Tiny Ampalayas with Ground Beef & Oyster Sauce


The tiny (wild?) ampalayas that I found at the market a few weekends ago seemed to elicit a lot of reader reaction. It seems the vegetables are a delicacy in some parts and folks have strong memories about this bitter ingredient. The most often suggested use is in a pinakbet but I didn’t have several of the key ingredients for pinakbet so we tried to figure out another way to cook the ampalaya… We cut each tiny ampalaya in four and set them aside. We didn’t bother to salt them and leech them thinking that it wouldn’t make much of a difference. We then sauteed some onions and garlic in vegetable oil. Threw in some ground beef and stirred over high heat. Threw in the sliced ampalayas and after a minute or two added some bottled oyster sauce. Season with salt and pepper and serve piping hot with lots of rice…

Yikes! Wickedly, wickedly bitter. Frankly, I couldn’t eat more than a couple of pieces. I like bitter but this was way over the top for me! amp2Maybe in pinakbet where the ampalaya is cooked or stewed longer and it is just one of several vegetables, the bitter hit would be tolerable. But as a stir-fry and being the main ingredient this was wickedly bitter. Even the meat and the powerful flavor of oyster sauce wasn’t enough to offset the ampalaya. Maybe I should have blanched the ampalaya first. Hmmm, I’m not that avid an ampalaya connoiseur that I have to get this right. It’s enough to know that I tried it at least once… Btw, the foggy photo up top isn’t an attempt to be artistic, it’s just that the lens of the camera fogged up coming out of an airconditioned room.


25 Responses

  1. The tiny ampalayas you featured here are notorious for their bitterness. You even used the core per your beautiful pictures. Am I right? In pinakbet the bitterness is tone down due to migration of its bitterness to other vegetables or the use of bagoong isda that is my theory. These ampalayas are good boiled or steamed with vinegar, bagoong and fried bangus or tilapia.

  2. Hi Marketman! fortunately for me the ampalaya is not as bitter here in Australia.I do believe that it does help when it’s stewed not stir fried. It still looks great! I might try it. I’ll cooked a bit more and put a bit of broth and possibly a bit of egg.

  3. Hi MM! Our old cook in my parents’ house said that the bitterness of ampalaya comes from over stirring it. When she cooks ampalaya with egg there is hardly any bitter taste at all. With your over stir frying them, I guess the bitterness just oozed out all the more aside from it being really more bitter than the normal sized ampalaya. Try cooking them with paksiw na isda!

  4. Our family isn’t fond of using a lot of oyster sauce and ampalaya in our dishes. It sounds better than stirfying them in msg.

  5. oh gosh yes, that particular ampalaya is very bitter. that’s why in an Ilocano pinakbet, you put it in whole (don’t even cut the ends) so the bitterness stays within.

  6. I used to have an Indian friend (with a dot) in our expat community here in Kobe City. She told me that they stuff those tiny bittermelon with spiced ground meat and pan fry in a little bit of oil.
    I remember her saying tha the warts on the skin have to be scraped to remove the bitterness. I’ve never done it so not sure if that really helps reduce the bitterness.

  7. In an earliar post, where you featured ampalayas (karela or pavakka in India) I had suggested you deep fry rings of ampalayas. Do try this out. For me this is the only edible way of cooking amapalyas. Deep frying tones down the bitterness and its nice and crunchy and stays for weeks. Add some fried dry red chilles, garlic and curry leaves to the deep fried amaplaya rings before serving or storing them. This adds a nice flavour. The ampalaya rings need to be marinated in salt and chilli powder for about 30 to 60 minutes before deep frying.

  8. Anupama, yes, I do recall your recipe from my main ampalaya post several months ago. I will try frying the larger ones sometime soon… lee, more like the “faint sequence” from the taste… I could have passed out. bijin, I have never heard the scrape the warts trick but its probably worth a try… Mita, yipes, you mean cutting it made it worse? Marga, I haven’t heard the overstirring advice either…amazing how many things a bitter veggie can spin… Maria Clara, boiled or steamed looks like the way to go…

  9. I’ve been a fan of yours MM for the past month or so and I guess this would be a good opportunity to start sharing and posting.

    Whenever I cook with Ampalaya as an ingredient, I blanch it first in boiling water with a little salt for say 3-5 minutes, depending on the thickness of the slice. I then strain it and bath them in iced water to stop the cooking process. Then I just cook them however I’d like them, be it with eggs or with thinly sliced beef in oyster sauce and black beans. I discovered that it isnt as bitter as usual and that it maintained a more shiny green color :) Hope this helps.

  10. I don’t know about those tiny ampalayas, but the regular ones we soak in very cold water after slicing. They seem crunchier that way, too.

  11. I just had raw ampalaya salad for lunch. Amazingly, it has just a hint of bitterness. It was quite refreshing actually, tossed with tomatoes, onions, vinegar and a bit of patis and refrigerated until crunchy cold. I never thought I could ever like amapalaya.

