Pinakbet in a Palayok

One of my food resolutions is to learn how to cook Filipino food. My own cuisine has always been, to me, a secret world of family recipes that I never took the time to learn. Why try to learn how to make adobo and sinigang when somebody’s grandmother or mother or aunt has already spent years mastering it? Why not just enjoy these dishes at their tables and spend my cooking-energy learning something like how to make pasta and bread and French desserts?

Shamefully, I have fallen into the trap of familiarity-breeding-complacency when it comes to Filipino food. Obviously, it’s everywhere over here! And since this old comfort-blanket of dishes has kept me warm and safe quite successfully for all this time, I hesitate to weave my own version.

But nevertheless, I pull back my shoulders and put a tentative toe in the Filipino kitchen. I’ve already started making adobo – I have come quite far from my first attempt I’m happy to report. I’m still far from setting a recipe in stone as there are just so many things you can do with it! With the arrival of this bounty of vegetables though, pinakbet was the obvious choice.

Pinaktbet (or pakbet for short) is a very popular Filipino dish that hails from our Northern province of Ilocos***. Ilocos is a region with quite a distinct culinary profile, and some of its dishes, like pinakbet, have become popular all over the country. It is a vegetable dish that includes eggplant, ampalaya (bitter melon), okra, sitaw (long beans), chilli, tomatoes, ginger, fatty pork, and bagoong isda (their fish sauce). In some versions of pinakbet, squash is added – but I think this may be more a Southern move.

Another reason why I was so excited to make this dish, aside from the serendipity of having all the main ingredients delivered fresh to my doorstep, was my palayok. A palayok is our native clay pot used for cooking and I have had one for a couple of years now. It’s been sitting in my kitchen, longing to be used, but I’ve just never had the wherewithal to do so.

Well, it seems like fate had all the stars aligned for a pinakbet in a palayok and who am I to argue with culinary kismet? :)

No recipe yet, since I was just feeling my way around the dish (making kapa). But in a nutshell this is what I did:

Heat some oil in the (seasoned) palayok. Add chopped bagnet (this is the fatty pork I used). Add chopped garlic, onions, ginger, tomatoes – let reduce a bit. Add bagoong (I used bagoong alamang, shrimp paste, because I didn’t have any bagoong isda). Add in layers: chopped squash, ampalaya, sitaw, okra, eggplant, and chilli. If you want to get an idea of the quantities, take a look at this photo – I used all of the squash, ampalaya, okra, and eggplant, about half the sitaw, and one chilli. I added a little more bagoong on top of the vegetables and covered the pot. I let it cook for about 15-20 minutes total, checking on it every so often to make sure it wouldn’t burn. More than one source instructed me not to stir, but try as I might, I couldn’t manage the gentle palayok-shaking needed to toss the, sigh, I had to stir...which accounts for some of the mushiness of my vegetables.

Other than the veggies getting a bit smooshed by my stirring, I was quite pleased with the result! Not in the least because it actually tasted like pinakbet! It was very flavourful, and with a hot steaming scoop of rice, and some fried bangus (milkfish), made for a simple yet satisfying meal.

If you need more pinakbetspiration check Marvin’s post on finding his soul and Marketman’s Palayok Pinakbet!

I sense an all-new comfort blanket of Filipino dishes steadily in-the-weaving :)

***I’ve had the good fortune of visiting this lovely and delicious part of my country and you can take a peek here, here, here, and here, if you want to learn more :)