Tropical Cooking with Travel Man: Hot and Spicy Pili Nuts in Cabbage Rolls

What's Hot and Spicy about Bicol Cuisine?

Bicol, Philippines is the home of the hottest and spiciest food delicacies in the Philippine archipelago.

Surely, you will whistle with hotness as you savor our local food menu if you happen to visit our place, where the majestic Mayon volcano of Albay, the Butanding of Sorsgon, the surfing waves of Bagasbas, Camarines Norte in the Pacific, the hidden gardens of Caramoan peninsula in Camarines Sur and a lot of natural attraction and memorable places here in the region.

Food and dining is literally a hot topic here in my place.

If you have a quick stop in Naga City or linger for a day in the downtown area, you'll surely taste the hotness of the toppings of simple congee (rice porridge or lugaw) or our noodle soup with pork meat strips or kinalas .

Or if you're adventurous enough to eat one order of Bicol express (all but slices of fiery pepper in coconut milk with slices of pork meat and tiny shrimps, we call balaw ( akin to krill variety), you'll surely ask for more white rice.

You should never miss the dishes out of gabi leaves (whether dried or fresh), such as laing (cooked in coconut milk with cleaned flesh of smoked fish and pork slices or jus simple dried leaves in coconut milk with lots of labuyo pepper).

Worthy of mention is the Pinangat (Gabi leaf-wrapped mixture of ground young coconut meat with mixture of shrimps and small river crabs, spiced with lemon grass or tanglad) boiled in coconut milk.

As you will notice, Bicol Cuisine uses lots of coconut milk and pepper.

I surely believe that our dishes are greatly influenced by both Thai and Indonesian cuisines due to its hotness and spiciness.

So, in this tune, I decided to join the invitation of the local branch of Department of Trade and Industry by promoting our local dishes to the next level.

Out of the ordinary dishes we usually cook everyday,we should come up with upgraded dishes using the main ingredients of coconut milk and pepper and the featured fusion ingredient: PILI NUTS.

Coconut Milk, Pepper and Pili Nuts

This year's theme for the 4th Bicol Trade and Food Exposition (staged last Sept. 18, 2015 at Sm-Naga City) leaned heavily on the uses of coconut milk, hot pepper and pili nuts as main ingredients.

Two categories were bared: School Category and Open Category for enthusiasts, like me.

Participating schools and individuals will be judged according to the taste, richness and innovation of the dish; table setting (skirting, napkin folding, and the decoration) and the plating of the dish.

Barely a week when I heard about it from a friend who's a culinary instructor at a private college, They, too, have a only a week to prepare an innovative dish using the three main ingredients.

I've chosen Pili Nuts to comprise huge quantity of my ingredients.

What came to my mind was to upgrade our Bicol dish called Pinangat.

Instead of gabi leaves, I will be using cabbage leaves in order to wrap a hot and spicy mixture of sliced green peppers and finely chopped sauteed with rice and pili grass and spices,then boiled until it is served as an innovation called:

HOT & SPICY PILI NUTS in CABBAGE ROLLS!!!

The Hotness and Spiciness that you'll surely love with my dish

My Entry to the 4th BITFEX last Sept. 18,2015 @ SM Naga City, Philippines Photo Source: Ireno A. Alcala
My Entry to the 4th BITFEX last Sept. 18,2015 @ SM Naga City, Philippines Photo Source: Ireno A. Alcala

Rate my dish, please...

4 stars from 1 rating of Hot & Spice Pili Nuts in Cabbage Rolls

Pili Nuts as special delicacy in the Bicol region and its Health Benefits

When I was child, my mother used to submerge pili nuts with its purple flesh (edible covering) in lukewarm water to soften it and be eaten. Don't expect to boil it because the pili covering will just harden.

Pili trees abound in the region and became a staple food of our ancestors even before the colonizers came (Spaniards, Americans, Japanese to mention a few).

It's difficult for me to shell out the nutty seeds but farmers do it with ease.

Pili nut, the nut of any tree of the genus Canarium (family Burseraceae), particularly the edible nut of the Philippine tree Canarium ovatum.

No one knows the exact history of the cultivation of Pili trees but it is now part of the massive culture program of the Department of Agriculture (DA) since its demand as part of the sweets industry is overwhelming.

It is also used as extenders in making chocolate products.

If you visit our place, souvenir shops will always have Pili nut products which will entice you to have some to be enjoyed and savored with as you arrive home.

Health-wise, itis considered the King of Nuts (aside from coconuts) since it contains more Vitamin E than any other nuts and prevents cholesterol from becoming plaques in our blood, thus preventing cardiovascular and thrombotic diseases.

