On the day that my grandmother would have been 91, I made a dish that reminded me of home and of her. I'm almost embarrassed to say how long it's been since I've had any food that really reminds me of home. About a year or so into college, I became a pescetarian and with the exception of travel, never had meat outside of fish and seafood. I liked living this way, for the most part. But since moving to Portland, it's begun weighing on me more and more that in adopting this lifestyle, I was essentially rejecting a huge part of my culture.
Filipino food is almost all meat-based. I can't remember a single vegetarian dish from my childhood. As I moved further away and my trips home became less frequent, it began to bother me that I'd created a restriction for myself that denied me one of the richest parts of my heritage.
So for the first time ever, I made my own version of misua ("mee-swah"). I thought of it first when I was at a farmers market and found a chayote. I don't think I'd seen once since I lived with my mom and even though I had no idea how to cook it, I bought it. And sent my mom this text.
As it turns out, my mom and grandmother don't really put chayote in misua ever (I was confusing it with patola), but it still turned out okay and it was my first time really attempting anything filipino and I'M REALLY PROUD, OKAY?! As I made this, I called my mom, guessed, called my mom again, and guessed more. If I've learned anything about Filipino cooking from my mom, it's that there aren't really recipes and you can do whatever you want. (My mom sent me a "copy" of the recipe like this.)
And this is a very roundabout way to say this but my heart sang and cried and burst when the misua was done. I realized I used the "wrong" vegetable and the noodles lumped together and it is certainly not the most photogenic dish, but it was my dish. Inspired by the most amazing women I know. On my grandmother's birthday.
I miss her so much. Making and eating this makes me miss her a little less and a lot more at the same time.
Happy Birthday to the only person I know who's never put a single person before herself. I love you, Mama Hely.
inspired by the best women I know
a splash of olive oil
one small onion, chopped
cloves of garlic, minced
1 chayote, peeled, pitted and cut into cubes
3/4 lbs ground meat (I used pork)
salt and pepper
a handful of the extra fine rice vermicelli
Heat the olive oil in a large pot then add the garlic and onions. Once the onions soften, add the chayote. Simmer on medium heat for about 5 minutes, until the chayote begins to soften. Add the meat, season with salt and pepper, and stir until just cooked. When all of the ingredients have cooked, add enough water to just cover everything by a little less than an inch. Allow to simmer on medium heat for about 10-15 minutes to let the flavors combine. Salt and pepper to taste. When you're about 10 minutes before serving, turn up the heat and allow the soup to boil. Once bubbling, add the noodles and allow to soften and cook for about five minutes.
Share with your friends and serve over white rice (of course).
A big thanks to my friends at Staub for helping me find my perfect dutch oven. This one is gorgeous and works like a dream.