It’s so easy to complicate this soup with the addition of carrots, corn cobs and some other greens like broccoli. But I prefer the simpler, Pinoy version, with just the basic ingredients of beef shanks, potatoes, cabbage and/or green beans.

Keeping it simple and Pinoy: Beef Shanks, Potatoes, Cabbage, Green Beans. Don't forget the Patis!

That’s how my grandfather, a butcher, preferred his nilagang baka too. In his family, beef – an expensive meat, even to someone who worked in an abattoir – was served only on Sundays. But what he brought home was always good, fresh beef, of such quality that it could be served in nothing more than a clear, well-seasoned broth, with nothing else that would overwhelm the pure beef taste, perhaps just some potatoes and cabbage, to make a more substantial fare for his family of 10 kids.

I made this soup for the first time for my friend G. He had told me it was his favorite, and I also knew of his dread of the colder months and the inevitable winter. The temp had started to drop, and I couldn’t think of a more comforting dish to serve than nilagang baka : beef simmered to fall-off-the-bone tenderness, its broth ladled generously onto a bowl of rice, a hot and steamy dish usually served – and so curiously perfect – on a summer day.

In Toronto, with potatoes and cabbage available even during the coldest, bleakest of months, this could well be the soup for our winters. Winter – I’d like to think – is nothing but a longing for home.


3 lbs of beef shanks

1 white or yellow onion, peeled and quartered

10-15 peppercorns

1-2 bay leaves


2 large potatoes, peeled and quartered

1/2 medium cabbage head, sliced into quarters

1 bunch of haricots verts, ends trimmed and stringy parts removed

patis/salt and pepper to taste

Wash meat thoroughly. Place in a stock pot and add enough water to cover. Add onions, peppercorns and bay leaves. Simmer until tender, skimming the scum off the top.

Drain broth. If you have time, chill in refrigerator overnight to remove excess fat that solidifies on the surface.

Add potatoes to broth and continue to simmer until potatoes are cooked but firm. Add cabbage and green beans, then turn heat off  and cover. Steam the vegetables for 5 minutes or until tender, yet still green and crisp.

Season with patis/salt and pepper. Serve hot with steamed white rice. Serves 4.