This is an updated version of a recipe originally published in March 1, 2005.
Spicy, leafy, creamy with chunks of pork and the flavor of shrimps hovering in the background, laing is a dish whose origin is attributed to the Bicol region where coconut milk figures prominently in the local cuisine. I’ve tasted so many versions of laing — from almost dry to creamy, from meaty to meatless. Although I absolutely love the almost dry and practically meatless version, I have to admit that the carnivore in me prefers distinct pieces of pork in my laing. Pork is more traditional although I have used beef and it was good too.
Now, about the taro leaves. Many people balk at taro leaves because they can cause an itchy sensation in the throat. I was told that drying taro leaves under the sun prior to cooking prevented itchiness but, lately, I’ve been using undried taro leaves to cook my laing and there has been no itchiness at all. I buy the taro leaves in the supermarket where they are sold in pre-weighed bundles and packed on styrofoam trays. At this point, I’m just as in the dark as most people are about what causes the itchiness and how the taro leaves should be prepared to avoid it.
For Filipinos living abroad who have no access to fresh taro leaves, shredded dried taro leaves are now exported all over the world. If you decide to use them, one tip: they swell tremendously during cooking so don’t think you’re adding too little to the pot. Once the dried leaves get in contact with liquid, they absorb the liquid like ever-thirsty little sponges.
That said, let me give you the recipe for laing.
Filipino Laing (Spicy Taro Leaves and Coconut Milk Stew)
- 300 grams pork belly cut into half-inch cubes
- 2 thumb-sized pieces ginger peeled and julienned
- 4 to 6 cloves garlic peeled and crushed
- 1 onion peeled and thinly sliced
- 4 to 8 chilies roughly chopped (I used red and green finger chilis, the level of hotness varies from one chili variety to another, so you’ll have to make your own calculations as to how much you need)
- 1 to 2 tablespoons dried shrimps for best results, get the shelled kind
- 2 tablespoons vegetable cooking oil
- 4 cups coconut milk if using fresh, combine the first and second extractions
- 600 grams fresh taro leaves
- patis (fish sauce) to taste
- Heat the cooking oil in a pan. Add the pork and cook, stirring, until they change color.
- Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for a few minutes.
- Add the sliced onion and chilies, and continue sautéing until the onion starts to caramelize. At this point, the pork cubes will start to turn brown around the edges too.
- Add the tomatoes and dried shrimps, and sauté for a few minutes more or until the tomatoes start to liquefy.
- Add all the taro leaves to the pan. Don’t panic if it looks like you have a huge mountain of taro leaves. Fresh taro leaves wilt like anything once they are heated.
- Pour in all of the coconut milk. Cover the pan to bring everything to the boil.
- When the stew is boiling, stir, pressing the taro leaves into the sauce. Season with fish sauce and stir some more.
- Turn the heat to low, cover the pan and simmer the stew for an hour.
- After an hour, the taro leaves will be soft and so will the pork cubes. Taste a piece of pork and some of the sauce. Add more fish sauce, if necessary.
- If you prefer your laing to be rather dry, turn up the heat and continue cooking the laing, uncovered, until the mixture is dry enough for you.
- Serve the hot laing with rice and have a great meal.