Kare-Kare (Filipino Curry) Recipe

4 mins read

Why It Works

  • Using natural creamy peanut butter, without additives and sugar, makes the dish more savory. 
  • Roasting the vegetables separately adds layers of flavor and texture.

The origins of kare-kare—a peanut butter-based curry made with oxtail, tripe, and a wide variety of vegetables—are unclear, but there are a number of theories. It was invented in Pampanga, the culinary epicenter of the Philippines; it was originally a traditional dish of the Moro people, the native inhabitants of the archipelago; it was an attempt by Indian soldiers on British ships trying to recreate curry far from home using local annatto seeds and peanuts.

Regardless of its origins, at its core, kare-kare is comfort food, which is evident in its name. In the Philippines, if something is particularly good or desirable, it’s common practice to say its name twice, so since “kare” means “curry,” you could say that a loose translation of kare-kare is “really good curry.”

The way kare-kare is prepared and the ingredients typically used in its preparation highlight several important elements of Filipino culinary culture. Historically, most Filipinos were farmers, and like several other iconic dishes, kare-kare is a slow-cooked, one-pot affair, perfect for those who had early and long days out in the fields. The inclusion of oxtail and tripe reflects Filipinos’ embrace of a nose-to-tail eating approach and minimizing waste, and has some historical resonance, since these parts of the animal, along with other offal, were considered undesirable by Spanish colonizers. The array of vegetables added to the curry varies from region to region, depending on seasonality and availability, but nowadays typically includes long green beans, eggplants, banana blossoms, and bok choy, a mix of both native ingredients and ingredients introduced to the archipelago by international trade. 

Other ingredients also point to the way a mix of different culinary cultures have combined in the Philippines. The roasted peanuts that are ground into a paste and used to both thicken and flavor the curry, which arguably make the dish unique, point to Malay influence, and the annatto seeds (“atsuete” in Tagalog) used to tint the curry its distinctive burnt-red point to the ways in which the Spanish galleon trade introduced ingredients from Mexico.

My recipe for this rich, bold dish begins with searing then simmering the fatty oxtails with garlic, onion, scallion trimmings, and water. This long simmer yields a meaty, flavorful broth that I use to build the peanut butter-based sauce. Once you have that broth in hand, the sauce is a snap to pull together: sauté garlic and onions and combine them with the broth, peanut butter, toasted rice flour, annatto powder, and ginisang bagoong (fermented shrimp paste). To round out the dish, the vegetables are tossed with fish sauce and oil and roasted until tender. 

Served with white rice and more ginisang bagoong to provide a salty, umami kick, kare-kare is a dish that encapsulates the history and adaptability of Filipino cuisine, but it’s also just really good curry.

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