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People and programs 08/14/2015

Filipino cuisine is full of bold and bright flavours, but those flavours aren't always born of healthy ingredients. Norwest Co-op Community Food Centre is trying to change that in one unique community kitchen group. The Filipino Family Cooking Group takes traditional Filipino recipes and flips them on their head, creating unique, innovative, and healthy versions of family favourites. Led by Abby Legaspi, Cooking & Food Skills Programmer at Norwest, the group draws members of the large Filipino community in Winnipeg's Inkster area, most of whom are newcomers to Canada. Diabetes is a prevalent health issue in Inkster, and Legaspi hopes the program is one way to help to improve diet and health across the community.

But don’t let the name fool you. The Filipino Family Cooking Group is open to anyone who’s interested in learning more about Filipino cuisine, bringing diverse community members together over a common bond: cooking good food. And according to Abby, the group is helping build friendships: “I see people eating together during the community lunches and outside the Community Food Centre.”

The diversity of the Inkster community is reflected in all of NorWest's programming, sprouting up in the gardens as well. Stephanie Fulford, NorWest’s Garden & Food Skills Programmer, planted many South Asian and Aboriginal crops this year (watch a video tour of the garden here!), including crops native to Filipino cuisine like long eggplant, bottle gourd, bitter melon, okra, and kinchay (Chinese cilantro). “It tastes different when you’re picking it fresh and cooking it in the food,” Abby notes. And community members are loving it, as many of these ingredients are hard to find in local markets. Not only are people connecting to their traditional ingredients in the garden, but many are learning more about how food is grown. Abby tries to introduce exciting flavours whenever possible: from squash flowers to saskatoon berries, community members are excited about novel tastes fresh from the garden.

New and different ingredients inspire innovative recipes in the Filipino Family Cooking Group kitchen, with Abby at the helm pushing her group to have fun with flavours. “They can try it first at the Community Food Centre: they can feel free to experiment without spending the money.” Learning takes practice, so there’s no such thing as a mistake or wasted food in this kitchen. The groups’ favourite meal to date is wild rice paella (see recipe below). Interesting fact: Spanish cuisine has historically had a large influence on Filipino food, with dishes like paella being common to Filipino cuisine. White rice is a staple of many Filipino dishes, though, so Abby and the group experimented with different types of healthier grains like brown rice, wild rice, and quinoa.

Learning how to cook healthy food is close to Abby’s heart, and a large part of the driving mission at NorWest Co-op CFC. “For me personally, I felt like we were losing the cooking skills…we’re getting busy with work and life, and sometimes it’s easier to go out and buy meals.” All of NorWest Co-op CFC’s staff takes inspiration from the positive changes they see in people’s health. “When a person is sharing their story about how the CFC changed their eating habits and cooking skills, how it increased their ability to see food in a different perspective, that’s one of the reason why we want to work harder.” And the community is grateful for it.


- 3/4 cup quinoa
- 1 cup brown rice
- 1/4 cup wild rice
- 1 cup onion, diced
- 2 cups tomato, quartered
- 1 teaspoon garlic clove, minced
- 1 bell pepper, diced
- 1 cup chicken, cooked and shredded (about 2 chicken breasts)
- 3 teaspoons canola oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 1 cup carrot, diced
- 1/2 cup shrimp, peeled
- 1/2 tablespoon paprika
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- 1/2 tsp saffron leaves (optional)
- 1 tsp oregano
- 2 pcs bay leaves


  1. Wash brown rice and wild rice together. Soak in water for at least 20 minutes. 
  2. Wash quinoa and drain. Set aside.
  3. To make shredded chicken and broth: In a saucepan, add water and chicken, and boil until cooked. Once cooked, remove the chicken from the pan and shred the meat. Save the broth for cooking rice.
  4. Using a large casserole with tight fitting lid, heat 2 teaspoons of canola oil to sauté ½ cup onion, ½ teaspoon garlic, shredded chicken, bell pepper, shrimp and carrots. Sauté until all ingredients are cooked. Remove pan from heat and transfer the mixture into a bowl  Cover and set aside. Reuse the casserole for cooking wild rice. 
  5. Meanwhile, prepare and drain water from the brown rice mixture.
  6. Reusing the casserole used earlier, heat 1 teaspoon of canola oil. Sauté the remaining ½ cup of onion, ½ teaspoon garlic and 2 cups of tomatoes. Transfer soaked brown rice-wild rice mixture into the pot and stir until most of the rice is coated with oil. Pour 4 cups of broth to it.  Bring it to boil for 30 cover and simmer for 30 minutes to 50 minutes or until wild rice is split open; reduce heat. 
  7. Add quinoa, paprika, saffron, oregano, and bay leaves to the wild rice mixture. Add another cup of water if needed as the quinoa will absorb most of the water. Set heat to low until quinoa and wild rice is cooked. Wild rice bursts open when it's cooked, so you can tell at a glance when it's done. Quinoa cooks within 15 to 20 minutes. Stir the mixture. Add pepper and salt, adjust according to taste. 
  8. Spread rice mixture onto a serving tray. Top with chicken mixture.
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