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Hidden Apron at Home Ep. 6 Recap: Filipino Sinigang + Cambodian Somlor Machu Kreung

(These are recaps of our “Hidden Apron at Home” Instagram Live sessions filmed under quarantine and held on my @errant_diner account. I focus on the fundamentals of cooking as I, a non-chef, understand them. They are based on my experiences learning how to cook and deal with systems and ways of thinking vs. just recipes. This sixth session covers Southeast Asian Sour Soups, specifically Filipino Sinigang and Cambodian Somlor Machu Kreung.)

IG Live Recording can be found below. As with our prior episodes, they’re best viewed full-screen and vertically on your mobile phone.


The Lesson

After a much needed shipment of hard-to-find ingredients from the Southeast Asia Food Group, I finally had a pack of Tamarind Soup Mix. Those familiar with the Filipino soup Sinigang, will recognize the yellow-green packets used in lieu of fresh tamarind when souring what is arguably the Philippines’ national soup. Pre-dating colonial times, the sour-savory soup’s name simply meant “Stewed [dish]” in the Tagalog dialect and at its core is some type of meat or protein boiled with a souring ingredient. This could range from the commonly used tamarind, to citrus fruits like lemon (the way my mom made it in Saudi Arabia), and even rhubarb (how Romy Dorotan of Purple Yam, Brooklyn sours his).

I was surprised to find out that Cambodians use this very same packet to sour a similar soup, Somlor Machu Kreung, when a friend commented on a post I made about it. This week’s class focused on these two soups, some basic guidelines on how to build broths that are flavorful yet light, and a few tips on plating soups tossed in for good measure.

I can’t emphasize enough that the basics of the soup should serve as guidelines and that using what’s local will help you get the best-tasting soup. I used Kale and Lemons for one of my soups because Tamarind and Taro Leaves aren’t exactly easy to find in Astoria, Queens. My soups weren’t “traditional” in some sense but I believe they get to the essence of what the soups are supposed to taste and feel like. Some things to keep in mind:

  1. When boiling meats with bones like pork ribs, replace the water after the first boil and constantly skim the scum as you cook through the second pot of water. This ensures that your broth is clear and light.
  2. Don’t throw away onion tops, vegetable stems, and any other scraps you would normally trash. These are great flavor enhancers and I tossed some into my Sinigang before straining them out towards the end.
  3. Keep texture in mind. With boiled soups, it’s easy to boil everything to the same consistency so try to vary the amount of time you cook ingredients. For example, I blanched okra separately as I prefer them with a slight crunch. For the other ingredients, I added them to the pot in the order of how fast it would take to cook them; pork first, string beans last.

A note on Kreung, the spice paste that is essential to Khmer cuisine: I substituted heavily as I don’t have the usual galangal, fresh turmeric, makrut lime, etc. I would suggest this post by A Wandering Foodie to see which recipe I’m riffing from and what Kreung is supposed to look like. Looking back, I would have ground this even further or even pounded it down to get a more past-like, instead of minced, consistency.


The Food

My soups were as cooked with the following:
Sinigang – Pork Ribs, Sinigang Mix, Okra, String Beans, Tomatoes, Onions
Somlor Machu Kreung – Salmon, Kale, Lemon/Lime, Kreung* (Garlic, Ginger, Turmeric, Lime Zest, Bay Leaves, Fish Sauce, Chilis)

The method itself is simple: Boil ingredients in the order you would like them to be cooked keeping in mind that ingredients in the water longer will turn softer. For example, I cooked Pork Ribs for an hour or so before layering in my vegetables. On the other hand, I placed the Salmon for my Somlor relatively later since I didn’t want to overcook the more delicate fish.


(Update: I mentioned in class how Tomatoes are picked unripe in the US and then gassed with nitrogen while they are in transit cross-country to hasten ripening, thus giving it that bland, underripe taste. This may have turned out to be an urban legend and instead, the taste could be attributed to poor soil conditions. Either way, try to buy tomatoes in season, as heirloom varieties, or canned insetad.)

Filed under: All Posts, Cook, Recipes, Savor

About the Author

Posted by

Paolo Española is a wandering diner in search of a good meal and an ever-elusive identity. He started this blog during a soul-crushing stint as an Accountant and later co-founded Hidden Apron, his side project that’s dabbled in everything from private catering, hosting pop-up dinners, podcasting, and everywhere in between. He is a contributing author to the best-selling cookbook, “The New Filipino Kitchen” and believes that food is a universal language that can solve the world's most challenging problems, help people believe in their own potential, create communities to shared stories, and realize that in Breaking Bread, we Break Boundaries.

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