Sometimes referred to a bitter gourd, ampalaya (bitter melon), mormodica chatantia, is also known in some Visayan regions as amargozo. It is a vegetable that grows on vines. The average length is eight to twelve inches. As the English names suggest, ampalaya has a bitter taste. This is one of the vegetables I avoided as I child–avoided with vehemence. My grandmother used to say that the bitterness should be negligible considering the many health benefits it gave. Children don’t really listen to that kind of reasoning, myself included. I have a cousin who would soak her share of ampalaya slices in patis before pinching her nose to eat them.
Then, I got seriously ill when I was in my early twenties and I became anemic. My brother, who couldn’t even fry an egg if his life depended on it, would volunteer to cook ampalaya con carne just to get me to eat ampalaya. I mean, how could I refuse, right? He’s my younger brother and he was being so thoughtful. So I would eat his ampalaya con carne. I still didn’t like the taste but I ate anyway. I have since overcome my childhood prejudices. Ampalaya still isn’t in my list of favorite vegetables but I now cook it mostly for variety. Eating the same medley of vegetables everyday can be boring. I have also learned a few tricks to get rid of the ampalaya‘s bitterness to make it more palatable.
When buying ampalaya, choose the ones with the less wrinkled skin. In my experience, they taste less bitter.
1 medium-sized ampalaya
75 g. of ground beef
75 g. of ground pork
(instead of red meat, you can substitute ground chicken breast meat, minced fish or chopped shrimps)
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp. of breadcrumbs
1 tbsp. of grated carrot
1 tbsp. of finely chopped onions
1 tsp. of finely minced garlic
salt and pepper
Cooking procedure :
Wash the ampalaya well. Cut off the top and bottom parts. Cut the body into 2-inch thick rings. With a sharp narrow knife, cut around cavity of the ampalaya to remove the seeds.
To remove the excess bitterness, place the ampalaya in a glass bowl and sprinkle liberally with rock salt. Cover and let stand for at least 20 minutes. With your thumb and forefinger, carefully squeeze out the water expelled by the ampalaya. Wash and place in a clean bowl. Pour boiling water over the ampalaya and allow to soak for five minutes. Drain, splash with cold water and drain again.
Mix together the rest of the ingredients to make the filling. Use a tablespoon of the meat mixture to stuff the cavities pressing to pack in the filling well. Place in a shallow baking pan and bake in a 350oF oven for 25-30 minutes or until the top of the filling is lightly browned.
Note that if you’re using fish, chicken or shrimps for your filling you may have to lightly grease the baking pan to avoid sticking. This isn’t necessary if you’re using ground pork in the mixture because whatever fat it has will grease the pan during cooking.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.