21 Jul2005

Have my tastebuds undergone a seismic change? Am I just ampc1more accepting of bitter in the supreme service of Marketmanila readers? I think not. But if, like me, you absolutely abhorred ampalaya until now, do yourself a favor and read the rest of this post. I always disliked the vegetable because of its incredibly bitter taste. It didn’t help that it looked really unappetizing after it was cooked… it took on an olivish green hue that announced that “I am well and truly dead now.” But illogically, I liked the bitterness of broccoli rabe, the bitter pepperiness of arugula, and even radicchio. So I was resolved to give ampalaya another chance…and while I wouldn’t eat this dish every week…it wasn’t bad at all…

First, I wanted to ensure that the dish had a vibrant green color. ampc2The solution was to blanch the sliced ampalaya in boiling water with 2 teaspoons of baking soda. No change to the taste, but incredible impact on the color. After draining the blanched ampalaya, it was an appealing bright green. Now it just had to remain that way after sautéing with other ingredients. I used one large ampalaya for this recipe, 1 cup of ground beef, minced onion about ½ of a medium onion, 5 minced garlic cloves, a bit of Kikkoman soy sauce, 2 eggs and salt and pepper. To make, put a pan on high heat. When it is really hot, add perhaps 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil then place the onion in the pan and shake vigorously. Add the garlic 30 seconds later. Never start with the garlic as it is likely to burn up and get bitter; this is good advice for most dishes. When the onion and garlic are softer (say 1-2 minutes) add the ground meat, the soy sauce and stir until cooked. Try to get rid of the excess liquid that comes out of the meat. Add the blanched drained ampalaya and toss. Add some salt and pepper. Add two lightly scrambled eggs and stir until cooked. Serve hot.

The key to this dish, as with an earlier dish with eggplant, is NOT to DILLY DALLY. ampc3I think the downfall of many Filipino vegetable dishes is that they are simply overcooked. If they were not meant to be, they have just been bastardized over the past few decades. Everything seems to cook at a low simmer and this just literally sucks the juices out of the veggies and leaves them looking like death warmed over. The key to this dish is to do it quick, to do it on a hot burner and not to abuse the ingredients. The outcome? A brilliantly appetizing dish with a pleasant and bearable bitterness. Great with a bowl of steamed rice or as a side dish to a richer and fancier main course, this is something I can actually handle. One downside of the blanching is a slightly watery finished dish. I will have to try this with unblanched ampalaya to see if that results in a dryer but less green dish. This can also be done without the beef if you want a vegetarian dish.

 

COMMENTS:

  1. stef says:

    marketman, karen and i are about to christen you “Jeffrey Steingarten of the Philippines” LOL. i too hated ampalaya until we migrated to the US. still don’t LOVE it but can tolerate it pretty well. excellent post! and that pic in the middle is just incredible.

    Jul 21, 2005 | 7:54 am

     
  2. Rey says:

    marketman try soaking the ampalaya with salt and water before cooking and rinse with water when the ampalaya is limp, maalis ang kunting pait,ginutom mo na naman ako

    Jul 21, 2005 | 8:21 am

     
  3. Mila says:

    I’ll add my vote to stef for the new moniker if this recipe changes my mind about ampalaya. I have childhood nightmares about this vegetable, and even taking the leaves as a tea still destroys my appetite. Maybe that’s why it’s become so popular as a diet drink.

    Jul 21, 2005 | 11:42 am

     
  4. Dia says:

    i might be one of the few who loves to eat ampalaya. :)
    great recipe you have here. i will try that one of these days.

    Jul 21, 2005 | 12:20 pm

     
  5. Ann says:

    i don’t blanch ampalaya ‘coz it makes the dish slightly watery…as my mother told me, just sprinkle a pinch of baking soda on sliced ampalaya (or even other green veggies)before cooking and it will keep the green color…i always do this in all green vegetables before cooking and it really works!

    Jul 21, 2005 | 12:44 pm

     
  6. Marketman says:

    Rey, one expert I read claims the soaking doesn’t remove bitterness…but maybe it does. I was so thrilled with results, I tried it again the next meal with a tablespoon of chili garlic sauce and it was a hit too. The sprinkle chopped vegetable with baking soda idea is a great trick Ann, I didn’t know that before these comments… I had picked up the baking soda in water idea from Elizabeth Schneider who might be the world’s expert on unusual vegetables and fruits! Thanks everyone for those comments and happy eating! I just started Phase 1 of my “South Forbes” Diet so I am DYING! Mind you, this ampalaya recipe is very “South Forbes”! Think I should copyright the Filipino name?

    Jul 21, 2005 | 1:07 pm

     
  7. joey says:

    YES! Copyright it right now, this instant! “South Forbes” Diet…that is just too perfect.

    Jul 21, 2005 | 4:31 pm

     
  8. Midge says:

    Where I’m from, we usually pair ampalaya guisado con tausi with lechong kawali. It’s a combination that works magnificently because the bitterness of the ampalaya offsets the richness of the fried pork. You should also try acharang ampalaya: quite a surprising taste sensation.

