Nuts for Filipino Comfort Food: Kare-Kare

That's Nuts

A weekly dose of nutty history, pop culture, and recipes from Lee Zalben, aka The Peanut Butter Guy.

"Every family's kare-kare is a little different."


[Photographs: Lee Zalben]

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I used my recent diving trip in the Philippines as an opportunity to taste firsthand how Filipinos have woven peanuts into their culinary tradition. A few weeks ago I wrote about a disappointing chocolate peanut doughnut from Mister Donut I had at the airport in Manila. In all fairness to Filipino food enthusiasts out there, I should have started with this story.

In Cebu, an island in the southern Philippines, I stayed at the Shangri-La's Mactan Resort & Spa and was excited to meet Adolfo Lopez, the hotel's executive sous chef. When I told chef "Dolf" that I wanted to try some peanutty Filipino food, he dropped everything (literally) to prepare Kare-kare, a Filipino oxtail and peanut stew.


A very traditional dish, often served at parties, festivals, and get-togethers with family and friends, kare-kare is the epitome of Filipino comfort food. I asked chef Dolf to tell me more about the history of the dish and the tradition of using peanuts in Filipino cooking. He spoke about the Spanish and Chinese influences on Filipino culture, which makes sense, especially since it was Spanish and Portuguese traders that brought peanuts from South America to Asia.


Toasted rice and oil made from atsuete seeds (annatto) help give kare-kare its distinctive taste and color

There are some very interesting ingredients in this dish. Apart from all of the local vegetables, there's atsuete oil, or annatto oil, which is bright orange and gives the dish its color. The recipe also uses finely ground toasted rice, which both adds flavor and acts as a thickening agent.

Kare-kare is always served with rice as well as bagoong, a bright magenta-colored fermented shrimp or fish paste. The one that chef Dolf uses is made from anchovies. He also adds some sweet and sour limes as a final touch.

While most home cooks use oxtail in the dish, chef Dolf's recipe uses a combination of oxtail and beef round. But like any traditional dish, every family's kare-kare is a little different. He told me that most home cooks will add tripe and some modern takes involve pork knuckle. While we didn't talk vegetarian options, I'm sure there is a tofu kare-kare out there somewhere.

Have you ever had kare-kare, or anything similar, and if so, did you find it peanutlicious?

Continue here for Dolf's Kare-Kare recipe »