Pakbet or pinakbet is probably the most famous Ilocano dish. It is also one of the very first dishes that I learned to cook at age… 8 or 9? I forgot. I did overcook the vegetables a few times before Dad finally told me they don’t have to be always overdone. Well, they ate my pakbet delightfully during those times, maybe just to show some appreciation.
Below is based on my sister’s recipe though it isn’t exactly how our Ilocano dad cooks it. I already have a habit of frying the garlic before the pork which, in dad’s case, is the other way around. With the bitterness of ampalaya or bittergourd, my sister gave me an advice on how to get rid of it. Different from what dad taught us, which is to salt it for about 10 minutes. Ate instructed me not to stir once this vegetable is added to the cooking pan. She did just that when she visited us here in Beijing few months ago and proved her point. She said she got the trick from a friend who said the vegetable is a common ingredient in their household cooking.
1/4 kilo pork with fat
1 large ampalaya, sliced (I forgot how dad cuts amplaya.)
1 large eggplant or brinjal, cut about 2 inches long & in four halfway through so it opens like a flower
3 cups of squash, cut into large chunks
2 cups of yard-long beans, cut about 2in inch long
1 large tomato
2 tbsp of crushed garlic
1 onion, chopped
about 4 tablespoons bagoong or shrimp paste (fermented anchovies are also nice)
My missing ingredient: okra, I haven’t seen it here in Beijing and I miss it.
Heat the oil and saute the garlic until golden brown. Add the pork and cook until it renders fat. You may take out some of it so that the dish won’t be too oily. Then add the tomatoes & onions and cook until the tomatoes are crushed. Add the bagoong and saute for about 2 minutes. Add the rest of the vegetables except the ampalaya and saute for about a minute. Then finally add about 2 cups of water (MSG if you wish) & bring to a boil.
Add the ampalaya and continue to simmer without stirring until the vegetables are cooked. Remember not to overcook so that the vegetables remain crisp. Serve hot.
Vegetables are interesting but lack a sense of purpose when unaccompanied by a good cut of meat. – Fran Lebowitz (American Writer and Humorist, b.1950)