Lasang Pinoy 18: Ampalaya with Egg

Another round of Lasang Pinoy is upon me and this time it’s all about vegetables. Lasang Pinoy, literally translated as Filipino Taste, is a food blogging event that celebrates all aspects of Filipino food (and the various permutations thereof…and believe you me, there are many).

This month’s host, Toni of Wifely Steps, has aptly named this round “Oh my gulay!” Gulay means vegetable, and “Oh my gulay!” is, as Toni put it, a Filipino “expression commonly used to present a feeling of shock, frustration, excitement, or surprise”. That’s right, just like “Oh my god!” or “Oh my gosh!” or “Oh my goodness!” I have no idea how the phrase originated, not that I haven’t used it, but I think we basically just took the “g” from god/gosh/goodness and turned it in to gulay. Strange? I think not! See here. Slang is part of culture and a fun part at that. Especially if it involves veggies…which are always nice.

Ok, not always. I love veggies, but there are a few that insist on scaring me off. So, although there are loads of veggie dishes I would like to make for this event, I decided to make one that I don’t (like, that is). The mighty ampalaya (bitter melon). I have tried more than once to like this vegetable…but it’s just too bitter for me. I was discussing a certain Jeffrey Steingarten train of thought with a good friend and I thought, “This can’t go on!”. It irks me to think of this brilliant green, wrinkly veg, sitting high and mighty on its throne, looking down at me and laughing, “You can’t eat me!”. Really? We’ll just have to see about that.

Ampalaya also happens to be one of C’s favorites! He was forced to eat it as a kid, and eventually grew to love it. Amazing huh? We never have it at home though because I don’t eat it, and I have this weird handicap of not being able to cook anything I don’t like. But the buck stops here.

I chose this preparation because it’s a typically Pinoy way of having ampalaya, it’s easy, and C likes it this way best (we may as well favor the one that actually likes ampalaya right?). I had no idea what I was doing. I sort of pieced together this dish from snippets and tips taken from other blogs, my mom’s cook, and C’s persistent yet anxious directives.

Ampalaya With Egg
  • 150-200 grams worth of ampalaya (bitter melon)
  • 3 heaping tablespoons rock salt
  • 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 1 tomato, seeds removed and chopped
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • Salt and pepper

- Slice the ampalaya in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and white innards. Slice each half widthwise into thin half moons.
- In a colander, rub the slices with rock salt. Rub them well! This part is fun…both you and the ampalaya get a salt scrub. When done, rinse ampalaya slices with water and let drain.
- Now, grab a handful of the drained ampalaya slices and SQUEEZE like your life depends on it. - Once you’ve squeezed the liquid out, set ampalaya slices on a paper towel and repeat with the next fistful until you are done with all the ampalaya.
- Heat the oil in a kawali (wok). Add the garlic, onions, and tomato all at once, and sautee until onions are soft and translucent.
- Toss in the ampalaya and stir fry until ampalaya is cooked through and tender.
- Take the pan off the heat and stir in the eggs. If, after some stirring, it’s still too runny for your taste, place pan back on the hob and continue stirring until eggs are set to your liking.
- Season with salt and pepper, then transfer immediately to a plate (or else the heat from the pan will continue to cook the eggs).
- Serves 2

I was nervous every step of the way. Not because the dish posed much difficulty, but because I could smell the ampalaya the whole time. Even if in all likelihood this was purely in my mind, the smell (which isn’t even that strong mind you) seemed to carry with it a bitter (no pun intended) taunt that I would not be able to do it. But I was patient and gentle (except for the squeezing part), and when the eggs softly set to my liking, I sprinkled some salt on it and took my first bite.

I’m cured!

Something I had done had mellowed all but a hint of the bitterness (the salt scrub? the squeezing?). The garlic, onions, and tomato added their own distinct flavors, making the dish as a whole taste less of ampalaya and more a happy combination of all the ingredients. And the egg enveloped everything in its creamy softness. I actually kinda liked it! As I greedily shoveled spoonfuls of that something-once-disliked into my mouth, the epiphany of it was amazing. A very “oh my gulay!” moment…

As for C, he was very happy that ampalaya is finally part of our menu. The eggs were a tad to wet for his taste (but that's how I like them! no matter, it's a snap to make separate batches...), but when I asked what else I could change he simply said: "Make more!"

In the end, neither I nor the mighty ampalaya were conquered. But I think we just may become friends :)