Pinakbet is an iconic Filipino vegetable stew that originated in the Ilocos region of Northern Luzon. I grew up with this dish as my helper would prepare this quite often. It consists of a colourful medley of local tropical vegetabables (squash, string beans, eggplant, bittergourd, and okra) cooked in a traditional clay pot called a palayok over an open fire. Occasionally the pot would be shaken so that everything mixed together, and the vegetables cooked until they shrivelled up (pinakbet means “shrivel”). The taste of this dish is as colourful and inviting as it looks – the intense bitterness of the gourd is offset by the sweetness of the squash, saltiness is added from fermented shrimp bagoong (or in this case a vegan version), while acidity from tomatoes brightens the dish. The end result is a deliciously balanced vegetable medley, when everything melds together.
One fine day three months ago, I had attempted to make wild-fermented tofu from the fermentation book Miso, Tempeh, Natto & Other Tasty Ferments by Kirsten Shockey (a very good and detailed book on bean fermentation might I add). Until today, it has been ageing in the refrigerator waiting to be used. Pinakbet is typically seasoned with bagoong, which is fermented shrimp paste or fermented fish. I thought the fermented beancurd would stand in as a good vegetarian substitute, being on par, if not stronger, with the stinky aroma and funky taste of fermented seafood. Lo and behold, when I blended the fermented beancurd with tomatoes, the colour came out a salmon-red, rather similar to shrimp bagoong!
Tips for Making Tasty Vegan Pinakbet
- You can substitute store-bought Chinese fermented beancurd (also known as 豆腐乳 – dou fu ru), or a combination of tamari or miso paste for the wild-fermented beancurd.
- For greater flavour, char the eggplant over a direct flame first (like you would when making baba ghanoush) before cooking the pinakbet. It also reduces the bitterness.
- Cut the vegetables in the same size as much as possible. This is to promote even cooking and also it will look nicer.
- Always layer the vegetables based on their time to cook. Hard vegetables like kabocha go in first, while soft vegetables like okra go on top so they are lightly cooked through steam and indirect heat. The order is pumpkin, eggplant, bitter gourd, long beans, then okra.
- Do not disturb the layers by stirring during cooking. You can shake it gently once or twice if necessary to prevent scorching
For more delicious pumpkin recipes, check out my:
Pinakbet with Wild-Fermented Beancurd
Colourful Filipino vegetable stew with pumpkin, eggplant, bittergourd, long beans, and okra. Homemade wild-fermented beancurd is used as a substitute to shrimp bagoong in this vegan version.
- 400 g (14 oz) firm tofu
- 15 g (1 tbsp) Himalayan salt
- 1/2 tsp chilli flakes (optional)
- 120 g (1/2 cup) filtered water
- 56 g (1/4 cup) Shaoxing rice wine or mirin
- 40 g (1/4 cup) cold-pressed sesame oil (to create a seal on top of the tofu and brine)
Pinakbet (Filipino Vegetable Stew)
- 15 g (1 tbsp) Wild-Fermented Beancurd
- 60 g (8 no) cherry tomatoes, or 1 medium ripe tomato
- 1/2 tbsp coconut oil
- 20 g (1 medium) shallot, minced
- 3 cloves garlic, grated
- 30 g (2 tbsp) filtered water
- 200 g kabocha, peeled and cut into 5 cm (2 inch) chunks
- 160 g (1 small) pearl brinjal, charred over an open flame
- 80 g (1/2 medium) bittergourd, pith removed and cut into half-moons
- 60 g (6 no) long beans or string beans, cut into 5 cm (2 inch) pieces
- 45 g (4 no) whole okra, stemmed
- To taste Himalayan salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the Wild-Fermented Beancurd
Cut the tofu into 2.5 cm (1 inch) cubes.
Press the tofu cubes. Arrange the tofu cubes between paper towels and place a weight (such as a cutting board with a sack of rice) on top. Drain at room temperature for 2 hours, or until the tofu is just moist and feels quite firm.
Transfer the tofu cubes to a casserole dish large enough to hold the cubes in a single layer with at least 1.3 cm (1/2 inch) between pieces. Cover the dish securely with taut cling film. Poke holes across the top with a toothpick at 2 inch intervals, to allow the tofu to breathe.
Let the dish sit at room temperature for 2-4 days, depending on temperature and humidity. The tofu is ready when yellow-orange mold spots appear on the top and sides and looks wet (small milky puddles may also start to pool below the cubes). It will also have a strong smell.
Combine the salt and chilli flakes, if using, on a plate. Coat each cube with this mixture, then gently stack the coated cubes in a glass jar.
Combine the water and wine in a bowl, then gently pour the mixture over the tofu. The cubes should be completely submerged. Pour the sesame oil over the brine so that you have 0.6 cm (1/4 inch) layer of oil sealing the top.
Place the tofu in the refrigerator to age for at least 4 weeks. It will be ready to eat when it has a creamy texture and cheesy sharpness. Store the tofu in the refrigerator, where it will keep indefinitely as long as you use clean utensils when scooping out. The tofu will mellow over time, becoming creamier and more remarkable.
For the Pinakbet
In a small blender, combine the Wild-Fermented Beancurd and tomatoes and blend to a puree. Set aside.
In a saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and saute 2 minutes, then add the garlic and saute 1 minute. Add the tomato mixture and water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture returns to a simmer.
Add the vegetables in layers: kabocha, eggplant, bitter gourd, long beans, then okra. The idea is to layer the harder vegetables at the bottom, and the quicker-cooking ones at the top so they are lightly cooked through steam and indirect heat.
Cover the pot tightly and cook for about 6-10 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Do not disturb the layers by stirring; just shake the pot side to side once or twice while cooking.
Season the pinakbet with salt and pepper. Serve hot as a side dish with quinoa or rice.