Although Filipinos may be known for having a powerful predilection to all things porcine--what with our current standing atop the now famous "Hierarchy of Pork"--we do like to mix in a few vegetables here and there when we can. And of course, with the Philippines' geographical make-up (it's like, a billion islands), seafood plays a tremendous role in our diet as well.
So with it being Lenten Season and all (and because I get loads of emails asking for vegetarian recipes), I figured there was no better time than now to begin exploring a few Filipino dishes that showcase veggies and/or seafood. Don't hold me to that though, as I'm sure I'll break down one of these weeks and devour a unicorn on a Friday sometime soon (which would be a mythological and religious double-whammy that would surely save me a place in Hades and/or hell).
Anyhizzle, I can't talk shop about Filipino vegetables without first mentioning my most favorite Pinoy veggie of them all: Ampalaya (AKA bitter melon).
True to its name, the bitter melon is indeed, very bitter. It's so bitter, that many a hardcore Filipino food lover will shy away from the green gourd as if it were a piece of planet Krypton.
In fact, there are those who go to great lengths to de-bitter a bitter melon by soaking the vegetable in various brines, rubbing it with salt, or dipping it in crumbled cookies (I made that last one up). But not me. I love the stuff in all its bitter glory. I can't get enough ampalaya! While it is true that ampalaya is an acquired taste, I do believe that there is a certain sweetness to the vegetable once that first rush of bitterness hits your palate.
Ginisang Ampalaya is quite simply bitter melon sauteed with some onions, garlic, and tomatoes, with some scrambled eggs thrown in at the last minute. Ginisang Ampalaya can also include shrimp, or even nummy pieces of pork belly. But for the sake of this post, I'll stick to the basics.
To start, cut a bitter melon in half lengthwise, then scoop out the seeds and pithy white membrane with a spoon, grapefruit spoon, or melon baller. Once the seeds are scraped out, cut the ampalaya into little half-moon shapes.
Bitter Melon Breakdown
Once the ampalaya is properly prepped, throw it into a skillet with some onions and garlic, add some tomatoes, season with some fish sauce (patis) and pepper, then toss in a couple of beaten eggs.
More veggies than egg
After a couple of spatula turns of the pan, and the eggs are cooked to your liking, voila, Ginisang Ampalaya.
Now while the finished product may look like a hot mess on the plate, it's a tasty hot mess. The bitterness of the ampalaya is tamed just a bit after cooking, and is also balanced by the sweetness of the onions and the sweet acidity of the tomatoes. It's a vegetable dish I can eat anytime, or on particular Fridays when I happen to remember I shouldn't be eating mythical beasts.
Ginisang Ampalaya: Sauteed Bitter Melon
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large bitter melon (8-10 inches in length), seeds removed and sliced into half-moons
1 half of a large onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 large tomato, diced
1 teaspoon salt
Patis (fish sauce), to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the bitter melon and onions to the skillet and saute until bitter melon softens and onions become translucent, 5-8 minutes. Add the garlic, tomatoes, and salt and continue cooking until tomatoes release all their liquid and soften, about 5 minutes. If the pan becomes too dry before the vegetables cook, add a few tablespoons of water.
Add the fish sauce and pepper and taste the vegetables. Add more fish sauce as needed. Reduce the heat to medium-low, then make a space in the middle of the pan by pushing the vegetables to the sides. Pour the eggs into the middle of the pan and allow to set for 1-2 minutes. Stir the eggs into the vegetables and continue cooking until eggs are scrambled to your liking.