I’m not really sure what the English translation of sinigang is — there are those who use the term “tamarind soup” for example, which is really more of a descriptive term anchored on its main souring ingredient, tamarind.
I asked Google and her (or his?) first answer is that sinigang is a sour and savory Filipino soup. Hmmm, that’s more like it as really, “tamarind soup” misses the point as many recipes of sinigang do not use tamarind as the souring ingredient. In this fish sinigang recipe, for example, I use kamias or iba which tagalogtranslate.com says is ginger lily.
Lest you get confused, here’s my description and definition of what sinigang is to me. Sinigang is a savory and sour stew which can be broken down into the following main ingredients:
1. Sour element — usually tamarind or kamias (ginger lily), though others use santol rind or plain tomatoes
2. Meat — could be fish, pork, chicken, beef or shrimp
3. Herbs — mainly red onions, ripe tomatoes and fresh ginger but could also include lemongrass, scallions or green onions, red bell pepper
4. Vegetables — Filipinos usually use radish and the yellowish Imelda-variety kangkong — though you could probably use bok choy and spinach
Tamarind really is the best souring element you can use as its sourness is bitingly rich. Unfortunately, fresh tamarind is a rare find in the market in my city and what I can find mostly is kamias or ginger lily which is not as sour as tamarind but has a mildly fruity savor. I avoid using commercial tamarind powder mixes (or sinigang cubes) as they abound in MSG.
(Photo Credit: kamiasorbilimbifruit1.blogspot.com)
Pork and shrimp are two of the most flavorful meats you can use for sinigang. However, as I am avoiding pork nowadays, and shrimp is a no-no for my allergy-prone daughter, I have a bias for fish sinigang.
If, like me, you want to stay clear from tamarind broth mixes, you would do well to go almost overboard in the use of herbs. Wickedly red tomatoes add to the sourness while red onions and ginger give spicy undertones.
For some reason, white radish has a way of complementing the sourness of sinigang and so this veggie has to be in your pot. I find this strange as raw, fresh radish is pungent and spicy and yet, when dropped into a pot of sinigang, they turn mild and mellow and delightfully mushy. The leafy vegetable — Imelda-variety kangkong — is the best leafy vegetable to use as the hollow core of the stems holds some of the soup, oozing juices with each bite.
I personally love sinigang which is sour enough as to make my lips pucker despite my valiant efforts not to, and also one in which the meaty, savory element strives to shine through despite the sourness.
Now on to the recipe:
Fish Sinigang or Filipino Sour Fish Stew
1 kilo fish (fatty, bony fish is good, such as the head or jawbone part)
about 20-25 pieces of kamias, sliced longitudinally into halves (use more if you like it really more sour)
3 large, ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 large red onion, chopped
fresh lemongrass blades tied into a knot
thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, crushed
1 large red bell pepper
1 large white radish, cut into circles
a bunch of kangkong or water spinach
salt to taste
Pour about 10 cups of water into a stainless-steel (or non-aluminum) pot and drop in the kamias. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 5 minutes to bring out the sourness.
Add in the tomatoes, red onion, lemongrass and ginger and boil for about 3 minutes.
Add in the fish and bring to a rolling boil, after which simmer the stew for 5 minutes.
Add the radish rounds and cook for 3 minutes. Add salt to taste.
Add in the leafy vegetables and simmer for just about 30 seconds.
Happy slurping and sipping this most savory stew!