Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Raw | Appreciating Bitter Taste

Bitter Melon & Guava Salad in Pineapple and two-basil vinaigrette

I know most of you loathe that notorious bitter taste in ampalaya, much more if it is prepared raw. I am blessed that my tongue appreciates that fifth basic taste. I was blessed I was trained in my childhood days to eat this vegetable. I still remember how me and my siblings ate with our bare hands roasted ampalaya with grilled green bell peppers, which from time to time tossed in that Kapampangan favorite “buro” or fermented rice, with some pickled onions on the side. Ahhh, simple yet sublime. I can even eat a lot of rice if this is served for breakfast (oh, I remember Cabalen in SM City Cebu, they are serving this “burong hipon” paired with boiled vegetables of amplaya, eggplant and string beans (sitaw or batong in local dialect). Thanks for my papsi who taught us how to eat this bitter vegetable. Ampalaya is also one of our crop, and this gives papsi a daily supply of his favorite talbos ng ampalaya, again eaten and enjoyed raw.

For this raw salad, we need the following:

1 medium size fresh green ampalaya, cored and sliced thinly. Chill in refrigerator before serving
1 medium size guava, seeds removed, and sliced thinly.
2 medium size green tomatoes, sliced

For the vinaigrette:

2 medium slices of fresh pineapples
3-4 leaves of fresh Thai basil
3-4 leaves of fresh Holy Basil
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp red wine vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
3 tbsp of wild honey
a pinch of salt and pepper to taste
a sprig of mint for garnish

How to prepare:

1.    For the vinaigrette, put all ingredients in food processor and liquefy it. If desired, add more honey, salt or vinegar according to taste
2.    Mix the trio of chilled ampalaya, guava and tomatoes, and drizzle with the vinaigrette.
3.    If desired you can add roasted nuts, raisins and or other dried fruits.
4.    Serve immediately

The dressing’s fruity sweet-sour taste will help hide a bit the bitter taste of ampalaya. The guava and fresh basil add a bit of Asian flavor to this salad. This is best for health conscious as the only calorie-high ingredient we used is the wild honey but the nutrients we get is far more important than that calorie we need to burn. The ingredients are raw so you get all the freshest nutrients. Guavas are very rich in fiber and vitamin C.

We don’t have to neglect this lowly vegetable just because it gives a taste that is unacceptable and can’t be swallowed. We were taught during our elementary days that this bitter fruit is packed with nutrients, and this fact does not change till now. Why not learn how to make most of that fifth basic taste, and maybe learn how to love this fruit.

Ampalaya (Mamordica Charantia) is a good source of iron, calcium and phosphorous (from Rustan’s Naturally, At Nature’s Table). Diabetics now value it as it has properties that can control blood sugar levels.

How you want your ampalaya prepared? 

For me, the simpler the better. I like it steamed or blanched were I can still enjoy its crunchiness, that “lutong” factor and paired it with my favorite sawsawan: fish sauce with calamansi. If I have the liberty of time to char-broiled it, the better. I love the smoky flavor it imparts to the vegetable.

This can be added also in your usual inun-unan (or paksiw) as the sourness of the vinegar and other souring fruits will do a tug-of-war with the bitter taste. I also love if this is mixed in tinunuang monggo (Monggo in cocomilk) with its talbos ng ampalaya. Pinakbet will never be complete without this bitter fruit, and breakfasts will never be complete without this ampalaya-egg omelet.

And how about pickled ampalaya? The trio taste of sweetness, sourness and bitterness will do an interplay that will surely tickle your tastebuds.

A tip for cooking this ribbed and wrinkled bitter fruit: the bitter taste is due to the amounts of quinine and a simple slight soaking in salted water before cooking will help temper some of the bitterness.

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