  12. I made the same mistake with those tiny ampalayas a few years back. I’m not a fan of ampalaya and using this in a dish similar to what you made didn’t help. Larger ampalayas i can tolerate but not the small ones.

  13. Just to clarify: We don’t bother to salt and/or leech the amplayas, just soak then in cold water for fifteen minutes or so. Somehow they retain only a tolerable bitterness that way. No idea if it’s because of the kind of ampalaya we buy, but we get them from all over and the cold soak works every time. Anyway, it wouldn’t hurt to try…

  14. Try grilling (half cooked) those tiny ampalayas, take out the seeds, and put it in a flavored native vinegar (with siling labuyo), native tomatoes and a little ginamos. That’s the only recipe I’ve tried with those tiny ampalayas when I was still in Mindanao. Soo yummy… Too bad,I could not find that kind here in Cebu.

  15. Ampalaya (amargoso in Ilonggo) is one of my favorite vegetables. But this is the first time I see a small one. Is this only grown in the Philippines? I also eat it as a salad alongside red peppers with Japanese vinegar. It is a good sawsawan. Ymmmm….

  16. MM, passing out from the bitterness of ampalaya is just too funny! and i thought you were into putting tulle or gauze or vaseline on the sides of your lens! nice how it turned out, though..who would have thought it could be so vile….

  17. I love this type. My Dad is Ilocano, so everytime we go to the North, we had these pinakbet style. My Mom, an Ilonggo, preferred the bigger ones grown in Negros. I love both types for health reasons. They are good for diabetics, though I’m not. But my sister who was borderline diabetic before can attest to the wonders of this veggie. She was cured after eating ampalaya for 2 months (3 times a week) and exercising.

  18. MM, I read in a previous post that you get gout, even from shellfish, just like my husband. Ampalaya is our antidote. If he gets a bad attack, (rare now cause he watches what he eats), I juice a raw ampalaya (yes, really!), add an apple or carrots to kill the bitter, then he drinks it (can chase with water) and the gout will be gone soon. Now, as preventative, he takes ampalaya pills every day with the regular daily vitamins. If he eats some shrimps, like at a Chinese restaurant, he will also order an ampalaya dish and be sure to eat that too.

  19. One has to have an acquired taste for this veggie to love it. And those who do, really crave for it like they crave for chocolate!

    I grew up eating ampalaya, but of the variety that was much, much, bigger, the ones with shinier, smoother skins, sometimes we call “malalaking kilabot”. One big ampalaya could weigh around 3/4 kg or 750 gms. In our town, before the onslaught of lahar, that was our main agricultural crop–harvesting tons of it on a weekly basis. So we have lots of recipes for ampalaya.

    One of my favorites is the stuffed ampalaya, which we call “rellenong apalya”, which we dip in yup! ketchup! It’s really, really nice. And yes, it’s true that frying this veggie will reduce the bitter taste. We also do, ampalaya omelette and it’s nice with sliced fresh tomatoes or even ketchup. Or else, we just boil it and dip it in bagoong alamang with vinegar or that fermented rice, we call, ‘tagilo’ in Pampango or ‘buro’ in Pilipino. You can also fry it and dip it in ketchup. Hayy! I’m tortured describing all these recipes to you MM, because where I am, ampalaya is nowhere in sight, or kung meron man, frozen na from Vietnam.

    If you’re interested with the relleno, I can give you the recipe. Learn to love it, its good food.

  20. yes. . . we use this ampalaya for pakbet ilocano and I think he bitterness mellows when you use it for this dish. . . we always have this vine hanging in the fence of my lola’s, so we harvest fresh ampalaya for pakbet. . .

  21. in our province, this type of ampalaya is usually boiled then paired with burong isda or hipon. most of my siblings prefer eating ampalaya with most of its bitter taste squeezed out. but i like it the way it is or at least with the bitterness only slightly tempered by sprinkling it with a bit of salt before running it under tap water. coz, really what’s ampalaya without that bitter taste?

  22. hi,
    is ampalaya the same as bitter gourd and bitter melon? if so then I understand the veg.that you’re talking about hehe. It’s bitter for me and I’ll try the tips from everyone here to get rid of the bitterness. But its the first time for me to know that there are mini/baby ampalaya hehe. I usually fry mine w/eggs or as a veg dish w/ground pork or beef hehe in oyster sauce.

  23. the ampalaya con carne i know is the one offered in chinese panciterias ( sun wah, toho, pines). It has strips of sirloin, sliced onions, luya, bawang, soy sauce , a hint of sugar and corn starch .if i’m not mistaken, there is tausi in this dish. no beaten eggs in their version. muy delicioso with the right degree of bitterness.

Comments are closed.



Subscribe To Updates

No spam, only notifications about new blog posts.