted her cooking from strictly plant-based. In “Juana’s Table,” the recipes can be modified to satisfy the palates of people who eat dairy, meat and seafood. While “Mesa” espoused whole ingredients for cost efficiency, the new recipes include plant-based meat, Worcestershire sauce (which contains anchovies), marshmallow (which has egg whites) and an option to use bagoong (shrimp paste) or its plant-based substitute.
”’Mesa ni Misis’ was an advocacy and the recipes stuck to a budget. Its readers were ready to make a change. ‘Juana’s Table’ shows more of me coming out. I have become more flexible with my diet. I sometimes cook with wine or eat fish at the restaurant,” says Yupangco. Family recipes are measured for sharing, while recipes for friends feature portions for multicourse meals. Her family savors the plant-based callos made with white fungi, chickpeas, mushrooms. The children enjoy the vegetable kimbap, sigarilyas with squash, kadyos and rice, rolled into seaweed sheets, and the sushi bake with chickpeas, nutritional yeast and soy sauce to replace the tuna flavor.
The more elaborate recipes such as the camote rendang and plant-based steak are artfully plated. Singkamas (turnip), normally served as a snack munchie or a salad filler, becomes a steak with a vegan crème de Paris. Traditionally, this is a butter-based sauce served with grilled meat. Yupangco’s recipe substitutes dairy with tofu. Capers can replace anchovies.
With the help of floral artist Maria Parsons of Lanai, a section is devoted to making fresh vegetable centerpieces which are more economical than flower arrangements. Eggplants, ampalaya (bitter gourd), tomatoes, sitaw and small squash last longer on display and can be cooked afterward.
“We shot at my mom’s house where I learned to cook. I used my sister’s plate, my lola’s tablecloth and silverware and objects from my mom and dad,” says Yupangco,
“Each recipe includes essays on how they came about so readers can get some inspiration.” —CONTRIBUTED INQ