Vegetable stew

Vegetable stew


7000 Islands
Jana Liebenstein

My mother endearingly calls pinakbet ‘the usual suspect’. The Filipino favourite can be found across the country in countless turo-turo (casual eateries) and almost every home. This mixed vegetable stew is an acquired taste; one of the key ingredients is bitter melon and, you guessed it, has a bitter flavour. For a vegetarian-take, drop the pork and shrimp paste, and season generously with salt. You can serve this stew in a whole kent pumpkin that has had its top cut off and seeds removed.


Quantity Ingredient
1 small bitter melon, halved, seeded and sliced
2 teaspoons fine salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
150g skinless pork belly, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 onion, sliced
1 tablespoon sauteed shrimp paste
2 roma tomatoes, cut into wedges
500g jap pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cut into 3 cm pieces
2 japanese eggplants, halved and cut into 2 cm pieces
2 long green chillies
120g or green beans, trimmed crushed chicharon, to serve (optional)


  1. Place the bitter melon and salt in a bowl and toss to combine. Set aside until needed (the salt helps reduce the bitterness).
  2. Meanwhile, heat the vegetable oil in a casserole dish or large, deep saucepan over medium heat. Add the pork and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  3. Return the casserole dish with the oil to medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add the onion and cook for 4 minutes, or until soft. Add the shrimp paste and stir for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes, stirring until they start to soften. Add the pumpkin and 60 ml water. Increase the heat to medium–high, cover with a lid, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the eggplant and chillies, cover, and cook for a further 5 minutes.
  4. Rinse the bitter melon, then squeeze to extract any excess liquid. Add the melon to the pan with the beans and cook, covered, for 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the pork and cook until warmed through. Remove from the heat and scatter with chicharon, if using, to serve.

Where does it come from?

  • Pinakbet (also pakbet) hails from Ilocos in the Philippines’ north, a region known for its distinctive cooking. Traditionally, vegetables are prepared to specific dimensions, layered in a palayok (earthenware pot) and flavoured with bagoong isda (fermented anchovies). The covered pot steams the vegetables in their own juices and the resulting stew is topped off with another regional gem, bagnet (deep-fried pork belly).
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