Cooking with Purple Yam

Amy Besa with Executive Chef Joseph Galvez and Pastry Chef Patricia Benedictocopy

Recipes below!

It was a culinary adventure with  little known Filipino dishes that Filipino food advocate, author and restaurateur Amy Besa shared at The Maya Kitchen.  Amy and her chefs presented their take on traditional dishes like Ukoy, and Adobo–made with beef shortribs. They also cooked dishes that I’ve never heard of such Kulawong Talong and Kinagang. The demo ended with Pinipig Cookies served with Avocado Ice Cream.

Amy Besa and her husband Chef Romy Dorotan became mainstays of the culinary scene in New York with their famous Manhattan restaurant ,Cendrillon, and Purple Yam. Together, they authorored the book, Memories of Philippine Kitchens, which won the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) 2007 Jane Grigson Award for Scholarship in the quality of its research and writing; it was also a finalist for the Julia Child First Book Award.

Here are some recipes of the dishes they prepared.

Let’s begin with Beef Shortribs Adobo. It has athick, rich, dark brown, almost chocolaty sauce that Amy says becomes even richer if half the stock is replaced with coconut milk.

Beef Shortribs Adobocopy


3 tablespoons canola oil
3 pounds beef short ribs, cut into 4 equal pieces
1/2 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chicken stock or 1 cup chicken stock
plus 1 cup coconut milk
1 cup sherry vinegar or apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled
3 bay leaves
3 whole birdseye chiles (optional)

1. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, warm the oil until very hot but not smoking. Season the ribs with the salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Add the ribs to the pan, in batches if necessary, and brown well on all sides, about 3 minutes total.

2. Transfer the ribs to a plate, pour off the oil, and return the ribs to the pan.

3. Add the chicken stock (and coconut milk, if using), vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, bay leaves, remaining 1 teaspoon black pepper, and whole chiles, if using.

4. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the meat is tender and falling off the bone, about 1 hour and 20 minutes, skimming off excess fat as you cook.

5. Transfer the ribs to a plate, increase the heat, and reduce the sauce until thickened, 10 to 15 minutes. Discard the bay leaves and chiles. Return the ribs to the sauce or arrange the ribs on a platter and pour the sauce on top. Makes 4 servings.


One of the more unusual dishes they prepared is the Kinagang. This is a variation of the Irosin Kinagang which they serve as an appetizer special at their restaurant. It is a combination of buko, crabmeat, sliced scallions, and lemongrass, wrapped in a banana leaf, and steamed. As a variation, Amy says shrimp or scallops may be added to the crabmeat for a more full seafood flavor.

Makes 8 parcels.



One 1-pound package banana leaves
1/2 cup lime juice
1 or 2 chopped red or green chiles
2 cups (1 pound) lump crabmeat
Four 1-pound packages shredded unsweetened buko, drained and coarsely chopped
2 shallots, thinly sliced
4 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 lemongrass stalks, cut into 2-inch pieces and cut in half lengthwise

1. Cut out eight 10- by 12-inch pieces from the banana leaves. Cut off the tough rib at the top of the banana leaves. Cut out 1/4-inch widthwise strips of banana leaves to use for tying the kinagang—you’ll need to tie two or three of them together to make them long enough to fit around the kinagang. (Alternatively you can use kitchen string.) Clean the banana leaf sections by wiping them on both sides with a damp paper towel. Pass them over a medium flame on both sides to soften and make them more pliable.

2. Combine the lime juice and the chiles in a small serving bowl and set aside.

3. In a large bowl, combine the crabmeat, buko, shallots, scallions, salt, and pepper.

4. Place 1 cup of the crabmeat mixture in the center of each banana leaf section. Flatten to create a square shape about 4 inches square. Place two lemongrass sections over the mixture.

5. Firmly wrap the kinagang in the banana leaves by folding over the sides, first lengthwise, then widthwise. Place seam side down and tie together on either side with the banana leaf strips.

6. Place the kinagang in a steamer basket placed over simmering water. Cover and steam for about 5 minutes, just to heat through. Unwrap the kinagang and serve with the lime-chile mixture.


Here’s the last one I’m sharing. It’ s another dish that’s new to me. I have never heard of, let alone tasted, Kulawong Talong. So I didn’t have any idea what it was other than it was an eggplant dish.

Amy Besa recalled her first introduction to the concept of a kulawo was in 2003, when she visited Ugu Bigyan’s home and pottery studio in Tiaong, Quezon. Visitors could call ahead and arrange to have lunch in one of his beautiful gazebos, where they would savor his signature dish, the banana-heart kulawo.

In Laguna, a neighboring province north of Quezon, it is the kulawong talong that stirs many nostalgic food memories among the locals, Amy says.  Both versions are tart because vinegar, instead of water, is used to extract the milk from freshly grated coconut singed with a hot coal. Interestingly, if one travels further south, the Bicolanos’ burnt coconut cream is not vinegary at all, since water is used as the prime medium of extraction.

According to her, the use of burnt coconut cream has been one of her most treasured discoveries in Philippine cooking. She and her husband credit Nicholetta Labellachitarra, a Filipino chef working in Boston, who shared her memory of this dish—grilled eggplant with burnt coconut cream—with Chef Romy, inspiring him to create a version of his own.
Kulawong Talongcopy



Burnt Coconut Cream:

M a k e s 2 t o 3 c u p s

Two 16-ounce packages frozen grated coconut
1 cup coconut sap or rice vinegar
2 cups canned coconut milk
5 cloves garlic, peeled
One 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
2 shallots, peeled and sliced
2–3 bird’s-eye chiles (optional)

Grilled Chinese Eggplant:
8 Chinese eggplants
Sea salt, to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 400° F. Defrost the coconut and mix with the coconut sap or rice vinegar, kneading to extract as much cream from the coconut as possible. Wrap the coconut-vinegar mixture in cheesecloth and squeeze the coconut milk into a bowl until all the milk has been extracted (this should yield approximately 21/2 cups of liquid). Set the extracted coconut milk aside.

2. Spread the squeezed, grated coconut evenly on a baking sheet and bake, stirring every 15 minutes, until it is dark brown, about 50 minutes. Turn on the broiler, and place the baking sheet under it for another 5 to 10 minutes to slightly char the coconut—but be careful not to burn it too much.

3. In a saucepan, combine the extracted coconut milk, half of the pan of burnt coconut, the canned coconut milk, garlic, ginger, shallots, and chiles, if using. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and allow the mixture to simmer for 10 minutes. Strain through a very fine-mesh sieve, using the back of a big spoon to squeeze out as much liquid as you can. Return the liquid to the saucepan and keep warm while grilling the eggplant.

4. Place the eggplants on a stovetop grill or under a broiler and cook until the skin is charred and the interior is soft. When just cool enough to handle, peel the eggplants and use a fork to spread and flatten the flesh a little. Season to taste with sea salt.

5. Arrange the eggplants on a dish and pour the warm burnt coconut cream over them. Serves 8.

That’s it.  Thanks to Amy Besa and her Purple Yam crew for sharing these dishes, and thank you to The Maya Kitchen for making it happen.

For more information on the demo, course  offerings and schedules, log on to

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