Pili nuts contain the highest magnesium level than any other kind of nuts. Magnesium is important in our body in order to maintain healthy nerves, muscles and bones.

Not only that, its essential amino acids (externally sourced protein) support healthy blood sugar levels, development of muscle tissue, hormone production, energy regulation, healthy bones and skin, brain balance, liver detoxification, and nerve cell health.

And above all, Pili nuts refreshes our brain functions due to its omega content.

The Abundance of Pili Nuts in Bicol region

PILI NUTS Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
PILI NUTS Photo Source: Ireno Alcala

Pili Nuts, my main ingredient in this dish

Believe it or not, I am crossed between using pili nuts in my dish or just forgetting my plan to join the contest.

Basically, pili nuts are for making sweets (candied pili nuts, roasted peanuts, caramelized pili nuts, pili nuts tart and all) and making it as the main ingredient was not on my list while contemplating as to how can I come up with a new recipe from the usual Bicolano dishes.

Going to the market and looking for the ripe pili nuts was an easy one because it is endemic in the region.

It's still a week, and the pili pulp or flesh just melted because of the humidity at home. So, I had to store it at the freezer of our refrigerator to extend its shelf life.


Can you climb this Pili tree?

This is a century-old Pili tree at Mampirao, San Jose, Camarines Sur (Bicol, Philippines) Photo Source:www.panoramio.com
This is a century-old Pili tree at Mampirao, San Jose, Camarines Sur (Bicol, Philippines) Photo Source:www.panoramio.com

Preparing & Cooking my Hot & Spicy Pili Nuts in Cabbage Rolls

Prep time: 15 min
Cook time: 20 min
Ready in: 35 min
Yields: Serves 3 persons

The Ingredients of My Hot & Spice Pili Nut Cabbage Rolls

  • 1 cup pili nuts, chopped
  • 1 cup pepper, sliced
  • 2 cups coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons rice, long grain
  • 1 bulb onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper, ground
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 3 tablespoon Patis (fish sauce)
  • 1 teaspoon pili grass (dill weed), chopped

Procedure on How to Cook the Hot & Spice Pili Nuts-Cabbage Rolls

  1. Grate in a grinder or hand-chop pili nuts into fine mixture.Set aside.
  2. Slice the long hot pepper, diagonally. Remove seeds then set aside.
  3. For Spices, chop the onion and garlic finely. Ground black pepper finely.
  4. Saute onion, then the garlic, chopped pili nut , sliced pepper and dash or ground black pepper in cooking oil.Add little rice and the chopped pili grass.Simmer until half-cooked.
  5. Wrap in a boiled cabbage leaf one tablespoon of sauteed pili nut mixture.
  6. Boil in coconut milk on a flat pan until done.

Here's How I Cooked My Dish

Click thumbnail to view full-size
PILI NUTS & PILI GRASS (Dill Weed) Photo Source: Ireno AlcalaThis is me, preparing my ingredients for HOT & SPICY PILI NUTS in CABBAGE ROLLS. Photo Source: Ireno AlcalaIngredients for HOT & SPICY PILI NUTS in CABBAGE ROLLS Photo Source: Ireno AlcalaI removed the seeds of green pepper to lessen the hotness. Photo Source: Ireno AlcalaChopped onion in small pieces, the same with garlic, sliced pepper and the most important one, finely chopped pili nuts. Photo Source: Ireno AlcalaSauteing pili nuts , rice, spices and enhancing the flavor with patis, or fish sauce. Photo Source: Ireno AlcalaAdding body to the mixture is little amount of coconut milk, until half-done. Photo Source: Ireno AlcalaWrapping the pili nut mixture in boiled cabbage leaves. Photo Source: Ireno AlcalaBoiling the cabbage rolls. Photo Source: Ireno AlcalaIts done after 20 minutes. The HOT & SPICY PILI NUTS in CABBAGE ROLLS are now ready to be served! Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
PILI NUTS & PILI GRASS (Dill Weed) Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
PILI NUTS & PILI GRASS (Dill Weed) Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
This is me, preparing my ingredients for HOT & SPICY PILI NUTS in CABBAGE ROLLS. Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
This is me, preparing my ingredients for HOT & SPICY PILI NUTS in CABBAGE ROLLS. Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
Ingredients for HOT & SPICY PILI NUTS in CABBAGE ROLLS Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
Ingredients for HOT & SPICY PILI NUTS in CABBAGE ROLLS Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
I removed the seeds of green pepper to lessen the hotness. Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
I removed the seeds of green pepper to lessen the hotness. Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
Chopped onion in small pieces, the same with garlic, sliced pepper and the most important one, finely chopped pili nuts. Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
Chopped onion in small pieces, the same with garlic, sliced pepper and the most important one, finely chopped pili nuts. Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
Sauteing pili nuts , rice, spices and enhancing the flavor with patis, or fish sauce. Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
Sauteing pili nuts , rice, spices and enhancing the flavor with patis, or fish sauce. Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
Adding body to the mixture is little amount of coconut milk, until half-done. Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
Adding body to the mixture is little amount of coconut milk, until half-done. Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
Wrapping the pili nut mixture in boiled cabbage leaves. Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
Wrapping the pili nut mixture in boiled cabbage leaves. Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
Boiling the cabbage rolls. Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
Boiling the cabbage rolls. Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
Its done after 20 minutes. The HOT & SPICY PILI NUTS in CABBAGE ROLLS are now ready to be served! Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
Its done after 20 minutes. The HOT & SPICY PILI NUTS in CABBAGE ROLLS are now ready to be served! Photo Source: Ireno Alcala

