Some unusually bright green and uniquely bumpy “Japanese Bitter Gourds” were in the vegetable section of the grocery last week, and I purchased two of them to experiment with. Always on the lookout for the novel or unusual roduce find, I am so happy that the Dole company keeps trying to innovate and grow new produce items, whether for the local or export market. My body must have been experiencing an iron low or something because I was craving a dish of ampalaya or something equally bitter. Back home, I decided to do a quick stir-fry, and I chopped up a small onion, added it to a hot pan with some vegetable oil, then added a cup or so of lean ground beef and cooked that until most of the moisture was gone from the pan. Meanwhile, I de-seeded and sliced the japanese bitter gourd, which aside from its vibrant green color and unique bumps, seemed exactly like any other ampalaya or bitter gourd to me…
The sliced bitter gourd was added to the pan, then I added a bit of Chinese chilli and garlic sauce, some oyster sauce and stirred this a bit more. Finally, I added some cubed tofu and a minute later turned off the heat. The entire process couldn’t have taken more than 15 minutes, and the results? Fantastic. I am an instant fan of this Japanese bitter gourd. It seems crisper, and more vibrant than other varieties of ampalaya, but that may also have been because it was simply fresher. Whatever the reason, I thought it was a good find, and we repeated this same dish a few days later. The Japanese gourd is some 20-30% more expensive than local ampalaya, but at PHP25-30 per piece, still reasonable. You can do this recipe with regular ampalaya, of you like. Besides a little fat from the modest amount of ground beef, this could be considered an extremely healthy meal. At PHP120 or so worth of ingredients, this easily fed 6 or PHP20 per person plus rice.
I know a lot of folks don’t like the intense bitterness of ampalaya, but if you are a “bitter” fan, try this recipe. It is delicious but quick, easy and economical. I suspect we will be making it fairly often in the months ahead. :)