“This Ampalaya con Carne does not taste bitter at all. How did you do it?” asked my family as I served them the long time healthy dish my mom used to make for me.
Ampalaya or bitter melon as a vegetable is anything but bitter if cooked properly. I remember it was often on our dinner tables once school started. I never really understood that part, though I suspect it was a seasonal vegetable. But what I discovered were its many different nutritious qualities which my parents never told us about. We were urged to eat what was in front of us, no questions asked. That was back in the day. In previous blog posts, I have told stories of how I was forced to eat ampalaya during a school retreat, how that version compared to my mom’s more marvelous version and how I have cooked different vegetable versions in soups and entrees as I got more familiar with it through the years. It’s been an interesting road to discovering one of the best vegetables from the gourd family on this planet.
Our Filipino meals always revolve around what’s best to pair with lots of rice, a staple for breakfast, lunch to dinner and sometimes even in between. This vegetable with beef dish is perfect because it has just the right amount of savory and salty to go well with the plain simplicity of boiled white rice. I mixed in the ground beef sautéed in tomatoes and onions to combat any suspicion of bitterness from these ampalaya slices. Once mixed together, I tossed in beaten eggs that cooked by itself on the vegetables and beef. And by popular demand, I added an extra portion of scrambled eggs, all sliced and strewn on the dish. The result was a colorful vegetable-meat sautéed dish that cooked fast, smelled scrumptious and was utterly perfect poured on a bed of fragrant jasmine rice.
As I watched my family gobble down the dish with much hunger and enthusiasm, I knew I had perfected cooking ampalaya the way my mom used to. Luckily, I made enough tonight for seconds.
Ampalaya con Carne: Sauteed Beef with Bitter Melon
- large skillet or wok
- 1 to 2 whole ampalayas (bitter melon) seeded, white membrane removed, sliced (about 2 cups)
- 4 Tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 whole white onion sliced
- 1 whole large tomato chopped (about 1 cup)
- 1/2 pound ground beef
- 1 cup beef broth
- 2 Tablespoons xiao xing rice wine
- 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
- 2 Tablespoons salt for dredging the bitter melon
- 2 whole eggs beaten, to mix into saute
- 2 whole eggs scrambled separately, to add as garnish
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- for serving: steamed rice
- Wash the ampalaya’s outer skin thoroughly. Slice the whole piece lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop out the middle white membrane or flesh with seeds in the center. This will leave a hollow part of the vegetable. Slice the vegetable in thin ringlets, about ¼ inch. Place these slices in a medium bowl and dredge with the sea salt. Let stand for about 15 to 20 minutes. Wash the ampalaya slices with water, shake off any excess or drain. Then wrap the ampalaya pieces in a cheesecloth and squeeze the salt out of it, careful not to crush the uncooked vegetable slices. Set aside till ready to mix in the saute.
- In a large skillet, over medium high heat, add the cooking oil. When oil is hot, after about 2 minutes, saute the garlic, onions, tomatoes. Stir and cook till tomatoes soften in 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add the ground beef, beef broth, rice wine, soy sauce. Cook till ground beef turns from pink to brown. This should take about 12 to 15 minutes. Add the tablespoon of sugar.
- Into the same skillet, add the sliced ampalaya. Mix with the ground beef and tomatoes saute. Cook the vegetables for about 5 to 6 minutes. The vegetable slices will turn slightly translucent.
- Add two beaten eggs to the entire mixture. If desired, add scrambled eggs, separately cooked and sliced in slivers to the entire saute. Toss all ingredients together. Season with freshly ground black pepper. Serve hot with boiled white rice.
- Recipe notes: some recipes suggest to blanch the ampalaya slices in a pot of briskly boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes before adding to the saute, another step to removing the bitter taste. If you want to do this step, cut down the ampalaya cooking time when you add it to the beef-tomato saute to about 3 minutes or till slices turn translucent.
- Cook’s comments: ampalaya or bitter melon can be found in Asian markets. In the Philippines and Asian countries it is a vegetable that grows abundantly and is easy to find. It is also called 'amargoso' (Spanish for bitter) by Filipinos.
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Notes on Nutrition: The nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and specific brands of ingredients used.
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