Ampalaya can be a tricky vegetable to prepare. The gourd is known as a nutritional powerhouse with many health benefits and herbal properties but along with its myriad of vitamins and minerals is a pronounced bitter taste which can be off-putting to most. To rid of its natural acridity, it is customary for the cook to salt the vegetable and squeeze off its juices before cooking. This method does improve palatability but with a caveat and that is important nutrients are also dispelled during the process.
Contrary to popular kitchen practices, I do not salt my ampalaya prior to cooking. I don’t eat vegetables as often as I should and when I do, I want to reap their full benefits. By following these simple tips, you’ll find that the salting process is really unnecessary for a successful ampalaya dish.
- Use the youngest and greenest gourds you can find because as the vegetable matures and yellows, the bitter taste intensifies.
- Make sure to scrape off all the white pith as this part has a higher alkaloid content and carries most of the bitterness.
- Keep stirring to a minimum and do not overcook.
Ampalaya con Carne
- 2 large ampalaya halved lengthwise, seeded and sliced thinly
- 1/2 pound top sirloin sliced thin and cut into strips
- 1/4 cup oyster sauce
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 onion peeled and sliced thinly
- 4 cloves garlic peeled and minced
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- Cut ampalaya lengthwise into halves. With a spoon, remove seeds and scrape off inner pith. Sliced thinly and place in a bowl of cold water until needed. Drain well when ready to use.
- In a bowl, combine beef, 1/2 of the oyster sauce, 1/2 of the soy sauce, sesame oil and salt and pepper to taste. Marinate for about 10 minutes.
- In a wide skillet over high heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add beef and spread across pan. Allow to sear for about 1 to 2 minutes or until lightly browned and then turn to brown evenly. Remove from pan and set aside.
- In the same pan, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring regularly, until limp. Add ampalaya and gently stir to combine. Cook for about 2 to 3 minutes or until tender yet crisp. Return beef to pan.
- In a small bowl, combine water, the remaining soy sauce and oyster sauce, sugar and cornstarch. Stir until sugar and cornstarch are dissolved. Add to pan and continue to cook, stirring regularly, for about 1 to 2 minutes or until beef is heated through and sauce slightly thickens. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.