Lasang Pinoy, for those of you not in the know, is a group of Filipino food bloggers who get together every now and again to blog about Filipino food. Each Lasang Pinoy event revolves around a certain theme to promote different aspects of Filipino food. Think of it as an underground fight club--except no one gets punched in the face, it's not so underground, and everyone shares recipes (Ok, so maybe an underground fight club wasn't the best analogy. My comparative analysis is unforgiveably nonsensical!).
Ahem, uh, moving on.
Like I was saying, each Lasang Pinoy event revolves around a certain theme. The theme for the Lasang Pinoy event that I took part in was "vegetables", or more specifically "Oh My Gulay!"
"Gulay" literally translates to "vegetable". The term, "Oh my gulay!" is (according to Toni at Wifely Steps) a Pinoy expression commonly used to present a feeling of shock, frustration, excitement, or surprise. Funny, that. I don't think there has ever been a Filipino who met a play on words that he didn't like (remember my Grandpa's legendary coconut joke?).
With my first foray into a Lasang Pinoy event coinciding with the Memorial Day weekend here in the U.S., I knew I had to get a little creative. I was initially going to make my most favorite Pinoy dish, Pinakbet, but I thought that would be too pedestrian a dish for this event. The guidelines for this Lasang Pinoy event state that entries need not be a typical Filipino recipe, but it had to have Pinoy flavor. So I attempted to incorporate that Pinoy flavor (flava in ya mouf!) into one of the biggest grilling weekends of the year.
My grill was calling out to me. Oh my gulay!
I decided that I was going to grill a couple of Pinakbet ingredients (bitter melon and tomato) and make some sort of grilled salad. My wife, who is not Filipino, doesn't particularly like bitter melon because it is, well, bitter. Bitter melon, or ampalaya, is an acquired taste for sure, but I thought maybe grilling the ampalya would soften its bite a bit.
I halved the bitter melon lengthwise and scooped out its center mass of seeds and pulp with a spoon. I then placed the two canoes of bitter melon on a hot grill. To balance out the bitterness of the bitter melon, I also grilled a mango, a tomato, and half of a lemon. This may seem like a strange melange of flavors, but I thought they worked well in unison as the smokiness from the grill tied all the flavors together.
After getting good grill marks on the mango, tomato, and lemon, I removed them from the grill and let them cool a bit. After getting good grill marks on the bitter melon, I placed the bitter melon halves in a foil pouch and poured in a bit of soy and squeezed in the juice from the grilled lemon half. I let the pouch heat up a bit more on the grill so that the bitter melon would steam and braise and become softer.
I gave the mango and tomato a rough chop, tossed them together with some red onion, and then spooned them into the bitter melon halves. The concave of the bitter melon made for a good serving vessel for the mango and tomato.
Yes. I served this grilled salad with a burger and beer (It's Memorial Day Weekend, of course I grilled burgers).
While I thought the finished product was a delicious melding of bitter, sweet, salty, and tangy, my wife still didn't take to the flavor of the bitter melon (damn her caucasian taste buds!). If you don't like bitter melon, or have never tried it, you can still grill the tomato and mango, chop and toss with red onion, and use that as a tasty relish for the top of your burger. Flava!
Grilled Bitter Melon, Mango, and Tomato Salad
Makes 2 servings
1 small bitter melon (6-inches), halved lengthwise with pulp and seeds removed. Bitter melon, also known as ampalaya, can be found at Asian markets.
1 ripe (but not too soft) mango, flesh removed from pit to yield two lobes of mango
1 large tomato, halved
Half of one lemon
Canola oil, for brushing
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
Half of one small red onion, diced
Brush the cut sides of the bitter melon, mango, tomato, and lemon with the canola oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the bitter melon, mango, tomato, and lemon, cut side down, on a very hot grill. Continue to grill until grill marks form, about 5 minutes.
Remove the mango, tomato, and lemon from the grill and allow to sit until cool enough to handle. Remove the bitter melon from the grill and place on a sheet of aluminum foil. Pour the soy sauce over the bitter melon and squeeze the grilled lemon to extract all of its juice over the bitter melon. Fold the foil over the bitter melon to form a tight packet and replace onto the grill. Allow to cook for 3-5 minutes more, or until the bitter melon is fork-tender but not mushy, and remove from the grill. Reserve the liquid from the foil packet.
After the mango and tomato have cooled enough to handle, scoop the mango flesh from its skin using a spoon; peel the skin from the tomato using your fingers (the tomato skin should come off rather easily). Roughly chop the the mango and tomato and then toss with the diced red onion in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Spoon the mango and tomato mixture evenly into the bitter melon halves. Drizzle with reserved liquid from the foil packet.