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. :-)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Chili Crab a la Regina - For February Kulinarya Challenge

This month’s Kulinarya Club challenge lovingly conceived by the tandem of Abigail of My Nappytales and Marni of Kensington Kitchen is about …… well …… first LOVE and the dish associated with it. I maybe blushing but don’t giggle just yet. :-) Everything I want to do at the time I first experienced that “tender feeling of affection” (I vividly remember I used to write down this definition in slam books), sometime in high school or probably early college, ha ha ha (it’s funny I’m not quite sure), is nothing but basketball. Perhaps basketball is to blame for clouding my memory and not clearly remembering.

Yes, I believe I eat a lot that time, because we played a lot and needed a good amount of food to supply the energy requirements, but nothing in particular really registered in my mind when it comes to food. With just a 5-peso daily allowance (sometimes none) and with body strength 95% powered by rice (some “bahaw” or “kanin lamig”), that’s probably not unusual, lol.

But of course I would not want to disappoint Abigail and Marni. That’s a nay. I can’t reason out I’m on a holiday/vacation just like last month (sorry Pearl of My Sassy Chef and Thea of Words and Nosh) and they have an awesome theme with rich topics to share. In lieu, I would like to prepare a roughly similar in taste (okay not quite comparable but also good) with the dish so close to my heart that my first experience of it is like falling in love for the first time. The dish is called “Crab Juanita”. Now you can chuckle. :)

Okay, I admit I messed that up a little bit. The dish I fell in love with is actually “Crab Maritess” of the popular Red Crab restaurant in Manila (Philippines). The name Juanita that came into the scene is actually my wife whom I am deeply in love with. Love can be so confusing sometimes. Really!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Tokwa't Isda (Fish and Tofu in Sweet Vinaigrette)

It’s good to be back. Yes, I’m back from a long …… actually, prolonged hiatus which started during my long Christmas holiday back in the Philippines from late December last year. I had a grand time with my family, relatives and friends. Too many memorable moments that somehow led to an after vacation condition of slightly chronic amnesia that caused me to temporarily forget that I have a blog to maintain. Not cool, yeah!

All I can say is, sorry folks that I was not able to post anything for quite a long time …… well, make that very long time. In fact, it was the longest duration of inactivity in this website …… and I have no intension of repeating such a period in the future.

For a starter, let me share a simple but delightful tofu dish. Obviously this is somewhat a healthy variation of the popular Filipino side dish cum appetizer cum “pulutan” (bites or morsel) called “tokwa’t baboy” – a mixture of fried pork and fried bean curd in a slightly sweet vinegar-soy sauce dressing. While I prepare “tokwa’t baboy” regularly (especially when … okay let me cut that off … the wife wouldn’t like it and besides drinking is not good for our health, lol), I have not featured the dish yet and instead just posted the plain “fried tokwa” version which is prepared basically the same way except that the “baboy” or fried pork part was omitted.

Not really due to diet restrictions or medical condition …… but because we can’t easily find pork jowl here. You read it right, that’s pork jowl or the pig’s cheek that I’m referring to. For me and my male friends here, pork jowl is the best pork cut for the dish … and if you are uninitiated and have problem with that, pork belly or “liempo” is the next best cut which works just fine. :-)

Since the day I wittingly substituted fried pork with fried tuna and added some crunchy cucumber, the new concoction which is the subject of this post instantly became our group’s favorite tofu dish. I have already posted a photo of the dish in the Facebook fan page of this humble blog which received favorable comments and thus the recipe, a very simple one, is provided herewith for those who are requesting for it, for “pulutan” purposes I suppose. :-)


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