Friday, January 13, 2012

Pinakbet Recipe by Burnt Lumpia - Filipino Free Recipes

I like the writing style of the author of this Pinakbet Recipe:

Pinakbet is my favorite dish. Period.
I'm not speaking in general terms, like it's my favorite Filipino dish, no.  I really mean that Pinakbet--the illest of Ilocano dishes--is my most favorite food in the whole entire world times infinity!  Even by Filipino standards, this is a curious choice (I think) on my part as I know of many Pinoys who can't stand this vegetable medley.  I'm sure it has to do with the ever-present ampalaya, but as you may remember (or not), I loves me some bitter melon.
Despite my fondness for Pinakbet I had never attempted to make it.  I was happy enough getting my once-in-a-while-fix whenever I would visit my grandparents or my parents.  My grandmother and mother can both whip up a batch with a purse of the lips (psssst, hoy!).  Soon enough though, I started hankering for the stuff on a more regular basis.  I started making up excuses to visit my parents just so I could relieve my jonesing for Pinakbet:
Mother: What are you doing home?
Me: Uh, I was in the neighborhood.
Mother: You live an hour and a half away.
Me: Uh, what's for dinner? Pinakbet?
Dad: Goddamn it! Can't you make your own!
My dad's a really good guy (he's just really mean [I'm kidding {not really}]).
Anyhoo, I finally realized that I needed to figure out how to make Pinakbet for myself (otherwise my dad would start charging me for groceries).
As recently as a few months ago, I had no idea how to make Pinakbet.  I knew that its basic components generally consisted of tomatoes, squash, long beans, ampalaya (bitter melon), okra, eggplant, patis or bagoong (my mother and grandmother use patis), and a nice bit of fatty pork (if you so desire).  And according to the wisdom of my grandmother and mother, all I would have to do with these ingredients is throw them in a pot with a bit of water, bring to a boil, and then simmer for 20 minutes until tender.  Easy right?
Somtimes I think my mother and grandmother tell me things just to mess with me.
My first attempt at Pinakbet ended horribly. So horribly in fact that I considered changing the name of this blog from Burnt Lumpia to Piss Poor Pinakbet:
To the untrained (non-Pinakbet eating) eye, the mess in the red pot is exactly that--a mess.  Whatever I made, it wasn't Pinakbet.  It had everything that was supposed to be in Pinakbet, but it definitely wasn't Pinakbet.  It was bland and boring. It was odorless and tasteless, like Ghost is faceless.  It was soulless.  It was the Kenny G of Pinakbet.
In fact, as I forced myself to eat my sorry excuse for Pinakbet, I'm pretty sure I heard the dulcet tones of Kenny's sax blowing to the tune of "neener-neener-neener".  Damn you Kenny G!  Damn you straight to hell!!!
So, defeated and embarassed by my Pinakbet failure, I went back to my mother to snatch the proverbial Pinakbet pebble from her hand.  This time though, I didn't merely ask her how to make Pinakbet because I knew she'd only give me some obtuse answer like, "Just put it in the pot and cook it!"  And although I've eaten this dish many times, I've never actually seen how it is made.  So I stood by mother's side and watched her make Pinakbet, step-by-step.
As I found out, my first mistake was that I used too big of a pot.  I used a huge 7-qt dutch oven on my first try (I can hear all the Filipinos laughing at me right now).  My mother just used a little soup pot and literally filled it to the top with vegetables.
My next mistake was that I paid too much attention to chopping and measuring and having everything so perfect. My mother just hacked everything willy-nilly into pieces.  She didn't even cut her tomatoes, she just stuck her thumbs in the stem-ends and ripped them tomatoes apart! I, on the other hand, made sure to slice all my veggies into nice uniform pieces (seriously, stop laughing at me).
And the final mistake I made was in my choice in pork. I used a single, lean pork chop (ok, you can laugh at that one, it is pretty pathetic).  My mom used Chicharron, or what is also known as Bagnet in the Phillipines.  It's basically a piece of pork rind, fat, and meat that is deep-fried. I found my chicharron at my local Latin market.
As you can see from the chicharron picture above, that hunk of meat and fat would provide a lot more flavor to Pinakbet than a measly pork chop would.  I am an idiot.
Armed with the secrets of Pinakbet, I headed back home to my own kitchen and attempted to recreate what I learned from my mother.
I started with a smaller pot and lined the bottom with tomatoes that I tore apart with my hands:
I then started to layer pieces of squash, ampalaya, long beans, okra, eggplant, onions, and more tomatoes, until I filled the pot:
I then added a tiny bit of water (maybe about a quarter cup) and some patis (maybe 2-3 tablespoons, you can add more later to taste), clamped the lid on and brought everything to a boil.  After the pot reached a boil, I reduced the heat and simmered for about 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, I hacked apart some chicharron into bite-sized pieces:
After the pot simmered for 15 minutes, I added the chicharron, covered again, and simmered for 10 more minutes to let some of the pork fat melt off into the veggies. Also notice that not once do I stir or disturb the contents of the pot.
And then?  It was done. Easy right?
Even though my house smelled GLORIOUS at this point, I was still a bit afraid to have a taste.  Failure does that to you.  Despite this initial apprehension, I spooned some of my newly made Pinakbet over some rice and had a bite.
And another bite.
And another.
Holy crap, I made Pinakbet!  The vegetables were tender but not mushy, and there was just enough liquid (I prefer my Pinakbet to be a bit soupy) rendered from the tomatoes, water, patis, and pork fat.  This was no Kenny G version of Pinakbet.  This was James Brown, the Soul Brother Number One version of my most favorite dish.
I would normally provide an exact recipe here, but there is no exact recipe for Pinakbet.  You just throw everything in a pot and cook it! ;)
I got soul! Ha! And I'm super bad!

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