Ube is a Philippine root crop and is more known in the States as Purple Yam. It is richer and darker in color than Taro, which Ube is easily mistaken for. As fresh produce, Ube is very hard to find in grocery stores, but Ube is available in frozen and powder form at most Asian stores.
This is a recipe I learned from my dad. I remember my dad making this only on special occasions, like the Fiesta, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, as it required alot of stirring over a wood fire. To pass time, my sister and I used to roast cashews freshly picked off a Cashew tree in a bonfire of leaves, Siga in Tagalog, part to clean the garden off the dead leaves and part to smoke the trees. We’d watch the cashews pop one by one in the fire while we wait for the Ube to cook under a Santol tree in my Lolo’s garden.
My Lolo, Grandpa, believed that smoking the trees strengthen the trees health. I never thought of it when I was younger, but now I know that smoking the trees killed the bugs that lived there, which improved the trees health. I still love the smell of roasting leaves, which I got a chance to smell again when we were stationed in Guam, two years ago. As kids, we were allowed to mix the liquid Ube batter on the open fire but once it thickened, my Dad and my Grandpa would switch with one another because it took several hours to cook such a large batch.
Ube is one of my favorite dessert because I associate it with my dad. We used to use fresh purple yam we buy by kilos at the palengke, or market, where freshly cut meat hung on hooks, freshly caught fish laid on ice, fresh fruits to taste before buying, and people with their wicker baskets bustled along the streets to get fresh ingredients for lunch and dinner meal. My job was during the Ube process was to put the yam through the “meat” grater so that it is more manageable to cook. And just as any kid, I was happy to have responsibilites for the upcoming feast.
Since moving to Japan, I have been making Ube on my own, and have been successful as well. It’s fairly easy and slightly modernized, but as typically of filipino dessert dishes, it still requires a lot of stirring. The effort is worth it for me because it has always been part of Christmas for me growing up. My kids love this dessert as well. We put it in Pandesal, Chicharon, or roll it in sugar to make Pastillas/candy. When you make and eat this, say a little blessing for my dad who helped you enjoy this. I wish you success and good eating.
To make Ube halaya, the ingredients needed are:
1 Package of 8 oz. frozen ube (or 1 Packet dry/powdered ube)
1 can condensed milk
1 can evaporated milk
8-10 tbsp. refined sugar
The directions are as follow:
*If you are using frozen ube, boil it in water first so that it can be mashed up. Think, mashed potatoes.)
1. Mix the ube, condensed milk, evaporated milk in a shallow frying pan.
2. Place in medium heat, stiring every so often to prevent the bottom from crusting/burning.
3. Mixture should start to thicken, and at approximately 40 minutes, Ube should be dry to touch. Add the sugar.
4. The sugar will liquify. Keep mixing until it’s dry to touch and consistency is clay like.
5. Remove from heat and set aside. Butter a plate and place ube yam and flaten evenly on the plate using slightly buttered spoon.
6. Serve hot or cold. This can be pre-made and refrigerated to avoid pressing for time.
If you are interested in seeing a video on how to make Ube, here’s a video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VyIB_yM73aU.