Pinakbet is one of my (possibly even THE) favorite pinoy vegetable dishes of all time. In a broadly answered and widely read poll on pinoy favorites, here, pinakbet ranked in the Top 5 dishes. The first time I cooked and blogged about it, I was trying to replicate a version that we used to enjoy at home when I was growing up, here. Apparently, that version with kalabasa or winter squash was a dead giveaway “non-Ilocano” style pinakbet. Kalabasa is added mostly by folks around Manila and the southern part of Luzon. I later tried pinakbet while on a whirlwind trip through the Ilocos region, and saw the produce in their markets, even bought a palayok or two, hoping to make my own “authentic” pinakbet. The result was Palayok Pinakbet a la Marketman, a fantastic version of this well-loved dish, and done about as close to the Ilocano version as possible. Having made it as close to the original as I am probably ever going to get, I figured I could now try other ways of cooking the dish, this time in a more practical wok which is probably far more accessible to readers than cooking in a palayok over a wood fire. :)
We eat pinakbet at home often. But I tend to rarely cook it myself. However, when the markets yield an inspiring bounty of greens, I usually head to the stove and take control of the dish at hand. Such was the case after a market visit last weekend that yielded a plethora of classic pinakbet ingredients. First off, some himbabau or alucon, earlier post on it here. It isn’t often you find this in manila markets so when I do, it almost always means a pinakbet is coming up, as I don’t know where else or how else to use this rather bizarre looking green.
The himbabau was beside a stunning pile of sam-samping, for me a recently discovered pea/bean like variation also used in Ilocano pinakbet. And earlier post on it here.
Of course you can’t leave out the visually arresting, wonderfully textured and subtle flavor of these squash blossoms.
Some authentic curly long green chilies, different from the lighter siling pangsigang more commonly found in the groceries. These don’t possess too much heat, so they complement the pinakbet nicely without overpowering it.
We also had these incredibly fresh young onions.
Baby ampalaya or bitter melons, this time cut and de-seeded rather than cooking them whole like in the Palayok Pinakbet version.
I also got some miniature or small whole eggplants, but in keeping with the size of the other vegetable cuts, I cut up the eggplants as well.
Some okra, sliced.
Those fantastic “native” tomatoes, sliced into wedges.
Some fresh ginger and some small cloves of Ilocos grown garlic.
Heat up a large wok, add some vegetable oil, saute the sliced ginger and onions for a minute or less over high heat until they release their incredible aroma…
…add some bagnet or meaty chicharon and the tomatoes and saute for a minute or less until the tomatoes start to render their liquid. Add the fish bagoong native to Ilocos for a truly authentic pinakbet, or in a pinch add several tablespoons of bagoong alamang (gasp, the Ilocanos will feign) and several tablespoons of water if it looks too dry.
Bagnet or lechon kawali or chunks of pork will hold up better than chicharon, which will absorb the liquids and get a little soggy… but don’t fret, the chicharon adds a tremendous dimension of fat and flavor.
Add the cut up veggies that tend to take longer to cook, give it a gentle stir or toss…
…pile on the other veggies that will cook a little faster and add a little water if there isn’t enough at the base of the pan…
…and season with salt and pepper and cover for a few minutes so it can all steam nicely.
Add the last veggies that take hardly any time to cook and toss lightly. Crumble some more chicharon and add it to the dish just as you are taking it off the flames.
The results were fantastic. You can see it rather clearly in the photos. The veggies are just cooked but not “lata” or overcooked. They stay distinct from each other. There is a variety of textures, colors, flavors, etc. This should be eaten immediately with lots of steamed or boiled rice. Veggie (and a little fat and shrimp) heaven. :)