My cousin, John, is in town for a visit. I've been looking forward to his visit since July. Why? Because that's the last time I ate pinakbet at my mom's house. Unlike John, I have no clue how to make a good pot of pinakbet, a Filipino (Ilocano) vegetable stew, which usually contains pork and shrimp. Everytime I've asked Mom to tell me how to make it, she can never give me any measurements and I've only once actually watched her make it. John, too, can't give me actual measurements as he cooks "by eye".
John and I went shopping today and had to go to three stores for all the ingredients. First stop was to a Mexican carniceria for the shrimp, pork belly, and some chicharron, which is pork belly with meat that has been deep fried until brown and crunchy. Yum! Next, we stopped at a Laotian market for some of the veggies: eggplant, bittermelon, shallots, and garlic. They didn't have great tomatoes or lima beans so we stopped at the supermarket for those.
1) Slice pork belly into little strips and brown in a pan with 2 cloves of garlic. Remove the garlic before it burns.
2) Peel and devein shrimp and prepare and veggies. Slice the eggplant into 2 inch long pieces. Soak in water so it doesn't oxidize. Slice bittermelon in half widthwise and then lengthwise. Scoop out seeds and white membrane. Soak in water. Core tomatoes, slice in half lengthwise and then remove seeds.
3) Using some of the rendered pork fat in a separate pan, saute eggplant until the edges become translucent.
4) With your hands, crush tomatoes into pot with browned pork. Let tomatoes deglaze the pot then simmer until the tomatoes start to lose their peels. Remove peels from the pot. At this point, the sauce has thickened and it's time to add about a cup of water to the pot. It's also time for the fish sauce, about 1/8 cup.
5) At this point, you will start layering the rest of the ingredients and CEASE stirring!!! Apparently, this is vital and not open to discussion. First come the lima beans (Fordhook are the best!), then the bittermelon, then the shrimp. After adding the shrimp, John sprinkles some Hon Dashi (fish granules), about 1 tsp., over the top. Lastly, add the layer of partially cooked eggplant. Partially cover the pot and simmer for about 15 minutes. Completely cover the pot and "toss" the contents without stirring. Enjoy your pinakbet over a bed of fresh, hot rice. You can either serve with sliced chicharron over the pinakbet in your bowl or add the sliced chicharron to the pot and simmer for a couple of minutes.