Dinengdeng is a Philippine stew made primarily of vegetables; it was first eaten in the area of northern Luzon known as the Ilocos region. The ingredients vary widely but generally consist of different types of tubers, roots, spices and other vegetables that are cooked in a strong fish sauce. Meats such as beef or pork can be added in small pieces to help accent the flavor, although fish also can be added, sometimes whole. Traditionally, dinengdeng is served hot over cooked rice. It can be a side dish to a larger, heavier meal or can contain an array of substantial ingredients that can help it stand on its own as a main course.
The base of dinengdeng is a type of fish stock made with an ingredient known as bagoong, considered to be one of the most important aspects of the dish. Bagoong is made by fermenting fish or other types of seafood, such as shrimp or oysters. The resulting fermented fish solids are finely ground and sometimes added to a brine mixture, completing the process. Most recipes for dinengdeng call for bagoong isda, which means the sauce was made from fish rather than crustaceans or fish eggs. A few recipes do use bagoong alamang, which is made from shrimp and has a softer flavor.
Although there can frequently be some type of meat in dinengdeng, it is still considered a vegetable stew because of the prevalence of the greens. The traditional vegetables that are added to the stew generally are of Philippine origin. The dish primarily uses ingredients that can be found growing in the countryside or found natively in gardens and backyards. There are specific types of beans, peas and shoots that can be used, but they are not found outside the Philippines.
Other common ingredients include eggplant and okra, with the okra being used to help thicken the sauce. The eggplant that is used does not resemble the eggplants that are frequently seen in North America and instead appear more like small, purple-white cylinders with a slightly different taste. Many dinengdeng recipes also call for bitter melon, amaranth leaves, taro and squash blossoms. All of the ingredients are added to the bagoong base and water and simmered until they have fully cooked and the liquid has thickened.
Meat, such as cubes of pork, can be added to the stew. Some preparations involve placing large chunks of fish into the sauce, allowing it to cook along with the vegetables. These chunks of fish can include the head and bones, providing another element that will help to thicken the sauce. The final dish is served over cooked rice.