Subject of discussion at a dinner with relatives in Bohol: breakfast comfort food that my mom used to cook… and top of the list was a ground meat torta, fried baby dilis (anchovies) patties made with egg, and other such goodies. The next morning, my brother and his wife invited me over for breakfast and they prepared a veritable feast that included fried fresh lapu-lapu, steamed shrimp that were alive minutes before, dilis patties and of course, a good version of mom’s old torta with ground meat. The name torta is really kind of bizarre because literally translated from Spanish it means pie or tart. And in Bohol, there is a very well known torta delicacy that is in fact a cake made with tons of egg yolks. So how did this egg and meat dish which is very close to an Italian frittata get its name? We may never know for sure…but it is delicious and very easy to make.
Every house probably has a slightly different set of ingredients in their torta. Our house typically had these: ground or minced beef, eggs, onions (red if you want sharper flavor and color, Spanish onions if you don’t have anything else), red bell pepper (native rather than the fancy capsicums you find now), tomatoes, green onions, salt and pepper. Others like to put some minced garlic but I find the flavor a bit overwhelming. Chop the onions, bell pepper and green onions finely. Peel and de-seed the tomato and chop finely as well. Put whatever proportion of ingredients suits you. I find that I set aside the ground beef, then all other ingredients are a little less in volume than the beef before cooking.
To cook, heat up a medium sized non-stick teflon pan. Add some vegetable oil and when the oil is hot, saute the onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, and green onions until they are just cooked. Add the ground beef and saute until the red is gone and the beef is well crumbled. Season with salt and pepper. Remove the mixture and put it in a bowl. Cool the meat mixture a bit for 2-3 minutes then add some beaten eggs and mix this all up. Add vegetable oil to the same pan (I like to use butter because it tastes better and browns nicely but you risk the torta sticking to the pan…) and turn the heat up. Add all of the meat and egg mixture and shake the pan to spread it out evenly. Keep over a medium high heat until it browns to your liking. The next step is the only hairy part. You need to place a plate over your pan and flip the torta over before sliding it back into the pan to cook a bit more. This is hairy as all kinds of mishaps can occur for the torta novice. To avoid this step, I think you can put the whole pan in a hot oven and that would effectively cook both sides without having to flip. But if you want to do it the way mom used to, do the flip. Serve soon after and yes, ketchup is the preferred partner along with hot steamed rice. Yum. It was our Sunday breakfast yesterday.