Sunday, January 22, 2017

Mom's Pinakbet (vegetable stew) is a tasty sure bet!

Mom's Pinakbet.. and I helped her make this!
On my quest to learn how to make more Filipino dishes, trying a new recipe can be a wild card. Not really sure how the dish will turn out, hoping it will taste edible and somewhat resemble what the recipe's photos look like. From experience, new recipes, with some tinkering, have turned out amazing and sometime times, they are a fail. Like my recent attempt to make pinakbet (pee-nahk-BEHT), mixed vegetables steamed in shrimp sauce, also known as bagoong (bah-gah-UHNG).

Usually I consult with my mom on any new recipe, Filipino or not, getting her advice on what ingredients to use and method of cooking. She is a self-taught home cook and one of the best in my books! She rarely uses recipes but seems to have a knack for honing in on what makes a dish taste authentically delicious. Her culinary wisdom has guided me and helped me nail many of the dishes on my first try like lumpiang shanghai (spring rolls), pancit canton (noodle stir fry), bibingka (coconut cake) and leche flan (caramel custard).

However, I was under a personal time crunch wanting to post my pinakbet recipe on my blog last weekend.  So I resorted to researching numerous recipes online and in cookbooks. I landed on a pinakbet recipe from the cookbook, Filipino Homestyle Dishes, Delicious Meals in Minutes by Norma Olizon-Chikiamco. The pinakbet recipe was titled, "Braised Pork with Vegetables (Pinakbet)".  
Did you know: Pinakbet is a dish that originated from in the Iloco region (Northwestern Luzon in the Philippines) and now popular throughout the Philippines. 
The pinakbet photo in the cookbook made me salivate featuring the bright colours of the vegetables, gulay (GOO-lie). Layered greens from the okra, green beans and the bitter gourd, ampalaya (am-pah-lie-YA), and pop of golden yellow from the pumpkin and sauteed pork belly. There were thoughtful instructions on how to prep the bitter gourd (seed, slice and soak in a salt and vinegar brine), which is a new vegetable for me to cook with and the rest of the recipe seemed fairly straight forward. 

The directions are to first saute the pork belly to render the fat. Then using the oil as flavouring and layering all the vegetables like a lasagna starting with the bitter gourd at the bottom and working your way up with tomatoes, onions, green beans, okra, pumpkin, eggplant then sprinkle the garlic at the top. Once all the vegetables were arranged, pour in the shrimp paste mixture with water and let the vegetables steam. 

Layered pinakbet vegetables which I over cooked;(
After 10-15 minutes of steaming, the pinakbet looked too watery like a soup. The vegetables were all soggy with a bright pink hue from the bagoong. The dish tasted extremely bitter and fishy. It was a pinakbet fail! 

My failed Pink Pinakbet (not suppose to be pink), but a good learning experience!
This was an culinary emergency! Hoping I could resurrect the dish, I immediately called my mom to explain the pinakbet disaster. She wanted to know exactly what happened and when I walked her through the steps, she said nothing can be done to save it. Disaster! On the bright side, my Mom said to bring the dish over and bravely said she'd eat it with my Dad and determine what went wrong. 

This is her prognosis on my key recipe mistakes:1) Used raw bagoong, the shrimp fry is still pink. I should have use sauteed bagoong that you either fry yourself with oil, onion and garlic or you can buy already fried bagoong, which looks like a thick and dark brown oily paste.
Uncooked bagoong
Sauteed bagoong - use this one!
2) Used the Chinese bitter gourd, the knobs are smoother and the green is a bit paler. I should have used the Indian bitter gourd, it is shorter and darker green with smaller but more protruding knobs along its rough exterior. 

Indian bitter gourd (on the left) and Chinese bitter gourd (on the right)
3) Boiled the vegetables and for too long, made them soggy. I should have steamed them with less liquid and for a shorter period of time so they stayed crisp!

With that, she gave me a tutorial on her pinakbet recipe which we did together and it turned out amazing!! My Dad was our taste tester and gave his stamp of approval for authenticity in taste and texture. 

Here's my Mom's pinakbet recipe, a tasty sure bet!

Pinakbet Gulay (vegetables)
Pinakbet gulay (vegetables) about to be cooked!
1 1/2 cups bitter gourd (Indian variety), seeded and sliced into small pieces 
2 tbsp salt
1/4 cup thinly sliced uncured pork belly (can use bacon instead)
1 cup raw shrimp (preferably fresh with shell)
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/8 cup fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup roma tomato, diced
3 tbsp sauteed bagoong
2 cups long green beans, cut into 2" lengths
1 1/2 cups okra, trimmed and sliced into 1" pieces
4 cups Chinese eggplant, cut into 1" chunks
4 cups pumpkin, peeled and cubed
2 cups water
Salt and fish sauce (patis) to taste

1. Sprinkle 2 tbsp salt on sliced bitter gourd and set aside for 15 minutes. Then rinse salt off bitter gourd with water.
2. Over medium heat, place sliced pork belly in a sauce pan and saute for 5 minutes or until crisp and golden brown. Remove pork and keep rendered fat in the pan to saute the shrimp for 3-5 minutes or until shrimp turn pink. Then immediately remove from pan to avoid from overcooking and getting tough. 
3. In the same pan with the pork belly's rendered fat, saute the onion with a pinch of salt until it turns translucent, 3-5 minutes. The add the garlic, ginger, tomatoes and bagoong. Saute for 5-7 minutes until the tomatoes break down and become a sauce. 
4. Add the vegetables, green beans, okra, pumpkin, eggplant and 2 cups of water. Mix all the vegetables together in the sauce. Once the sauce starts to boil then add the bitter gourd. The goal is to not stir the pinakbet while it is cooking as it could make the dish quite bitter. Cover the pan and let steam for 15-20 minutes or until the vegetables are just tender. 
5. Season with fish sauce then top with the cooked shrimp and crispy pork belly. Serve with hot white fluffy rice and eat immediately, masarap!

Pinabket ready to be devoured!


  1. Well this is mouth watering and I am craving to have it. Thank you for sharing the recipe, will be sharing it with my wife to make it

  2. All ingredients are much delicious and useful as a healthy diet thanks i ll make this at my home for my kids..

  3. Delicious and mouth watering, want to have it. Thank you for sharing the recipe with us, will be making and trying it out for sure

  4. Filpinio dishes are usually delicious and it has vegetables sausages and meat at the same time with it. Thanks for making efforts to find and post these delicious recipes