    Jul 21, 2005 | 4:34 pm

     
  9. Maricel says:

    Just a word of caution though on the baking soda trick, it might make the vegetables look great but it wreaks havoc on its vitamin and mineral content.

    Did you know that Chinese restaurants also use baking soda as meat tenderizer. That’s what they use to tenderize the beef for their stir fried dishes (think beef with broccoli). I still have to check on the proportion though.

    Jul 21, 2005 | 10:42 pm

     
  10. Marketman says:

    Yup, Maricel, you seem to be spot on. That’s also true for other readers who have emailed me. It seems the baking soda has alkaline that reacts with the vegetables to keep them a vibrant green. The practice of adding baking soda to water was common in the past in order to retain a nice color. However, it is NOW discouraged by the food experts as it seems baking soda/alkaline destroys the Vitamin C in the vegetables you are cooking. So perhaps the comments in the post and in readers messages need to be updated…I would not recommend the baking soda trick at this point. Thanks Maricel and others who emailed…again, I learned something today. Let’s go back to the olivey pallid ampalaya and just wear green tinted glasses instead! Someone has to write Elizabeth Schneider to say… tsk,tsk, your brilliant book on vegetables still includes the baking soda trick…

    Jul 21, 2005 | 11:10 pm

     
  11. Chris says:

    I hated ampalaya when I was a child but ever since I was diagnosed as off-the-hook anemic, I had to eat the thing until I developed an acquired taste. I’m one of the very few who love this vegetable I can even eat it raw with just some salt. You might wanna try pickled ampalaya. The sour taste should keep you a bit distracted from the bitter taste. Anyway, I’ve always done this dish but I never had to put baking soda to retain color. You might wanna try slicing the ampalaya really really thin and cooking it in of course in high heat, very quickly. It does a lot. First, it helps retain the color, and because it’s thin, you don’t get too much of the bitter in one bite. And it’s also because it;s thin that you cook it really fast. That makes the ampalaya dish less watery. Cooking good ampalaya too long will tend to make it watery whether or not you soak it. You put salt so the liquid is bound to get sucked out of the vegetable. Trust me…I do this dish a lot. I got my little brothers and sister to eat this dish doing that, though I’ve had to add more eggs for them. If it still doesn’t work for you, stick to eggplants…hehehe

    Jul 22, 2005 | 12:10 am

     
  12. schatzli says:

    no comment sa food na ito I still wont cook this
    but I will give you an A+ for the second pic!

    Jul 22, 2005 | 1:43 am

     
  13. Marketman says:

    Thanks for those comments, Chris. Now I have to really try cooking this dish without blanching and baking soda. I like the idea of the salad or with vinegar as a counterpoint to something wickedly fatty like lechon kawali…thanks Midge and others who mention this pairing. This vegetable will be revisited in future…

    Jul 22, 2005 | 4:57 am

     
  14. lee says:

    namit ang amargoso

    Jul 22, 2005 | 12:58 pm

     
  15. bugsybee says:

    Hi. I used to hate ampalaya too until my doc insisted that it’s good for anemia. A friend served me ampalaya which she squeezed with rock salt (right term? Squeezed?), put vinegar and a little sugar and tomatoes… also, in the same way you cooked it plus lechon kawali as Midge said. Perfect!

    Jul 22, 2005 | 2:18 pm

     
  16. suzette says:

    i used to dislike ampalaya also when i was younger. but now i have them weekly either with eggs, ground beef or even pickled.i feel that the more bitter it is, the more nutritious it is! soaking them in water to remove its bitterness might mean soaking the nutrients away.

    Jul 22, 2005 | 3:13 pm

     
  17. Karen says:

    Yikes! Now you know about your new nickname! Hehehe! Marketman, your gisa technique is the ‘western’ version. The Jerusalem Post has an article on this. Garlic won’t burn if you turn down the heat as you stir it into the pan. I use the western method for pasta sauces and the like but garlic first with native and other Oriental recipes.

    I’m one of those who likes ampalaya and it better be bitter otherwise it seems like an impostor. We cooked something similar to what Midge mentioned but with bits of fried garlic on top. Perfect!

    Wait, wait… where’s your sister? I was expecting her to pipe in with “finally, Marketman has matured, he now eats ampalaya…” Hehehe!

    Jul 23, 2005 | 12:52 am

     
  18. Marketman says:

    Lee, did I just get part of your comment and I don’t speak Ilocano??? You can post it again and I will erase earlier message… bugsybee will try the ampalaya salad concept with vinegar soon. Karen, funny you should ask, my sister sent me an offline email to tell me she must have eaten my portions when we were growing up… Have a good weekend all and that includes Monday where Filipinos have a whole day off to prepare to hear GMAs State of the Nation Address which isn’t until 4pm!!?? How ridiculous a reason for a holiday is that?

