These squash parts consisting of the fruit, the leaves and flowers were fresh from the vendor who traveled all the way from Nueva Ecija, about an hour’s drive to our place. I ordered it the day before and they come and bring it to my doorstep the very next day. There is nothing more convenient in the world I can think of.
I had a hankering for the Ilocano dish dinengdeng and remembered how my mother would make it completely out of squash parts. Soon as I got my delivery, I laid it all out on the kitchen counter for the photo shoot. Then I looked at the leaves and flowers….and for the life of me – I didn’t know how to start preparing it for the pot!
I decided then and there the best thing would be for me to put it all back in a bag and trot over to mother who can show me how to do it. Thank God for mothers!
Soon as I got to her house, we sat down around the dining room table and she brought out her little paring knife she’s had for years and showed me how to do it. I started to help but she got a little impatient with me and did it all herself. It was ready in just a few minutes too. My mother only used the very top of the squash branches and took out the hairy outer skin. The flowers were more complicated to prepare though. She opened up each flower and removed the sepal and the pistil. She then tore off the petal from the stem and cleaned the stem by peeling off the hairy outer skin. This was all washed over running water in a strainer.
There was a whole bunch of leaves and flowers so we decided to divide that in two. One part we used with the squash to make dinengdeng for dinner that night and the rest I took home with me. I used that for a pork sinigang the next day and was absolutely the best I’ve ever made.
I’m afraid I didn’t take any pictures of the finished dish. But it did make a lovely and light dinengdeng.
Dinengdeng is a dish of vegetables flavored with fish bagoong. The common Ilocano dinengdeng also uses a grilled fish. Mudfish is great for this. You start with a few cups of water in your pot, add the grilled fish and set on a stove. When this boils, take out your bamboo strainer and add a few tablespoons of the fish bagoong, immersing the strainer in the boiling liquid to get all the goodness of the bagoong. There should be just tiny slivers of fish bones left in your strainer if you are using the Ilocano bagoong of old. A little foam will float to the top which you have to remove with a spoon and throw away. Then you add the veggies, one by one, in order of the length of time it takes to cook them. For this dinengdeng, I put in the leaves and squash slices in at the same time and threw in the flowers at the last minute.
You can put all sorts of vegetables together. There are several perfect combinations of vegetables, another favorite is fresh bamboo shoots, saluyot and young gabi root. Dinengdeng is perfect with the Ilocano longganisa, a garlic-flavored pork sausage also from the Ilocos region. It’s great served with adobo too.