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The family of Iman Suguitan enjoys an Iftar meal prepared at home. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: It is a cosy iftar inside the Dubai home of Filipina businesswoman Iman Suguitan, 44. Her mother Irene Igmedio and sister Luchie welcome us into their villa in Rashidiya.

Iman and her sister are inspired by their mother who taught them all the ABCs of cooking. A chat with her mother, 73, reveals an experienced hand when it comes to cooking delicacies of the Philippines.

“In Philippines, rice is a staple food. Most of our food revolves around rice,” she says. And so the family has prepared two main dishes of the South Asian country - Sinigang na Ulo ng Salmon (Salmon Head in Sour Broth) and Bistek Tagalog (Beef Steak Filipino Style), both of which go great with rice.

Irene recalls the good old days of making iftar back home. “I would make rice cakes for snacks. It was an elaborate affair that involved a lot of labour. But it brings a great pleasure cooking iftar for friends and family,” she said.

We step inside the kitchen to see the iftar preparation at Iman’s home. The sour broth Sinigang na Ulo ng Salmon is getting ready.

Luchie has chopped the vegetables to go with the broth and set them aside. The salmon head is cooked. The broth is on boil and the beef has been marinated soy sauce, garlic, salt, pepper and lemon juice. It has been marinated overnight in fact.

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Iman Suguitan prepares an iftar meal for her family. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Luchie, who is a professional chef, said: “Organisation is key while preparing special dishes. Planning the menu, readying the ingredients, prepping the dish in advance are all essentials and makes the task of cooking easier.”

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From left: Iman Suguitan, Khadeejah Gabr, Irene Igmedio and Luchie Suguitan at their residence. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Iman said there are must-haves in a traditional Filipino dish, such as the fish sauce, banana ketchup, and coconut-based ingredients. “It’s all about the geographical location of our country. We have coconuts, bananas in large numbers so instead of dumping them way, our ancestors found use for them. For example, banana ketchup is unique to us.”

Luchie gets on to heat the cooking oil in a pan for the beef dish. She sweats half a garlic pod, pan-fries the marinated beef on both sides without the excess marinade. In no time the plate is ready and is served with basmati rice.

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Sinigang na Ulo ng Salmon (Salmon Head in Sour Broth) prepared for iftar. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Iftar time

The family sits down for iftar. They pray and end the iftar with dates and a cool drink. The table is set with the broth, two kinds of rice – brown and white – the beef tapa. Luchie springs a surprise with the desert and gets a hazelnut cake onto the table.

“Iftar is a time to bond and celebrate the day gone by. Good food by the side and company completes the whole purpose of it all.”

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A plate of Bistek Tagalog prepared at a Filipino household. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Recipe for the day

Sinigang na Ulo ng Salmon (Salmon Head in Sour Broth)

Serves 6-8


Garlic - 1 head chopped into fine bits

Onion - 1 big piece minced coarsely

Tomato - 2 pieces minced coarsely

Ginger - minced finely

Chili - 1pc whole

2-3 pieces of whole lemon (juiced, remove the seeds)

Salmon head (2 pcs - normally the supermarket will clean it and cut the heads into half. Slather with sea salt)

Salmon steak - 1 Kg (cut into 2, removing the bone in between, slather with sea salt)

Reddish - 3 big chopped into 1.5 inches of cubes

Okra - 1/2 Kg cut into 1.5 inches

String beans - 1 bunch cut into 1.5 - 2 inches long

Kangkong - 3 bunches (choosing only the leaves and the soft stalk part)

Fish Sauce (1/4 cup or according to taste)

Sea Salt (according to taste)

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1) In a deep casserole where you will cook the soup, pour in a bit of oil just enough for the fish not to stick when frying. Salmon is a fatty fish, so it will release its natural oil when frying. Let the oil reach a very hot temp when it you are just about to see smoke.

2) Get a bit of the garlic, onion and ginger and put it on the hot oil. The purpose of this is so that the oil where you’ll fry the fish will already have the sautéed taste when frying. This will help lessen the “fishy” (or lansa as we call it) smell and taste of the dish.

3) Without browning the garlic, onion and ginger, gently place the fish to fry in the pan and fry for about 3 minutes on each sides. Setting aside the fried salmon on a separate plate.

4) On the same casserole where you’ve cooked the fish, sauté the rest of your remaining garlic, onion, ginger and now with the tomatoes. Let it sweat. And then add the fish sauce. The contents of your casserole will boil and you’ll notice moisture evaporating, this is good. We are cooking the fish sauce for the nice umami taste.

5) Add in 2 litres of hot water into your casserole. Bring the mixture into a boil.

6) Add in the string beans when the mixture boils, add in okra, let it boil. Add in the radish, let it boil. Add the kangkong let it boil. Add the whole chili.

7) Add the lemon juice.

8) Lastly, add your fried salmon head and meat. Let it boil.

9) Serve while piping hot.

The dish is best served with your favourite rice.