Laing (gabi/taro leaves cooked in coconut milk) is best eaten as a side dish, not as the main event. It is absolutely delicious when done right but oozes with coconut oil, garlic and chilli. A palate shocker, its spiciness is determined by how much chilli you put and how long it sits before being consumed. Some people make a relatively mild laing then correctly serve a super spicy bicol express to mix into the laing to notch up the heat quotient for chilli addicts. My entry on taro leaves was posted a couple of days ago, before the tragic events in Bohol where dozens of school children were killed after eating fried cassava snacks. It is not yet known exactly what caused the food poisoning but it certainly reminds you to treat some types of food with great care. So, I said it before, and let me say it again – raw taro leaves do contain some poisonous compounds or irritants and they should never be eaten raw.
Version 1: Laing with Dried Fish. Ingredients: About 10-12 cups of dried gabi or taro leaves (market vendors sell-pre-dried leaves and the drying helps to mitigate the oxalic acids in the fresh leaves). You can start with fresh leaves and dry it yourself if you like. 2-3 cups of thin coconut milk. 1-1.5 cups of thick coconut milk. 3-5 large pieces of daing or salted fish with bones removed (use meat only), some minced garlic to taste (I like a lot – say 6 cloves). 4-7 siling labuyo. The ingredients are quite imprecise because dried Laing seems to be rather absorbent and sometimes you need more liquid. So I tend to cook up the liquid then put in the dried laing, reserving some until the consistency of the dish becomes apparent. Method: In a medium to large pot, put all the ingredients except the gabi leaves and cook for 15+ minutes until it is thicker. It will appear oily and that is good. Add most but not all of the gabi leaves and check consistency. If it looks like it can take more leaves, add immediately. Some people like a soupier Laing and others a consistency more like creamed spinach. Simmer this for at least 10-15 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent the bottom from burning. Taste and season generously with salt (particularly if the daing you used wasn’t salty enough). I like it served hot but others serve it at room temperature. If it sits for hours, the chilli gets more pronounced.
Version 2: Laing with Prawns. I experimented with this recipe for all those people out there who do not have access to fresh coconut milk but still want a hit of laing. Ingredients: About 10-12 cups of dried gabi or taro leaves. 2-3 cans of unsweetened coconut milk. 10-15 small prawns or large shrimp (personally, I liked the variation with lots of prawns – more like prawns with Laing than the other way around), 4-6 cloves of minced garlic. 4-7 siling labuyo or if you live abroad I tried two minced jalapeno peppers that worked well. Salt. Put everything except the prawns and gabi leaves in a pot and allow it to reach a boil. Put flame to medium and add shrimp. After 1-2 mintues, add the gabi leaves and cook another 12-15 mintues at a medium simmer, stirring to keep stuff from sticking to the bottom. Adjust leaves to get your desired consistency. The top photo shows my version of Laing with Prawns. The third photo here shows the ingredients for the Laing with dried fish. Don’t forget to serve with Bicol Express – it’s a match made in Malate (read the Bicol Express entry if you are scratching your head).