I grew up knowing there are two seasons in the Philippines: a dry season and a wet season. So I was surprised when my friends at Google informed me that there are actually three seasons: (hmm my Social Studies teacher taught me only 2 lol!): the Hot Season (tag-init) from March to May, the Rainy Season (tag-ulan) from June to November and the Cold Season (tag-lamig) from December to February. I don't know when or how they changed it but three seasons absolutely made perfect sense to me.
As I am writing this post, I get a phone call from my brother and Mama in Tuguegarao, my hometown in the Northern Philippines. I can hear the thunder in the background, and they tell me that it has been raining continuously for the past several days, as they are in the midst of the rainy season. It has been raining over here in STL too and indeed, this was fortuitous as I had prepared a dish we loved to eat during the rainy days when we were kids. I can recreate this dish as perfectly as I can remember, well except for the full smoky flavor. This is because back home, the electricity would always go out during severe thunderstorms and we would cook the dish on a clay oven (a pugon) over a wood fire. Using a pugon is the traditional way of cooking and the flavor it imparts on the dish is indelible. My brother also feel nostalgic, remembering enjoying habichuelas (white beans with pork hocks) on those cold rainy days.
There is a Latino food version of habichuelas, like the popular Puerto Rican dish Arroz con Habichuelas (rice and red or pink beans). The Filipino habichuelas, or at least my version, is similar to pork and beans but is more of a stew. I use fresh tomatoes, pork hocks and white beans. To capture the smoky flavor, I saute the pork with fat-rendered from frying smoked bacon. My first bite immediately transports me back to my hometown, I remember the rainy days with my family, huddling over the dining table enjoying this warm dish with piping hot white steamed rice.
White Beans with Pork Hocks
As mentioned it's been raining here in St. Louis and I have been cooking this at least once a week. So I will show you both ways of how to cook it. Either or, it works both ways. Also you could use pork belly as an alternative to pork hocks, both make thicker, sticky stew. It's super easy, it just needs preparation especially with the first method. But it's well worth it as it hits the spot especially on a chilly, rainy day!
1 cup white beans
1 pack pork hocks (around 5-6 pieces) you could also substitute it with pork belly
2-3 tomatoes, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped
3 bay leaves, crushed
2-3 tbsp fat from rendered bacon
2-3 cups soup stock
salt and pepper to taste
*you could also use fish sauce to season the dish
Soak the beans overnight and refrigerate. Strain the beans and give it a quick rinse. On a stock pot, put the beans and pork hocks, add water just enough to submerge the beans and pork. Bring it to boil until the beans and pork are tender.
On a different pan, saute garlic and onions with the fat rendered from smoked bacon. When onions are translucent, add tomatoes. Stir and press the tomatoes into the pan, til tomatoes get wilted and soft and turning into almost like pureed. Add celery stalks. Now add the pork and beans into the pan. At this point, you may also add more soup stock, Let it simmer until you have a thicker, sticky stew of beans and pork.
Now for the second method. You may omit the soaking of the beans. You could also reverse the method by sauteing the garlic and onions until translucent. Add tomatoes and press it into the pan until it gets wilted and soft. Add pork hocks, bay leaf, then sprinkle some black pepper. Mix it altogether until pork turns a little brown. Add the beans and add soup stock. Let it boil until meat and beans are tender. Season with salt and pepper and you have a bowl ready to soothe you in this cold, rainy day... Enjoy!