I have posted a bunch of Filipino stews on here. There’s this one, and this one, and now this one: Pinakbet. Now unlike the former two, this is not one that I have loved all my life. For some insane reason, pinakbet was not high on my list of foods to eat. I didn’t hate it or anything, I just didn’t exactly crave it. But having learned how to make it myself, and eating it all the time now, I’m not really sure why that is. Because it’s pretty obvious to adult-me that this dish is everything and more! So here’s yet another Filipino stew–Pinakbet.
Unlike the other stews that I’ve made, this one actually has everything. There’s a ton of veggies: okra, long beans, eggplant, bitter melon, butternut squash, tomatoes, onions, ginger, and garlic. There’s also bite-sized pieces of pork and shrimp. That’s literally something for everyone…unless you’re a vegan. This one isn’t for you. Each ingredient adds something to the taste and texture of this dish, creating a nice balance of sweet, salty, savory and soupy.
Now let’s talk about bagoong. What sets this stew apart from the other ones is its unique broth. The center of the broth comprises of two key ingredients. When my mom taught me this dish she said the secret is the tomatoes. You need a lot of tomatoes, and you need to cook them well! (Read: don’t over cook your vegetables, aka don’t make ’em soggy!) The tomatoes release a natural juice that sweetens the broth. Hence, tomato sauce. Then you add the bagoong.
Bagoong is a fermented fish part that tastes very much like shrimp paste. That may sound disgusting to you, but trust me it’s the center of this entire flavor profile. When you see it, it looks like a paste, like ground-up shrimp. But it’s slightly tangier than shrimp. It has more of a zing to it from it being fermented in all that salt. Other than its distinct look or taste, this little jar also packs quite the punch for your nose. Maybe that’s why I didn’t like this dish as a kid–the weird looking shrimp paste and the bittery bitter melon. Anyway, I wouldn’t recommend eating bagoong by itself. But it pairs quite nicely as a dip for mangoes, and it goes incredibly well in sauces and stews. Some even use it interchangeably with patis, or fish sauce, because of its saltiness. Either way, this stew has both bagoong and patis.
So, once you’ve cut up all your ingredients and fried your proteins, you’re ready to stew. But before that, soak your bitter melon in some water with salt. This is a trick my parents taught me to help decrease some of the bitterness in the bitter melon. It’ll still add the bitterness but not so much that it overwhelms the flavoring.
NOW you’re ready to stew. So, mix in the aromatics–the garlic, onions, and ginger. Then add the tomatoes and let them release their juices. Add the proteins back in and mix in the bagoong. You add the bagoong before the water so that it coats the proteins, adding another layer of taste to them before stewing. Add all the veggies and let it simmer until done. That’s the great thing about stews–lots of prep with almost no active cooking. You just set the fire and wait it out, which is great when you’re still trying to finish up some things from your day.
I think the lesson here is that our tastes can change. When I was a kid, I was much picker about my food–as most kids are. I had one bite of bitter melon and swore it off for the rest of my life. Now that I’m older, I understand that adding bitter melon to pinakbet–though I still don’t love it–still adds that bitterness that balances out all the sweetness in the dish. It’s about creating layers of flavor that balance out to one delicious meal. These are things I never thought about, but I have come to appreciate. So I guess I’m saying, try something new today. Try this while you’re at it! You never know…bagoong might be your new favorite thing ever.
Until next time…let me know how this one goes for you!
- 1/2 lb pork shoulder chopped
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1/2 cup onion chopped
- 1 tbsp ginger minced
- 3 medium plum tomatoes chopped
- 2 cups butternut squash peeled and cubed
- 1 lb shrimp peeled
- 1 tbsp shrimp paste
- 1 large bitter melon chopped into 1-inch pieces
- 20 pieces okra
- 1 bunch long beans cut into 2-inch pieces
- 2 large Chinese eggplants cut into thirds then halved
- 2 tbsps fish sauce
- salt + pepper to taste
Prep all the veggies. Cut the pork and peel the shrimp. Add salt and pepper to the pork and shrimp. Soak the bitter melon in warm water. Set aside.
Add some oil to a large wok pan. Add the pork and fry until lightly brown, around 4-5 minutes. Remove to plate.
Add the garlic, onions, and ginger. Saute until fragrant and soft, about 3-4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and continue cooking until the tomatoes are soft and release some juices, another 3-4 minutes.
Add the butternut squash and continue cooking until they soften, another 5 minutes. Add the shrimp paste and mix through the ingredients. Add the shrimp and pork back to the dish and mix again.
Add enough water to cover the meat three-fourths of the way. Bring to a boil on high heat. Lower the heat to a simmer.
Begin adding the vegetables starting with the bitter melon. Add them slowly and let the broth come to a simmer for a few minutes in between. Mix occasionally. Cover and simmer until everything is cooked through, about 20-25 minutes.
When it is almost finished, add the patis and mix again. Turn off the heat and serve with rice!