    Jul 23, 2005 | 9:23 am

     
  19. Chris says:

    You are so right about the SONA comment!
    Anyway, I still have to go to work so I get holiday pay…hehehe…I forgot to thank you for mentioning the garlic thingie, that you shouldn’t put it in first. I’ve geen through a lot of arguments because of that. It’s just too Filipino to put the garlic before onions or other stuff. They always like to “put the garlic first until it turns brown.” They almost always mean burn the garlic! Yay!

    Jul 23, 2005 | 10:49 pm

     
  20. IvanM says:

    Same childhood nightmare stories here you get know better as you grow up. ;o) My current favorite ampalaya variety right now are those really round,tiny ones that make for good pinakbet. Cook them right and theyre crisp down to the core,yum! My own take is that the less ingredients cooked with this veggie, thre more tasy it gets.

    So as my Tsinoy granpa would say, learn to ‘Chiah Koh’- eat bitter stuff- in the literal and figurative sense of the word!

    Jul 24, 2005 | 9:10 am

     
  21. alilay says:

    wow ang sarap that’s my lunch today i have this one ampalya in the fridge so bago siya mabulok o makalimutan na eh di lutuin na lang like you i sliced it thin and put lots of kosher salt in it and let it steeped for an hour i think tapos piniga ko siya and saute it w/ garlic, onion, a lone tomato and some shrimp some patis and an egg tapos nag-prito ako ng hiwas (i think you call it bilong bilong or moonfish) my husband said it smells good, he tasted it and liked it too although he passed on the ampalaya. my day is not really complete without visiting your site every day although when i/m at the office i can’t write messages.

    Feb 13, 2006 | 3:54 pm

     
  22. Emma Hibo says:

    I’ve learned a lot for your column. Ampalaya is my favorite. I always asking my friend when she can cook ampalaya. My children love to eat ampalaya but said wag ang luto mo na ampalaya. Even me I tasted bitter. Now Im really glad and thankful for having this site. I have now a gouts to do it for my own.

    Nov 20, 2007 | 3:04 pm

     
  23. Emma Hibo says:

    please open again my comment. I had mistake for typing. Instead gout it is guts.

    Nov 21, 2007 | 6:33 am

     
  24. WALA LANG says:

    ANG PAIT NG AMPALAYA EH!!!!!! PEWRO KAPAG NILAGYAN NG ITLOG ANG SARAP…………………NAlagyan ng asin eh1`!!!!!!!

    Dec 5, 2007 | 3:51 pm

     
  25. julie ann says:

    It’s a good thing that you are thinking and doing ways to improve this momordica charantia. But then I have a question: Are the nutrients removed after mincing, blendering and straining the ampalaya? I really wonder.
    Can you give me an answer?

    Dec 9, 2007 | 10:29 am

     
  26. marisse says:

    I love, LOVE ampalaya. I’ve been lurking this site for quite sometime now and i guess i’m one of your fans now. But I just need to put some thoughts about this veggie that i worship. Buy ampalaya that has big wrinkles or linings (sorry i don’t know what word to use, the smaller those wrinkles are the more bitter they are. And yes soaking them in salt and water or putting salt directly on it and let the greenish liquid come out then wash it thoroughly. I make my ampalaya with scrambled egg and sotanghan with some shrimp. I also add it to my pork rib with fish ball soup. Great on cold and rainy days.

    Dec 10, 2007 | 2:10 pm

     
  27. gigi says:

    I’ve learned of your blog just recently from a magazine. I enjoy reading everything in it especially about your articles on ampalaya. I am an Ilocano and I love it in my pinakbet.

    Thanks to you and your readers I now know several ways to cook it.

    Dec 12, 2007 | 6:02 pm

     
  28. jemelle says:

    ampalaya is great because it has polypeptide-p, vicine,charantine and peptides…..

    Dec 13, 2007 | 12:04 pm

     
  29. chona says:

    most of the people hates ampalaya while their are young…
    but as they grew their knowledge about ampalaya change…

    Jul 12, 2008 | 4:24 pm

     
  30. Farah says:

    I’ve learned a lot reading all the comments here.

    MM i have another great ampalaya recipe & i hope you try it.

    Cut ampalaya crosswise about an inch thick per piece, take out the seeds in the middle, blanch it in boiling water with salt for 15-30secs, set aside and cool. Saute’ minced garlic, onions, & ground beef, add soy sauce, chili (if you want it hot), eggs, salt & pepper, then add flour just to make it firm. Stuff the cooked ground beef inside the ampalaya roll it in eggs and fry. Top it with grated cheese. And WHALA! yumyum!

    Hope you like it. :)

    Jul 28, 2008 | 2:39 pm

     
  31. Farah says:

    By the way instead of soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce adds a little more flavor to it. :)

    Jul 28, 2008 | 2:42 pm

     
  32. edzmaya says:

    “it seems baking soda/alkaline destroys the Vitamin C in the vegetables you are cooking.”

    – Ah, oo nga ano? Come to think of it, it simply follows one basic Chemistry rule. Acid + Base = Water + CO2 + By Product. :-) In effect, nawala ang Vitamin C ng veggies at naging tubig at hangin na lang. Though I am sure, heat is also another major factor.

    Nov 2, 2008 | 10:53 pm

     
 

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