The Usefulness of Other Ingredients in my Main Dish

Hot peppers abound in our place. Most farmers favor the growing of many varieties (sweet bell peppers, cayenne, bird's eye chili peppers or the labuyo) in order to meet the needs of local market and the restaurant owners. The hot varieties are often exported abroad.

Fresh cayenne peppers, red or green, are rich source of vitamin-C. Vitamin-C is a potent water soluble antioxidant. It is required for the collagen synthesis in the body. Collagen is one of the main structural protein inside the body required for maintaining the integrity of blood vessels, skin, organs, and bones. Regular consumption of foods rich in vitamin C helps the body protect from scurvy; develop resistance against infectious agents (boosts immunity) and scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals from the body. It is also the richest source of vitamin A among spices.

Meanwhile, cabbages are grown during summer season and as alternative crop after harvesting rice.

Fresh cabbage is an excellent source of natural antioxidant, vitamin C. It helps the body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals.It also contains a adequate amount of minerals like potassium, manganese, iron, and magnesium.

Harvesting Pili Nuts

Ten hectares of good farmland can hold 2,500 fruit-bearing Pili trees. Photo Source: chris-bech.com
Ten hectares of good farmland can hold 2,500 fruit-bearing Pili trees. Photo Source: chris-bech.com

Nutritional Value of Hot & Spicy Pili Nuts in Cabbage Rolls

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: One Cup or Three Pili Cabbage Rolls
Calories 863
Calories from Fat855
% Daily Value *
Fat 95 g146%
Saturated fat 37 g185%
Unsaturated fat 54 g
Carbohydrates 11 g4%
Sugar 0 g
Fiber 3 g12%
Protein 46 g92%
Cholesterol 0 mg
Sodium 4 mg
* The Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so your values may change depending on your calorie needs. The values here may not be 100% accurate because the recipes have not been professionally evaluated nor have they been evaluated by the U.S. FDA.

Where to Find Information on Calories


  1. MyFitnessPal for providing me information about my ideal weight and of course, the health benefits of my food intake.
  2. Nutrition.Data.Self for the information and health facts about the ingredients I've used in this dish.

Note: I'm not an expert in putting all the health contents of my dish. I just based my data from the main ingredients that I've used. My apologies for the errors.

Homegrown Pili trees abound in our place.

Volcanic organic pili nuts are native to the Philippines and are considered a tropical to semi-tropical tree, they start producing nuts after just 1 year.

If I'm to compare, pili nuts or pili kernels taste like macadamias. But instead of being round and hard, they’re long and soft. It melts easily in your mouth, like chocolate.

It also tastes like butter but during my childhood days, my other used to cure my constipation by eating me eat lots of it.

As it is eaten raw, roasted or modified with other ingredients, it is now being the most-sought-after tree in the region because of its importance in the culinary industry.

Many farmlands are being converted into hectares of pili trees.

The demands locally and abroad are very high, so farmers are convinced that with its year-round yield, those Pili trees can alleviate poverty in the country.

Small-scale to large productions of Pili trees encouraged business owners to turn into organic farming.

Almost all parts of the pili nut tree ( the nuts, the pulp, the nut shell, the bark, the roots, the leaves) are commercially useful. Jewelry, Cosmetics, Medicines, Food, recipes, Health foods, Sport Nutritious Bars, Peanut Butter, Cooking oils, Furniture, construction lumber, hydroponic soil medium, charcoal briquettes, name it...the list goes on and on.


Pili Nuts, mouth-watering as ever...

