I’ve been experimenting with eating a more vegetarian diet for the sake of my health and for the sake of the environment (I hear you, blah blah blah, individual consumption comes nowhere close to the emissions generated by corporations – OK – I’m a big believer that if everyone reduced their meat consumption, however small, the meat industry would be done! But anyway!)
One huge obstacle for me has been reconciling my Filipino heritage, especially Filipino food, with a vegetarian diet. I love Filipino food, but many classic dishes are not particularly healthy, like white rice often taking center stage. The idea of giving up meat entirely also goes hand-in-hand with not being able to participate in social events, where meat-forward food often plays a starring role (see: lechon), or I’d not want to cause a stir, especially with older generations who, frankly, will make you feel guilty for not wanting to eat their food. Finally, at the end of the day, I’m just not willing to give up the flavors, smells, and memories of my childhood! So how can this work out?
To “fix” this, I’ve been experimenting with incorporating Filipino tastes with vegetarian ingredients. It’s definitely not straightforward, but it’s a fun (and delicious!) project to take on!
I got the idea for cauliflower adobo specifically from an Instagram post about Angela Dimayuga’s chicken adobo. (I can’t find the post anymore, but here’s a video of her making it on YouTube!) (Never mind, I just found it!)
There were a ton of comments demonizing the recipe specifically because it uses chicken, and meat is murder!!! She responded to one comment by explaining that she wasn’t interested in drastically changing a culturally significant dish to appease foreign tastes, and offered that she was working on a cauliflower adobo recipe for her upcoming cookbook if people were so intent on making her feel bad about celebrating her heritage. (My hero! Addressing all my concerns about juggling going vegetarian with Filipino culture before I even realized I had them!)
Because Angela’s cookbook has not yet been published, but I loved the idea of cauliflower adobo, I decided to improvise! I had made both chicken and pork adobo numerous times in the past, so I knew the basics of the sauce: soy sauce, vinegar, bay leaves, garlic, pepper, and water. I let those simmer and bubble for a bit to let the flavors mingle together.
I decided to add corn starch as well because I knew that the regular sauce alone wouldn’t marinate into and stick to the vegetables as well as it would for meat.
To cook the cauliflower, I cut them into small parts and sauteed them coconut oil in a cast iron skillet. I roasted the potatoes separately in the oven. (In retrospect, I probably should’ve roasted everything. Oh well!)
Once everything was properly cooked, I tossed everything into the sauce pan: potatoes, cauliflower, and a couple of handfuls of arugula because I’ve always considered it to be “peppery”, and therefore a tasty, green, leafy complement to adobo.
The verdict? DELICIOUS!
I will definitely concede that it doesn’t entirely feel like classic adobo. Cauliflower and potato simply don’t have the same soft texture and juiciness as a meat-based version, and it’s foolish to pretend like they will ever replicate it exactly.
However, they still have the rich umami from browning (either from being sauteed in a pan or roasted) and are very tasty in their own ways. Cauliflower browns extremely well, and I already love the crispy-exteriors-and-fluffy-interiors of roasted potatoes – and the savory adobo sauce only elevates everything even further.
This little experiment made me hopeful and excited to try more vegetarian (or even vegan!) Filipino dishes!