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Dinengdeng/ Inabraw (Mixed Vegetables Simmered in Fermented Fish Sauce)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014Enz F

My lola (grandmother) is a pure-blooded Ilocana. She grew up and was raised in Vigan, and her parents and ancestors were natives of Candon and Vigan, Ilocos Sur. She spoke the Ilocano dialect fluently and was adept at cooking Ilocano cuisines. I can still remember how she would keep a tall jar at one spot in our kitchen, always filled with that pungent and stinky-smelling bagoong isda (fermented fish sauce). It was like her secret potion at all times ready on hand to spell a magic while transforming those vegetable morsels into a luscious dish bowl of enchanted goodness. Her ensaladang ar-arusip (lato or seagrapes salad) tossed with some tomatoes and dressed with bagoong was so astounding and to die for. Being a homegrown Ilocano as she was, storing a well-fermented fish sauce at home was as essential as breathing air. It was something that she could not live without. Bagoong served as an electrolyte that empowers the veins of every true Ilocano. 

Dinengdeng is a popular dish in my lola's hometown in Ilocos.
Bagoong or bugguong is made through the mixture of salt and fish or other seafoods, such as shrimp, and kept covered in an earthen jar (burnay) to ferment for at least 30 days. An Ilocano bagoong is typically made of fermented munamon or anchovies. It is a very important element in every Ilocano kitchen. Bagoong is not only a simple condiment used as a complement dip sauce for their local appetizers; it is also used as main flavor enhancer and ingredient to a number of Ilocano dishes. 

Ilocanos are not only known for their frugality, they are also admired for their love for eating vegetables. In fact, it was my lola who taught me how to eat okra, talong (eggplant) and malunggay (marunggay/ moringa). She used to keep a malunggay tree, along with other vegetable shrubs and fruit-bearing plants, at the backyard of our house in Antipolo. Every time she would cook for us, our dining table would look like a mini-garden with all those prolific edible flowers and root crops around. When my maternal mother died at my young age of 5, lola stood as second mother to me and to my siblings. Spending most of my childhood with lola by side, I have learned to appreciate all her dishes – among them was her many variations of Dinengdeng, also known as Inabraw. It is an indigenous Ilocano stewed vegetable soup flavored and seasoned with none other than bagoong isda. 

There are countless ways of cooking dinengdeng
The versatility of dinengdeng calls for no specific and strict rules as to which type of vegetable combination should be used for the ingredients. Apparently, one would depend on the diversity of his own garden (or his neighbor’s) and on the seasonality of the fresh picks, which mostly are exotic and locally grown only in the Philippines. There are numerous variations of dinengdeng that use practically any kinds of vegetable, e.g. eggplant, patani (lima beans), saluyot (jute), sitaw (string beans), kardis (pigeon peas), kuantong (amaranth leaves), okra, labong (bamboo shoots), squash, sigarilyas (winged beans) and a lot more. The possibilities are endless! For a more distinct flavor, a piece of meat, usually grilled or fried fish is also stewed along with the vegetables. Other methods use chops of pork or beef for a more meaty alternative.

Buridibod, a well-known version of dinengdeng, uses kamote (sweet potato) to create a slightly sweet flavor with a pulpy and mushy broth. Other regions also have their own hallmarks, too. We have Pinakbet Tagalog, which is known for the use of alamang (shrimp paste) as the saltening agent. Folks in the Southern Luzon, specifically Batangas, have their own version called Bulanglang, which is distinct for the use of rice washing for the broth and the medley of tough vegetables like squash, okra, bunga ng ampalaya (bitter gourd) patola (sponge gourd) and green papaya. Meanwhile, people In the Visayas have their very own called Utan (Cebuano version) and Laswa (Ilonggo version), which basically use any or a combination of ginger, salt, dried fish, shrimps or bouillon cubes as the main seasonings for their vegetable soup. So, what really sets my beloved Ilocano dinengdeng apart from them all? That is the addition of grilled or fried fish and of course, the bagoong isda. Now, my lola’s secret ingredient is not a secret anymore. Naimas! Mangantayon! (Delicious! Let’s eat!)

Dinengdeng/ Inabraw (Mixed Vegetables Simmered in Fermented Fish Sauce)
Number of Servings: 3 to 4

  • 1 bundle sitaw (yard long string beans), both ends trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces 
  • 1 bundle sigarilyas (winged seguidillas beans), trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces 
  • 1 bundle bunga ng malunggay (moringa/ marunggay pods), skinned and cuto into 2-inch pieces 
  • 2-3 pcs. talong (long eggplant), sliced lengthwise and cut into 1-inch diagonal pieces 
  • 1 cup alukon (himbabau/ birch blossoms), trimmed 
  • 2 pcs. medium sized kamote (sweet potato tuber), peeled and diced 
  • 1 cup patani (kidney/ lima beans), peeled or as is 
  • ¼ cup bagoong isda (fermented fish sauce) 
  • 3-4 cups water 
  • 1 whole fish (tilapia or milkfish), pan-fried or grilled 

  1. Make sure to thoroughly wash all the vegetables before cooking. 
  2. Bring water to a boil in a medium pot. In a bowl, dilute bagoong isda with some fermented fishes with 1-2 cups of hot water from the pot. Mash or pound the fish to detach the meat from the bones. Pour the diluted bagoong back to the pot over a strainer. Discard the filtered fish bones. If using pure bagoong sauce, just mix the liquid to the boiling water. Let it simmer for 3 minutes while scooping out all scum that rises. 
  3. Add the kamote and patani. Simmer for 5 minutes. 
  4. When the kamote starts to break apart, add the malunggay, sigarilyas and sitaw. 
  5. Lastly, put the talong and alukon. Continue simmering until vegetables are almost cooked 
  6. Drop the grilled or fried fish. Cover the pot and keep simmering for 2-3 more minutes to allow the fish release its flavor. Remove from heat and serve hot with steamed rice. Enjoy! 

  1. For the fried or grilled fish, you may use tuna belly, galunggong (mackerel scad) and matambaka (bigeye scad). Practically any small to medium-sized fish will do. 
  2. Instead of fish, you may also put clam meats, fresh shrimps, hibi (dried salted shrimps) and dried squid. If you want it meaty (and fatty), you may try grilled pork liempo with some fats or beef. 
  3. To lessen the stench of bagoong and fish, you may add chopped onions or ginger. 
  4. You may add more variety of exotic vegetables depending on your preference like okra, tomatoes, kardis/ kadyos (pigeon peas), marunggay leaves, saluyot (jute leaves), talbos ng kamote (sweet potato tops), bunga at bulaklak ng kalabasa (squash fruit and blossom), ampalaya (bitter gourd), kulitis/ kuantong (amaranth leaves), sabunganay (banana blossom), gabi (taro corm) and a lot more. The possibilities are endless.

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