Round 10 of ABC Wednesday was the first round (since I joined in Round 3 or 4) I was able to complete. Having that sense of accomplishment made me stop joining Round 11, but I admit I miss the fun of thinking and photographing (and / or searching my photo files) for images that I could share for ABC Wednesday. Come to think of it, I rarely update this blog every Wednesdays after deciding of not joining Round 11, so for Round 12 I told myself I will join again. This early, I already listed what I will share for the entire round, making sure I won't repeat any of the items I have shared. I have yet to think what to share for Q and X, but the rest were already okay.
So... Letter A again. Let's see... I have shared almonds, asparagus, apples, even stretching it to apple flavored tea, and then I realized, I still haven't shared this one kind of A: Ampalaya.
According to Ampalaya.Com:
Ampalaya is a vegetable grown throughout the Philippines. It is mostly cultivated, although wild forms can be found. It grows wild in the remote areas of Mt. Banahaw. As the English name suggests (bitter melon), the melon has a bitter taste due to the presence of momordicin. There has been much research done on the effectiveness of using Momordica Charantia in the treatment of diabetes. It has been shown to increase production of beta cells by the pancreas, thereby improving the body’s ability to produce insulin. It has been recommended by the Department of Health of the Philippines, as one of the best herbal medicines for it's ability to help with liver problems, Diabetes and HIV. It is a common herb used in Chinese herbology. In the Philippines, the leaves are often used for children's coughs. It is also used in the treatment of skin diseases, sterility in women, as a parasiticide, as an antipyretic, and as a purgative.Yes, it is bitter, but I was taught that ampalaya fruits with big or wide "wrinkles" are generally less bitter than those that has wrinkles close to each other. In cooking, I learned that in order to minimize the bitterness of the ampalaya, one must cover the pot immediately after placing it and to never stir in the dish while cooking it. I don't know the logic (or mystery) behind that, but in the many times I have cooked this vegetable (following that lesson), I still get to serve bitter ampalaya, but there were also times that it wasn't so bitter. Some people massage in salt in the freshly cut ampalaya and squeeze out the juice in order to lessen the bitterness, but that is something I don't and will never do because squeezing out the juice simply meant squeezing out the nutrients of it.
There are generally two types of ampalaya - one that is long, and one that is quite short. The long one is the most common among the two, and can be seen in every public markets here in the Philippines. The picture on left one was taken in our garden - I planted some ampalaya seeds mid 2011, and that was the very first fruit I harvested. It was still a baby the time I took that photo, and just to clarify things, the leaves you see on the picture is not the leaves of the ampalaya, those were leaves of our Kamias (bilimbi) tree. Ampalaya is a vine type of plant and used the bilimbi tree to cling on. The picture on the right one was the native type of ampalaya, which can often be seen in markets in the provinces. That picture I took while roaming around the market in La Union (my paternal family's home province).
There are so many ways of cooking this vegetable, but the most common would be the Pinakbet (or simply Pakbet). It is a dish that consists of mixed vegetables (ampalaya, squash, okra, string beans and eggplants) cooked in little broth seasoned with fermented fish (or shrimp) paste. Depending on one's preference, pork is also added, but some uses dried fish, while others completely omits the meat.
One "weird" way of cooking ampalaya was through Paksiw. I call it weird because Paksiw uses vinegar as broth and cooking ampalaya with vinegar intensifies its bitterness. Still, people add it to their fish paksiw dishes because it's a good way of adding vegetables into the meal.
The leaves of the ampalaya can also be used in cooking. Most common is by adding the leaves into Ginisang Munggo (Sauteed Mung Beans). I personally love ampalaya leaves into this dish compared the other favorites - malunggay, sweet potato leaves, and spinach.
Another favorite of mine would be the Ginisang Mais (White Corn Soup). The combination is somewhat weird, I know, but it's delicious!
However, my top favorite ampalaya dish would be this one, which I call Ampalaya Guisado (Sauteed Ampalaya). It has chicken and shrimps, sauteed in onion and garlic, and I added some vermicelli noodles as well. This is a spinoff of a dish similar to this, which I tasted when I was still very young and liked it, though it was the soupy type and it didn't have shrimps. Another common way of cooking ampalaya is Ampalaya con Carne, which uses beef. I personally don't like it; I still love the combination of chicken, shrimp, and ampalaya.