On one of my fantastic food adventures while visiting the Philippines last month, I stopped by Pangasinan province, heading northward, on a road trip with my sister. We stopped by a roadside restaurant famous to motorists for their simple, home-cooked meals that were unbeatable in homespun flavors unique to the province. I just had to ask for PINAKBET.
Pinakbet, is a vegetable stew cooked by boiling together vegetables in shrimp paste. Just throw in a bunch of Asian vegetables : Chinese eggplants, “ampalaya” or bitter melon, long beans, kabocha squash, tomatoes and you’ll have a wonderful mound of a veggie dish before you know it.
PINAKBET was a favorite choice because of it’s “bagoong” flavors that went well with the fried “bangus” (milkfish) we ordered. Pangasinan is a major producer of “bagoong”. The salty vegetable broth with “bagoong” or shrimp paste was the perfect base for the various textures the veggies brought in : the sweetness of the squash squares, the bitterness of the “ampalaya”, the crunch of crisp “sitaw” or long beans, and the unique flavors of the Chinese eggplant.
I’ve been dreaming of PINAKBET ever since I got back to my USA kitchen. I couldn’t stop craving the saltiness combined with the Filipino vegetables I loved. And to save time while I went to work, I cooked it in my new Calphalon slow cooker. I can’t begin to tell you how wonderfully convenient and easy this process was.
I just threw it all in layers. Covered it. And let the slow cooker do what it does best. What happened next was unbelievably delicious!
Here it is PINAKBET, a vegetable stew in shrimp paste cooked in a slow cooker. So amazing, I’ll make it again and again soon!
*A recipe adapted from “Memories of Philippine Kitchens” by Amy Besa & Romy Dorotan
Serves 4 to 6
¼ cup “bagoong” or shrimp paste (available in Asian groceries)
½ medium kabocha squash, peeled, seeds removed, cut into 2-inch chunks
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled, thinly sliced
1 cup grape tomatoes (or use regular whole tomatoes, sliced to make the same amount)
1 large onion, sliced
1 medium bitter melon, halved, seeds and pulp removed, cut into 1-inch slices
3 Chinese eggplants, halved lengthwise, sliced into 2-inch pieces
15 long beans, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 medium piece of fish fillet, pre-cooked, sliced in 2-inch square pieces
1 teaspoon black pepper
Water to cover the vegetable mixture
- In a slow cooker, fill the bottom with a little water.
- Add the vegetables in layers: squash, ginger, tomatoes, onions, “ampalaya”, eggplants, long beans, pre-cooked fish fillet, black pepper. Put the “bagoong” or shrimp paste on top. Cover the whole mixture with just enough water to submerge the vegetables.
- Cover and adjust the slow cooker settings and cooking time to suit your schedule. I put my Calphalon slow cooker on HIGH, cooked the Pinakbet for 2 hours.
COOK’S COMMENTS: If a Slow Cooker is not convenient, you can cook this vegetable dish stove top, in a large stock pot. Follow the same procedure of just layering the vegetables in the pot, and pouring the water to boil it all together. Allow mixture to boil then lower heat to a medium simmer. Vegetables will cook in about 20 minutes, or till the squash becomes soft. DO NOT OVERCOOK the vegetables!
- If “bagoong” or shrimp paste is not available, use fish sauce instead. You will have a similar salty vegetable broth.
RECIPE NOTES: Cookbook author, Amy Besa has other vegetable ingredients like okra, zucchini, summer squash and even uses “lechon kawali” pork bits, in her recipe of “Pinakbet”, in “Memories of Philippine Kitchens”. Following her advice to use veggies commonly available in local markets, I used in my recipe what I could find. Feel free to add any vegetables or meats you prefer.
* For a Vegetarian option : Amy Besa suggests in the cookbook “skip the pork and bagoong and season with sea salt.”