Pinakbet (Filipino Vegetable Stew)

Source: Linda Shiue, MD, Spicebox Kitchen

Recipe Type: | Seasons:

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to have a private, all-day cooking class in Manila. Chef Pam Obieta taught me how to make several classic vegetable-forward Filipino dishes, including this vegetable stew, which uses the antioxidant-rich ampalaya (bitter melon). Widely available in Asian markets, and prized in these cuisines for its health benefits, this light green fruit has a taste that is almost entirely bitter. Its bitterness is reduced by soaking briefly in salted water, and tempered by spices and other ingredients. It adds a characteristic flavor to this dish.

Pinakbet, also called pakbet, originated in the northern part of the Philippines. Traditionally, the vegetables are left to stew, without stirring, in an earthen pot called a banga. Although pinakbet usually includes pork and bagoong (fermented fish or shrimp paste), it’s delicious without meat, and vegan substitutions for bagoong are available: there’s a very good vegan shrimp paste made by Red Lotus, available online; or you can substitute Chinese fermented bean paste, fermented tofu (mashed into a paste), Chinese salted black beans, or soy sauce.

Serves 4 to 6


2 tablespoons cooking oil
¼ cup small-diced onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 Roma tomatoes, 1 cut into large dice, the other quartered
1 tablespoon bagoong (see headnote) or fish sauce, or vegan versions of either
8 ounces kabocha squash (about ½ small kabocha), or butternut or delicate squash, peeled and seeded, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 cup water
1 bitter melon (about 4 ounces), halved lengthwise, seeded, cut into quarters, and soaked in salted water for 20 minutes and rinsed before use (this decreases bitterness)
8 ounces long beans or string beans, trimmed and cut to 2-inch lengths
8 ounces Chinese eggplant or small Asian eggplants, cut diagonally into ½-inch-thick slices
6 whole okra, trimmed at both ends
Pinch of salt
Garnish: fried shallots (optional)


Preheat a 3-quart Dutch oven or sauté pan with lid over medium-high heat and add oil. Add onion, garlic, and diced tomato. Add bagoong and fry for 15 seconds, or until fragrant.

Add squash and water and stir. Bring to a boil and cook, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, until just tender.

Add remaining vegetables in layers on top of squash in order of cooking time: bitter melon, long beans, eggplant, okra, and tomato wedges. Season with a pinch of salt. Lower heat to a simmer and cover.

Allow to simmer for 10 minutes, covered, without stirring. After 10 minutes, check to see that most of liquid has evaporated and vegetables are tender when pierced, but not falling apart. Garnish, if desired, with fried shallots. 

Excerpted from Spicebox Kitchen: Eat Well and Be Healthy with Globally Inspired, Vegetable-Forward Recipes by Linda Shiue, MD. Copyright © 2021. Available from Hachette Go, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc. Photography by Michelle K. Min.

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