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[Recipe] Sinantolan (guinataang santol or ginataang santol)

I enjoy cooking new dishes and I have been wanting to try this one for several months now. So when I saw some santol (cotton fruit or Sandoricum koetjape) in the nearby fruit stall, I got really excited to try cooking sinantolan (or sometimes called guinataang santol) for the first time.

I have first tasted sinantolan when a friend invited me over for lunch early this year. I was suitably impressed and couldn't quite tell what it is made of. It tasted meaty (some recipes do add minced meat but the one I tasted was just the fruit) with a hint of sourness (it actually reminded me of guinataang langka but with a more intense flavor). A good accompaniment dish for fried and grilled main dishes or enjoyed on its own with freshly cooked rice. At that particular point in time, I have not even heard of sinantolan, only having heard of sinigang sa santol as a savory preparation for the fruit (wherein you use santol as the primary souring agent). The sinantolan dish is quite popular in the Quezon province, Lagna, and in the Bicol region in the Philippines.

As mentioned earlier, some versions of this dish add minced or ground pork, shrimps, or fresh alamang (krill). My version incorporates chopped bacon and taba ng talangka (bottled river crab fat) for that extra boost in flavor.

**Update August 2019: Check out this video tutorial.

2 kilos santol fruit, peeled with seed and pulp removed then finely diced
400 ml coconut milk
2 cups pork stock (or water with pork bouillon cube)
2 medium-sized onions, diced
1 bulb of garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons bagoong (fermented shrimp paste)
2 Tablespoon toyo (salty soy sauce)
200 grams bacon, diced
3 Tablespoons taba ng talangka (bottled river crab fat)
3 pcs siling labuyo or alternately bird eye chilies, or lesser spicy varieties, chopped (optional)
4 tablespoons of sea salt
Salt, pepper and cayenne pepper to taste

Dices santol flesh (peeled and with the pulpy seed removed)

Onions and garlic

Remove excess moisture from the santol flesh by first mashing it with about 4 tablespoons of salt then wrapping it in cheesecloth and wringing it until all the juices come out. The salt will help draw out the moisture from the santol flesh. To reduce the sourness of the santol you can rehydrate it with water again and wring it for the second time. Set aside.

The santol flesh with the extra moisture removed using a cheesecloth

In a large wok, saute the onion, chilies, and garlic in a little bit of oil. Once the onion caramelizes a bit, add the diced bacon, bagoong, and crab fat, and stir-fry for a few minutes letting the bacon fat render out. Add the diced santol and mix it all in. Add the coconut milk, pork broth, and the soy sauce, and let it simmer. The santol should absorb some of the liquids after a few minutes. Continue simmering until the santol has lost most of its tartness, adding more water if needed. Once the santol is cooked through (it took over 2 hours in my case since I suspect I did not dice it fine enough), let the liquid reduce thoroughly until some of the coconut milk releases some of its oil. You will need to constantly stir during this later part of the cooking process so the coconut milk will not burn at the bottom of the pan. Add salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper to your preference. 

Serve as an appetizer, a side dish, or eat it on its own with freshly cooked rice. Enjoy.

Sinantolan in the wok

Some additional notes:

- Only the brown rind is used for this dish. You can enjoy eating the pulpy seeds with a bit of salt or salty soy sauce.

- It is important to squeeze out most of the moisture from the santol rind using a cheesecloth to reduce the sourness. Optionally, you can wet the rind again with some water to further reduce the sourness. Removing the extra juices also makes sure that the santol rind can better absorb the coconut milk and other flavors.

- Constant stirring is required towards the end of the cooking (when the coconut milk has sufficiently reduced) to prevent from burning the coconut milk.

- When tasting the dish, some tartness is normal when the rind is not yet fully cooked. This should go away as the santol rind is cooked longer (there will still be some mild tartness left in the end).

- Adjust the number of chopped chilies in the recipe depending on your preference. Typically it is a bit spicy. You can remove the seeds first to make it milder.

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