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Celebrate Filipino Heritage Month with chicken adobo and crispy banana fritters

Chef Leah Cohen tapped into her Filipina heritage to help reach her full potential as a chef.
/ Source: TODAY

Growing up half-Filipina, I never thought my mother's food would become my life's work, but after spending years honing my skills as a chef preparing other people's food, I knew that the only way to reach my potential would be to tap into my heritage.

Leah Cohen (left) with her mom.
Leah Cohen (left) with her mom.Courtesy Leah Cohen

I was four years old when we took our first trip to the Philippines, ate my first bite of lumpia Shanghai and halo-halo. Year after year we would go back, and I continued to explore and learn how to prepare authentic Filipino food. These trips became my joy, a way to learn, explore and escape from my day-to-day in New York City.

Chicken Adobo

While lumpia Shanghai may have been the first Filipino food that my mother served me, chicken adobo was the first Filipino dish that she taught me how to cook. Chicken adobo is a simple, one-pot dish with five staples that all Filipinos have on hand — soy sauce, vinegar, black pepper, garlic and bay leaves. I add in a few more ingredients to really amplify the flavor. While working in other kitchens over the years, this has always been my go-to staff meal. It is easy to make, and while it braises away in the oven, I can get my prep done. Most importantly, the staff always loves it. Now I make it for my son, Carter G. It is one of his most loved dishes.

Turon (Crisp Banana Fritters)

Turon and halo-halo are the most popular desserts in the Philippines. We know halo-halo was one of my first bites in the Philippines — and it's a wildly popular dish on my Pig & Khao menu here in NYC — but it's not the easiest dish to make. Turon, on the other hand, is much easier to make. It is like the dessert version of lumpia — a sweet spring roll filled with banana, jackfruit and brown sugar.

If you like those flavorful Filipino recipes, you should also try these:

Filipino Chicken Skewers
Natalie Coughlin's Grandma's Lumpia