Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Kinilaw na Ampalaya na may Dilis a la Carlo (Bitter Melon or Ampalaya Salad with Crispy Fried Anchovies)

Yes you read it right …… it’s a salad made of bitter melon or “ampalaya”. Kids will probably raise their eyebrows on this …… and most likely disappear from the dining table long before the serving plate even touch the top. First of all, we are talking about vegetable which most kids by nature are not quite excited about and second of all we are referring to “ampalaya” or bitter melon …… the one vegie most (if not all) children avoid, that is if not totally hate.

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. :-)

Despite its distinct bitter taste, there are many reasons for us to regularly consume bitter gourd. The foremost of which is its nutritional value. It has several essential vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin C, calcium, copper, iron, phosphorous, and potassium. If that is not yet enough for you, well it has many health and medicinal properties as well. It helps purify blood tissue, enhances digestion and stimulates the liver. Likewise, it is said to be helpful in regulating the blood sugar levels, improving diabetic and toxemia conditions and in the treatment of hypertension, amongst many other benefits.

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.

The first step is to fry the anchovies. To attain a crisp texture, deep fry the anchovies in batches. It should be crisp but not over cooked. Drain in table napkin to remove excess oil.



Combine the sugar with vinegar. Add some more sugar as necessary to balance the acidity of the vinegar. Your type of vinegar could be different from mine, so adjust accordingly.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients – bitter melon, onion, tomatoes and fried anchovies. Then pour the vinegar-sugar mixture. Stir lightly for all the flavors to blend.



Transfer in a serving platter. Serve with steamed rice and your main viand. Of course, this is intended as a veggie dish or appetizer/side dish in a main meal. :-)

We ate ours alongside sweet and sour fish prepared a la Sri Lankan and it’s a pretty nice combination …… a luscious Asian meal with fish and lots of vegetables.

Try this “ampalaya” salad a la Carlo. They have been enjoying this in Cebu for a long time and we could now have the same unique dining experience in our homes. Very easy but amazingly yummy!

As our friend Carlo also loves eating, cooking and taking photos of foods, expect that this will not be his first and last recipe share with us. Enjoy! c“,)

3 comments:

  1. Good Post!!

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  2. My cousin just brought back dilis from Dagupan yesterday, I'll try this recipe as soon as I get ampalaya in the market tomorrow! Looks really delicious!

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  3. The foremost of which is its nutritional value. It has several essential vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin C, calcium, copper, iron, phosphorous, and potassium. If that is not yet enough for you, well it has many health and medicinal properties as well.




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