PILI NUTS (KERNELS) Photo Source:http://organicpilinuts.com/
PILI NUTS (KERNELS) Photo Source:http://organicpilinuts.com/

Understanding my Goals in Promoting PILI

To all Bicolanos, especially the farmers, promoting Pili Industry is now backed up with the natioal government, since it is now one of the main sources of livelihood, aside from rice framing in our region.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Region V always include PILI products in their exhibits.

It becomes an advocacy to always introduce our Pili products to local and foreign tourists.

By the way, you can watch the video below, as presented by DTI-Region V introducing the relevance of PILI in the lives of Bicolanos, as part of its tourism industry, too.

Meet the Pili courtesy of Shifting Shades

It's not just about my recipe

Even I only landed the Top 10 spot at the Open category of the 4th BITFEX among the 19 entrants (most groups of students and teachers), I tried convincing the judges (chefs of national and regional restaurants and teachers at the academe) that my dish, "HOT & SPICY PILI NUTS in CABBAGE ROLLS" will be on their next order.

Highlights of the 4th Bicol Trade and Food Expo (BITFEX) last Sept. 18, 2015 @ SM, Naga City, Bicol, Philippines

Click thumbnail to view full-size
THIS IS ME (MINUS THE CHEF's HAT), TRAVELMAN1971 aka Ireno Alcala  DURINGTHE AFTERNOON's OPEN CATEGORY Photo Source: Mysdhonz De Jesus BrillanteSTUDENT-CHEFS DURING THE MORNING FOOD EXHIBITION Photo Source: Ireno AlcalaTHE MPCF (MARINERS) CULINARY STUDENTS Photo Source: Ireno AlcalaTHE ITALIAN-INSPIRED PILI-NUT DISH, WINNING GRAND PRIZE IN THE STUDENT CATEGORY (MPCF-MARINERS) Photo Source; Ireno AlcalaWATERMELON CARVING (Virgin of Peñafrancia) Photo Source: Ireno AlcalaWATERMELON CARVING (Swan) Photo Source: Ireno AlcalaSQUID DISH IN PILI NUT SAUCE Photo Source: Ireno AlcalaGRILLED SALMON & PILI NUT-FLAVORED SIDE DISH Photo Source: Ireno AlcalaGRILLED SHRIMP in CAMIA SAUCE COOKED in COCONUT MILK Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
THIS IS ME (MINUS THE CHEF's HAT), TRAVELMAN1971 aka Ireno Alcala  DURINGTHE AFTERNOON's OPEN CATEGORY Photo Source: Mysdhonz De Jesus Brillante
THIS IS ME (MINUS THE CHEF's HAT), TRAVELMAN1971 aka Ireno Alcala DURINGTHE AFTERNOON's OPEN CATEGORY Photo Source: Mysdhonz De Jesus Brillante
STUDENT-CHEFS DURING THE MORNING FOOD EXHIBITION Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
STUDENT-CHEFS DURING THE MORNING FOOD EXHIBITION Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
THE MPCF (MARINERS) CULINARY STUDENTS Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
THE MPCF (MARINERS) CULINARY STUDENTS Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
THE ITALIAN-INSPIRED PILI-NUT DISH, WINNING GRAND PRIZE IN THE STUDENT CATEGORY (MPCF-MARINERS) Photo Source; Ireno Alcala
THE ITALIAN-INSPIRED PILI-NUT DISH, WINNING GRAND PRIZE IN THE STUDENT CATEGORY (MPCF-MARINERS) Photo Source; Ireno Alcala
WATERMELON CARVING (Virgin of Peñafrancia) Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
WATERMELON CARVING (Virgin of Peñafrancia) Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
WATERMELON CARVING (Swan) Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
WATERMELON CARVING (Swan) Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
SQUID DISH IN PILI NUT SAUCE Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
SQUID DISH IN PILI NUT SAUCE Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
GRILLED SALMON & PILI NUT-FLAVORED SIDE DISH Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
GRILLED SALMON & PILI NUT-FLAVORED SIDE DISH Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
GRILLED SHRIMP in CAMIA SAUCE COOKED in COCONUT MILK Photo Source: Ireno Alcala
GRILLED SHRIMP in CAMIA SAUCE COOKED in COCONUT MILK Photo Source: Ireno Alcala

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2 comments

MsDora profile image

MsDora 12 months ago from The Caribbean

Thanks for introducing the pili nuts; never seen or heard of them before. I feel the heat (of the pepper) just looking at your presentation; but I love anything cooked with coconut milk, so I know I would try it. Congratulations on being in the top ten!


travel_man1971 profile image

travel_man1971 12 months ago from Bicol, Philippines Author

@MsDora:Thank you, Ms. Dora. Pili nuts are crunchy, so, you have to chopped it very finely for a good result.

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