Growing up in a Filipino household, I was exposed to the traditional dish of pinakbet at a very young age. As a child, I used to be extremely picky with food and having my vegetables swimming in this unfamiliar and aromatic paste was something I could not stand. The overpowering smell of bagoong made me gag and I refused to even try it!
However, as I grew older and had more exposure to different cultures and flavours, my palate changed drastically. I became more open to trying new things, so when Pinakbet was served again at home one day, I decided to give it another go. This time around, my reaction was pleasantly surprising as I found myself enjoying the delicious umami flavour of the bagoong! It provided a unique depth of flavour that really highlighted the sweetness of the vegetables.
Pinakbet may be an acquired taste for some people but its origin in Filipino culture makes it symbolically important. For me, cooking pinakbet has become a meaningful experience – one that reminds me of both my childhood past and cultural roots.
What is Pinakbet?
Pinakbet, also known as “pakbet” or “pinak bet,” is a simple dish made by sauteing vegetables in fermented fish or shrimp paste. Common vegetables used in this recipe include okra, long beans, eggplant, bitter melon, tomato and chili peppers. Pinakbet, like most Filipino dishes, is served over white rice.
Although bagoong can be considered an acquired taste, pinakbet is a great way to introduce people to the amazing umami flavour of fermented shrimp paste. Plus, making it is very simple: you simply stew vegetables in bagoong until soft and flavourful.
Pinakbet is an indigenous Filipino dish from the Ilocos region of the Philippines, which is in the Northeastern area of the country. The word is derived from the Ilokano term pinakebbet, which translates to “shrivelled” or “shrunk.” The original Ilocano pinakbet recipe uses fermented fish, while southern variations like the one we’ll be making today use bagoong alamang (fermented shrimp paste) instead.
How to Make Pinakbet
Note: This recipe is from Filipinx by Angela Dimayuga & Ligaya Mishan.
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 6 cloves of garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 1 ½ tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 ½ tablespoons (37.5 mL) homemade bagoong, or store-bought (lighter, pink variety if possible)
- 2 ripe tomatoes, halved then each half cut into quarters
- 1 large yellow onion, halved then each half cut into quarters
- 5 ounces (150 g) kabocha squash, peeled and cut into 2-inch (5 cm) chunks
- ¾ tablespoon kosher salt
- 8 ounces (225 g) okra, ends trimmed
- 4 ounces (115 g) long beans, cut into 2-inch (5 cam) pieces
- 1 eggplant, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces
- ½ bitter melon, halved lengthwise, seeds removed, and cut into ½ inch (12 mm) half-moons)
- Steamed white rice for serving
- In a large pot, heat the oil on medium high, until it shimmers.
- Add the garlic and cook, stirring for about 3 minutes, until softened.
- Stir in the tomato paste and continue cooking for 2 minutes until it turns into a deep rust-red colour.
- Stir in the bagoong and cook for 2 minutes while stirring occasionally to bring out the fragrance of the shrimp paste.
- After adding the tomatoes and their juices, stir continuously for 3 minutes. Use a spatula to scrape and lift the browned bits from the bottom and sides of the pan. This will enhance the flavour of the liquid.
- Stir in onions, squash, salt, and 1 cup (240 mL) of water. Cook over medium-high heat for around 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. You’ll know it’s ready when the vegetables soften and the sauce turns glossy and thick.
- Put the okra, long beans, eggplant, and bitter melon into the pot. Stir occasionally and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for another 15-20 minutes, continuing to stir, until the squash and long beans are floppy.
- Serve immediately over white rice!
Pinakbet is a delicious, traditional Filipino dish that combines savoury shrimp paste with various vegetables. It’s easy to make and can be served over white rice or enjoyed as-is! With its unique flavour profile, it’s sure to be a hit at your next gathering. Give it a try…you won’t regret it! Happy eating!