Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Kinilaw na Ampalaya na may Dilis a la Carlo (Bitter Melon or Ampalaya Salad with Crispy Fried Anchovies)
I sure shared the same feeling when I was younger but of course that’s no longer true at this time. I learned to love most vegetables including the mighty “bitter gourd” over the years. I have appreciated its unique bitter flavor which when prepared in specific ways becomes very palatable. This makes me excited about this simple vegetable dish which a colleague, Carlo, regularly eat (and enjoy) in their home province of Cebu, Philippines and now would like to share with us.
As a backgrounder, Momordica charantia is the scientific name of bitter melon or bitter gourd and called “ampalaya” in the Philippine language. It is a tropical and subtropical herbaceous vine of the family Cucurbitaceae that is widely grown in South and Southeast Asia, China, Africa and the Caribbean for its distinct edible fruit and sometimes for its young shoots and leaves like in the Philippines. One can easily remember the plant (or hard to really forget once tasted) for its fruit is among the most bitter of all fruits, or vegetables for that matter.
There are many varieties that differ substantially in the size, shape, configuration of the warty exterior body and bitterness of the fruit. The one usually available here in Sri Lanka is the Indian variety which I find more bitter than the ones sold in the Philippines - which I believe is the China phenotype. Bitter melon is generally consumed cooked in the green or early yellowing stage when its flesh is crunchy and watery in texture and skin is still tender and edible. The young fruit which do not have hard seeds yet are thought to be the best for cooking. As I said above, the young shoots and leaves may also be eaten as greens and I’ll tell you it’s great.
Bitter gourd is often use in stir-fries, soups and surprisingly stuffed and fried dishes in the Chinese and Filipino cooking. In some parts of Southeast Asia like Vietnam and Indonesia it is used in stews, cooked with coconut milk, boiled and steamed. In some parts of South Asia it is cooked with curry and other spices, stuffed with meat and boiled, sautéed with other vegetables and even pickled. :-)
In preparing this unique salad we need 1 large bitter gourd, halved lengthwise, seeds and pith removed, thinly sliced crosswise and soaked in salted water then lightly squeezed to remove some of its bitter juice. Additionally we need, 100 grams dried anchovies (head less if possible), about ¼ cup white vinegar (Visayan coconut vinegar or tuba is traditionally used by Carlo), 1 large onion chopped, 2 large tomatoes chopped, about 2 tsp white sugar and some vegetable oil to fry the dried anchovies.