Why It Works
- The combination of sautéed shrimp paste and dashi fortifies the pinakbet with a slightly smoky and seafood-forward flavor.
- Staggering the addition of vegetables ensures that they are tender and properly cooked through, without becoming mushy.
Pinakbet is a pungent Filipino vegetable stew made by simmering a variety of vegetables with shrimp or lechon kawali (crispy fried pork belly) in a fermented seafood-infused broth. The dish originated on the northern island of Luzon and has since spread throughout the country and abroad. Served alongside cooked white rice and fried or grilled fish and meat, this nourishing dish is a staple on Filipino dinner tables.
In the Philippines, there are two popular versions of this dish: pinakbet Ilocano and pinakbet Tagalog (a derivative of the former). Pinakbet Ilocano, the traditional version, relies on bagoong isda, a thick fermented fish sauce typically made from a mix of anchovies and salt, to flavor the stew. Pinakbet Tagalog, on the other hand, utilizes bagoong alamang, which is a fermented shrimp or krill paste. Each bagoong lends a different flavor profile to the pinakbet; bagoong isda increases the funky savoriness of the dish, whereas bagoong alamang adds a hint of sweetness that complements the umami flavor.
My mom only uses ginisang bagoong—a variation of bagoong alamang that is sautéed with onion, garlic, vinegar, and sugar—which imbues the pinakbet with a sweeter, more complex flavor. Consequently, I prefer pinakbet Tagalog made with ginisang bagoong (and call for it in this recipe), but if you have another type of bagoong you’d like to use (whether bagoong isda or alamang), feel free to substitute with an equal amount by volume.
While the above versions exist and interpretations are plentiful, pinakbet should, at minimum, include a mix of hearty vegetables—eggplant, long green beans, bitter melon, okra, and squash or sweet potato—and your fermented seafood of choice. Besides slicing the vegetables (the most time-consuming part of this recipe), this one-pot dish, which uses dashi instead of water to build a punchy broth, is remarkably simple in its preparation. I start by sautéeing onion, garlic, tomatoes, and ginisang bagoong to build a flavorful base, then add dashi and the vegetables in staggered additions. Within thirty minutes, you'll have a slightly funky, hearty stew you can eat along with white rice for a simple but delicious meal, or you can serve it as part of a large meal, perhaps alongside chicken inasal and tortang talong (and, of course, rice!).
- Kosher salt
- 1 bitter melon (about 8 ounces; 225g), halved lengthwise, seeded, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices (optional)
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) vegetable oil
- 1 small yellow onion (4 ounces; 115g), finely chopped
- 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 2 plum tomatoes (about 8 ounces; 225g), cored and chopped
- 2 ounces (1/4 cup; 60g) ginisang bagoong (see note)
- 2 cups (475ml) homemade or instant dashi
- 1 small sweet potato (about 8 ounces; 225g), peeled, quartered, and cut into 1/4-inch slices
- 8 ounces (225g) Chinese long beans or string beans, stem ends trimmed and beans cut into 2-inch lengths
- 1 medium Japanese eggplant (about 6 ounces; 170g), halved lengthwise, and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
- 8 ounces (225g) okra, caps trimmed, pods cut in half on a bias
- Cooked white rice, for serving
If using bitter melon, combine 2 cups (475ml) water and 2 teaspoons (8g) salt in a medium bowl, and whisk to dissolve. Add bitter melon, and stir to combine. Set aside for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour.
Meanwhile, in a 4-quart stainless-steel saucier or saucepan, heat oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and garlic, season lightly with salt, and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until they’ve softened and released their liquid, about 5 minutes. Add ginisang bagoong and stir until well incorporated, about 1 minute.
Add dashi, bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to a simmer. Add sweet potato and green beans. Cover and cook until vegetables are tender enough to be pierced with a knife, but not completely cooked through, about 5 minutes.
Drain bitter melon (if using), and add to saucepan along with eggplant, and okra. Cover and continue to cook until all vegetables are tender and completely cooked through, about 10 minutes. Season with salt to taste.
Transfer to individual serving bowls and serve immediately with white rice.
4-quart stainless-steel saucier or saucepan
Ginisang bagoong is fermented shrimp paste that has been sautéed with onion, garlic, vinegar, and sugar. It can be found in Filipino or Asian specialty markets and online.
Make-ahead and Storage
Pinakbet can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.