Pinakbet is an assortment of local, fresh vegetables that include gumbo (okra), eggplant, bitter melon (ampalaya), winged beans (sigarilyas), string beans (sitaw), lima beans (patani), and tomatoes. It is seasoned with bagoong sauce, a condiment made from fermented anchovies. A variation of the dish may also contain leafy vegetables like corchorus (saluyot) and squash flowers. Others add green chili to spice it up.
It is a popular dish among Ilocanos and because my mother is one, I grew up having this dish on the lunchtime table more often than not. The vegetables usually grow randomly in backyards and they are ubiquitous in gardens.
When I started working in Metro Manila, I seldom have a home-cooked version of this delicious dish because I hardly have the time to cook, not to mention that vegetables are a bit pricey in the city. If I order the dish from the eateries outside, I rarely experience the distinct taste that only my mother can produce.
In several get-togethers that I had with my college friends, who happen to be all working also in Metro Manila, I was reconnected with my favorite pinakbet. Olivia, who comes from the same province, is kind enough to cook the dish for all of us. She always does it perfectly so well that everyone would try it first before forking on the spaghetti, pancit, cake, or any other foods on the table. It is flavorful and has a harmonious blend of being salty, sour, and spicy. Her pinakbet has a slightly creamy reddish sauce that sips through the tender, juicy, and smooth vegetables. So, I fell in love again…with the dish!
I asked her if she has added anything special to her pinakbet. She told me to use a tomato paste. When I did, I ended up with a terrible dish. I barely ate my first attempt. I knew there was something she was not telling me, and in my frequent persistence to know, she finally spilled the beans – tomatoes…more fresh, red tomatoes!
So, having tomatoes in mind and after reading Chef Jay’s Kitchen’s post on flavor profiles, I decided to give one of my favorite vegetable dishes another try. This afternoon, I cooked pinakbet.
- I poured a canola oil on the pan and heated it for a few seconds.
- Then, I added the sliced fresh red tomatoes, all of it. I usually remove the seeds when I eat tomatoes, but this time I did not so as not to spill its natural juice.
- I waited for the tomatoes to soften to a nearly liquid phase.
- I added the anchovy sauce and some seasoning granules.
- Next, I immersed the vegetables in the solution, making sure the string beans are at the bottom.
- I covered the pan and let it simmered for about eight minutes.
Moment of truth! It was the best version of the dish that I have ever cooked in my humble kitchen. The taste matched exactly (or even better) than that of Olivia’s. Haha, I know she is proud of me now! +Chef Jay is right, too! The salty anchovy sauce counteracted the bitter taste of the gumbo and bitter melon. The sour tomatoes brought out and enhanced the flavor of the anchovy sauce. It was a satisfying lunch with this appetizing masterpiece stapled with warm white rice.
Why can’t my palate forget the taste of pinakbet?
The dish reminds me of simple life.
It brings to me happy memories of those wonderful days spent on the dining table, when my family was complete; when everybody used bare hands to eat; when my siblings dreamed of cakes and ice creams; when my mother wished for nice kitchen and dining utensils; and when my father humbly offered the staple rice he had been working hard to cultivate and harvest.
Sniffs! Now, enough of the drama. Let’s eat!