I love pinakbet. I didnâ€™t always feel this way. But a well-made pinakbet has sweetness from the kalabasa (squash), bitterness from the ampalaya (bitter gourd), the endearing somewhat rubbery bite from the sitaw (long beans), mushiness from talong (eggplant), mucousy consistency of okra, salt from the bagoong (shrimp paste), fat from the pork and several other textures and flavors from other ingredients you add as you see fit or have handy in your market basketâ€¦together it makes a Pinoy â€œratatouilleâ€ of sorts, and I love it. It is perhaps an acquired taste, as I can see many uninitiated palates confused by the mixture of fermented shrimp, pork and a mish-mash of vegetables, but once hooked, it becomes comfort foodâ€¦
Oddly, I have NEVER cooked pinakbet myself. Worse, I have never been to Ilocos to get a taste of this dish closest to its home base. And many Filipino cookbooks don’t bother to include it in their line-up of dishes, assuming EVERYONE knows exactly how to do this dish. So I may definitely be waxing poetic about a dish that I havenâ€™t the foggiest idea about, except through our own home version or that which my mom used to make decades agoâ€¦ And I have very definite personal biases on how I think it should be cooked and served. Foremost among these biases is that the vegetables be JUST cooked and not overcooked and stewed until one big mushy stew with everything almost mashed into each other. So take this post with a grain of salt if you are a pinakbet expertâ€¦this is how we do it in our household and I would be glad to hear about your own variationsâ€¦
Slice up kalabasa, sitaw, eggplants, okra and ampalaya. Add some bataw, blanched segments of malunggay pods, and other vegetables you think appropriate. Next, heat up a kawali or wok and sautÃ© some chopped onions and garlic in some vegetable oil. Once these are soft and aromatic, add some chopped pork, preferably with some fat on it. Then add the vegetables in an order that they will end up cooking just rightâ€¦perhaps the kalabasa first, then the sitaw, ampalaya, talong, eggplant, etc. Throw in some good bagoong along the way and stir gently. Cover so that it steams itself and the flavors have a chance to quickly come together. Add some water if the mixture is too dry but I actually like the final product to be dryish, not soupy or watery. Add salt and pepper to taste. And serve hot, just as soon as you finish cooking it. For this photo, I had a fat nervous breakdown and at the last moment I chopped up several pieces of good chicharon and threw it inâ€¦superb effectâ€¦but possibly seriously un-authentic. Serving the dish this way means the vegetables retain some of their integrity and vibrancy, but the overall mixture still comes together. Yum!!!