Inihaw na Liempo Shishkabobs
Inihaw na Liempo is Filipino pork belly barbecue. And to me, shishkabob, or shashlik, is anything grilled on a stick. These inihaw na liempo kabobs were inspired by the many delicious Filipino barbecue recipes I have made from Yasmin Newman's cookbook 7,000 Islands: A Food Portrait of the Philippines, alongside all the fun memories I have of skewering and grilling shishkabobs on the grill at my parents' house in Rhode Island. Barbecue is a universal summer food, so I decided to bring these diverged barbecue traditions together for something addictively umami, juicy, and sweet.
This recipe makes 8-12 kabobs, depending how meaty you like them. You can find Filipino cane sugar vinegar at most Asian grocery stores and the international section of some major chain stores. You can make this recipe kosher (or lower in calories) by substituting boneless skin-on chicken thighs for pork belly, and adding 2 tbsp of banana ketchup to the marinade will dye the meat to look pork-like.
For the meat and marinade:
1.5 lbs pork belly, preferably skin-on, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 cup coconut or cane sugar vinegar
1/4 cup soy or tamari sauce
1 tbsp dark sweet soy sauce (I use Indonesian Kecap Manis, but you can use any variety)
1 tbsp coconut sugar or brown sugar
1 medium onion, sliced
6 cloves of garlic, crushed/smashed to release their juices
1 tsp white pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
One medium pineapple, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 medium onion, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1 tbsp neutral oil, such as refined sunflower or
medium-hot green chilies (optional)
sawsawan (dipping sauce) of your choice, to serve
white rice, to serve
Mix all ingredients for the marinade together. Massage into the pork belly chunks. Transfer to large ziploc bag and place in the refrigerator to marinade at least 4 hours and up to 24.
Remove the pork belly from the refrigerator and let it come to temperature.
Preheat your grill to a high heat while you assemble the skewers.
Assemble the skewers. I like to bookend them with the pineapple because it stays put well on both ends of the skewer. Alternate the meat, pineapple, onion, and pepper if using. Leave about 1/4 inch of space between meat and vegetables so they cook evenly. Make sure to scrape any chunks of onion or garlic off from the marinade off of the pork, otherwise they will burn.
Dab a paper towel into the neutral oil, then use grill tongs to grease the top rack of the grill. Place the skewers on the top rack (depending on the size of your grill, you may need to grill these in multiple batches). Turn the burners down to medium-low, and close the grill.
Check on the skewers after 4 minutes. There may be some char marks from flare ups (the pork belly fat will cause a few). If they look pleasantly caramelized with charred edges, flip over and cook on the other side for another 4 minutes. If the pork belly is still very wet/pink looking, close lid and cook another 1-2 minutes before flipping. If they are charred in lots of places, flip over and turn the heat to low, then cook another 3-4 minutes. They are ready when the pork is cooked through and evenly caramelized on both sides. The pineapple should be partially burnt/caramelized on the outside but still firm, but it will taste good in any state of cooked.
Remove skewers from the grill. Allow 2-3 skewers per person. Serve with white rice and your favorite sour sawsawan. This dish is also excellent with a quick-pickled cucumber salad.
Though this pork—a treif meat, meaning that does not adhere to Jewish dietary laws of kashrut—is a decidedly un-Jewish addition to shishkabobs, I want to take a moment to share that the Filipino element is not inherently un-Jewish. Though my American Jewish experience is from an Ashkenazi, Eastern European Jewish background, the world of Jewish foods and cultures spans globally. Sephardic Jews—Jews from Spain, Portugal, and Italy—were actually the first wave of Jewish immigrants (or settlers, or colonizers, depending on how you frame it. All phrasings carry some truth) were some of the first to arrive in the New World. Conversos—Jews and Muslims who were forced to convert to Christianity during the Inquisition—were citizens of Spain and Portugal because they were Christian, but they were often persecuted for practicing their traditional rituals in secret. Conversos could escape the auto-de-fe by moving to Spain's distant colonies, including the Philippines. Sephardic Jews and formerly Jewish conversos continued to practice Jewish religious rituals, though they were not organized due to the continuous threat of persecution.
Sephardic cuisine is a majorly rich aspect of Jewish food. Dishes rely more on rice than wheat and include lots of chickpeas, eggplant, tomatoes, artichokes, pomegranates, olives, fresh fruits, and aromatic spices. Their flavors and ingredients are more directly tied to Jews' Middle Eastern/Central Asian origins.