I’m sometimes asked why I buy (and eat) bitter melon. My response is: 1) I go by what’s in season — and usually that’ll be what’s on sale in the groceries — and plan my cooking accordingly; 2) I grew up with ampalayá and therefore, it’s a comfort food for me; 3) It’s yummy. Yup, it is. And nutritious. It’s known to help lower blood sugar and it’s packed with vitamin C, among others.
Now I know it’s an acquired taste. As a kid, I used to hate it. But since I was forced to eat them, I grew to like them eventually. Personally, I like forcing myself to acquire new tastes. For example, I didn’t really grow up with cilantro around the dinner table (every now and then it’ll pop up). But I was intrigued by how some people love the pungent taste so much. So I experimented with putting cilantro sprigs on one of my favorite things, beef noodle soup. And slowly but surely, I started liking cilantro, so much so that nowadays I can eat it by itself!
In the spirit of promoting this very much underrated gourd, I whipped up a dish that’s meant to make ampalayá go down easier — with the little help from spam, eggs, and tomatoes (my version of a spoonful of sugar).
- 1 medium ampalayá (bitter melon)
- 6 ounces spam (I used low sodium), cubed
- 1/2 hothouse tomato (or 1 whole roma tomato), cubed
- 1/2 onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 medium eggs, beaten
- 2 tbsp oil
- 1 tsp sugar (to brown onions)
- Salted water to boil bitter melon (optional)
- Patis (fish sauce), salt and pepper to taste
- Scallions for garnish
- Cut bitter melon in half lengthwise and remove seeds with a spoon. Then cut diagonally into thin strips.
- To remove some of the bitterness, you may choose to boil the strips in salt water for about 1-2 minutes. Since I believe (rightly or wrongly) that this step leaches some of the nutrition out of bitter melon, I usually don't do this. But in this recipe, we're all about baby steps, so I did it. Drain the strips and set aside.
- In a large frying pan or wok, heat the oil and stir fry onions and garlic until fragrant, adding sugar to help the caramelization (about 1 minute). Take care not to burn the garlic, by stirring often. Throw in the spam cubes until some of the sides are browned (don't have to be all).
- Add tomatoes and bitter melon strips. Stir fry the mixture for about 2-3 minutes.
- Create a well in the center of the pan or wok. Pour in the eggs and lower the heat to medium. Sprinkle salt and pepper according to taste, as well as the fish sauce. Once the eggs begin to firm up, scramble them with the other ingredients and increase the heat back to high. Stir fry for another minute until eggs are fully cooked.
- Transfer to a plate and add chopped scallions for garnish.