Cooking with Mom: Filipino Vegetable Stew (Pinakbet!)

One hundred and twelve posts later...Mangoes & Palm Trees is officially 1 year old! It had its share of hiccups, aka The Dark Days of December & January (Baby, I'm sorry! I'll never leave you again!), but I've been able to put a lot of love behind my posts in recent months. It's nothing but more good vibes from here on out!

Some of the best vibes were during the blog's first month of existence, when I shared stories from my mother-daughter trip to the Philippines. It's only right that I celebrate this special anniversary with a new edition of Cooking with Mom! Even better, my very first post was about our trips to the wet market, and today's recipe is inspired by yet another one of our weekend farmers market adventures.

This traditional vegetable dish, Pinakbet, is one of Mom's specialties, the top request whenever we get together with family. It was her go-to, quick fix for our weekday dinners, but it was also something that she could make a huge pot of to bring to family parties. I have so many memories of tagging along with her to Asian markets and farmers markets, watching her carefully pick the best vegetables to bring home and cook. Depending on what was available...different seasons, different places...she'd put together unique combinations.

Pinakbet is an iconic dish, but there are many different versions. My personal philosophy is that no pinakbet is complete without squash! (I love mixing the sweet squash into my rice!) After this particular market trip, we also came home with bittermelon, eggplant, long beans, and squash blossoms. These bundles of flowers, fading from green to pale yellow to flaming orange, are such a vibrant sight that it's hard to just walk past when a local farmer has them piled high for sale. They're extremely inexpensive (as in, just $1-per-bundle) and extremely easy to prepare (trim stems and leaves, done).

My other favorite ingredients are the okra and peppers! While some people find okra's texture a little off-putting, I happen to love it when they're fresh and cooked in a dish like this. As for the peppers, this long curly variety isn't very spicy at all, but it has a mild sweet flavor. Whenever my mom puts these in her pinakbet, I would hoard 2 or 3 (or 4 or 5) on my plate alone!

*This is a photo that didn't make it into my original wet market post from the Philippines, but you can see some squash blossoms in the upper left corner and the peppers in the upper right corner in a yellow bag!

Preparing this stew, like so many other Filipino one-pot meals, is very simple. Once all of the meat and vegetables are chopped up into little pieces, the next few steps are a breeze. (I was always relegated to snapping the long beans into smaller segments. My sister and I would try to turn this tedious task into an interesting one by seeing who could do more, faster. We did that a lot.)

Start by sauteing garlic, onions, and tomato. Then, add the meat.

For today's version, we used a combination of pork shoulder and belly.

Next, stir in the special ingredient that really makes this a classic Filipino dish...the bagoong! This paste is made with tiny fermented shrimp that have been salted and sauteed. It adds a unique saltiness and flavor to the dish that you can't really get from anything else. (No, not even fish sauce!)

*This photo is another outtake from my Philippines wet market post. At the "palengke", bagoong is on display in large tubs or bowls.

Finally, the chopped vegetables and a little bit of water (about 1 Buster Posey cup :P) are mixed in. Everything cooks until tender.

My mom always taught me to add the beans, peppers, and squash blossoms right on top in the last 5 minutes. These more delicate vegetables get to steam, but keep their beautiful colors and textures.

The okra, bittermelon, eggplant, and squash are all tender, but the peppers, beans, and blossoms still have a little bit of their green crunch. Fresh from the pot, the vegetables are a gorgeous, bright array of colors and flavors. Pinakbet is pure comfort food. It's rustic and simple. Any time I take a bite of this dish, I think of my mom, my family, and how lucky I was to grow up with this kind of home cooking!

To all of my readers, thank you for following along! I hope to share even more recipes and plenty more stories! When you want a fresh bite to eat and a sunny place to go, think of Mangoes & Palm Trees :)

Filipino Vegetable Stew (Pinakbet)

Print Recipe
1 lb Pork Belly, cubed
Water, for boiling
1/4 of a Yellow Onion, sliced
2 Garlic Cloves, finely minced
1 Roma Tomato, diced
2-3 tbsps Filipino Salted Shrimp Fry (Bagoong Alamang)
1 large Bittermelon, seeds removed & sliced
2 large Japanese Eggplant, quartered lengthwise & chopped into segments
1/2 Calabasa Squash, seeds removed & diced
1 bunch Long Beans, ends removed & chopped into segments
8-10 Fushimi Peppers
1/2 lb Okra
2 bundles Squash Blossoms, stems trimmed & leaves/pistils discarded
  1. Place the pork belly in a small pot, then add just enough water to cover the meat. Bring to a boil, cover, and cook for 20-25 minutes. Once the meat is tender, remove it from the pot and set aside. Save the cooking liquid.
  2. In a separate large pot or wok, heat 1 tbsp of vegetable oil. Add the onion, garlic, and tomato, and saute for 1 minute. Then, add the pork belly and the shrimp paste. Saute for another minute. Next, add the bittermelon, eggplant, squash, and beans. Saute this mixture for 1 more minute, and stir lightly just to combine all of the vegetables. Add the liquid used to cook the pork belly, then cover and cook for 10-15 minutes. For the last 5 minutes, place the peppers, okra, and blossoms on top, return the lid, and cook until everything is tender.
  3. Serve with rice, and enjoy!