The truth regarding the eating habits of the average, middle-class Filipino is a brutally painful one: nine times out of ten, they involve chowing down on fast food and junk food in equal measure. It involves the consumption of really bad food gobbled on the run. Eating habits may also be driven by food fads kick-started by celebrity endorsements. (And damn the whole boiling of you: tuna does not whip you up into shape like Derek Ramsey or Anne Curtis! Personally, I think canned tuna is the scourge of the modern diet!) Unless you count spuds as a vegetable or you eat at a properly-stocked cafeteria or at home, vegetables don’t usually play a key role in the diets of many working Filipinos. This, in itself, is a serious irony because vegetables – especially home-grown ones – have been an integral part of the country’s diet for years. (Well, before the Yanks brought in the concept of fast food. But, I digress and my culinary and cultural prejudices are showing…)
Spaghetti – more accurately spaghetti Bolognese – is a popular dish in these parts, but this normally wholesome dish has been bastardized to the point that it is little more than a gruesome, sweet mess of processed meat products, sugary tomato sauce, plastic cheese, and soggy noodles. In short, a culinary travesty whose perpetrator – that blighted idiot who chose to substitute banana ketchup in the place of proper tomato sauce – ought to be hung, drawn, and quartered with impunity! Quite obviously, a badly-done spag Bol awakens some serious anger in me and the end result – complete with red-skinned (and possibly nitrate-rich) hotdogs – sickens me to my stomach.
However, there are ways by which even a crowd-pleasing dish like spag Bol can be made healthy and, flavor-wise, sublime. My favorite recipe involves swapping pork and beef for finely chopped chicken breast and using plenty of fresh vegetables to add excellent contrasts in both taste and texture. It also has the virtue of tasting good without having to add any sugar to the sauce; the cheese and herbs take care of that. Incidentally, this particular sauce also has some fresh cucumber mixed into it for crunch and a fresh taste.
Powered-up Spaghetti Bolognese
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small red onion, finely chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 cup cooked chicken (white meat), finely chopped
- 1 cup diced eggplant
- 1/2 cup grated carrot
- 1/4 cup peeled and finely chopped fresh cucumber
- 1 medium tin button mushrooms, drained and liquid reserved
- 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
- 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 chicken bouillon cube or 1 small packet instant broth
- 1-1/2 cups tomato sauce (not the sweet kind)
- 1 pack spaghetti cooked until al dente
In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened. Add the garlic and cook until slightly browned at the edges. Add the bouillon cube (or instant broth) and grated carrot; cook until the bouillon has dissolved. Add the Italian seasoning, cook until fragrant. Add the diced eggplant and cook until the color has deepened.
Pour in the reserved mushroom liquid and bring to a boil before adding the chicken and mushrooms. Cook for a minute, then add the tomato sauce. Stir well, then bring to a boil. Lower the heat and sprinkle in the cheese. Give the sauce a good stir and remove from heat. Serve over pasta.
I am of the opinion that a sauce this good will encourage even the pickiest of kids (or grownups) to eat more vegetables. And, one other thing…
…it also tastes amazing served caponata-style when spread on foccacia and topped with melted cheese. A good Camembert gives it a tasty Franco-Italian twist. :D