Ampalaya–translated as bitter gourd or bitter melon, or what they call karela in India. This bitter vegetable finds itself in Filipino dishes such as pinakbet and omelette. The leaves are edible too and added to ginataan or ginisang munggo, and even find their way into medicinal teas. But I made salad with these some time ago.
To make the vegetable less bitter, some people sprinkle salt on the sliced ampalaya first, then leave it to sit, after which they squeeze the juice out. But it always makes me wonder if that squeezes the nutrients out as well. I discovered that by slicing them very thinly, the bitter taste does not become very pronounced, so that’s what I do.
- Wash the ampalaya.
- Split lengthwise and remove the seeds and cottony membrane by scooping out with a spoon.
- Slice very thinly. Other crispy vegetables can be added for colour–red onion, red capsicum and carrot.
- In a deep bowl prepare the following combination: vinegar (I use sugar cane or coconut vinegar) or pineapple juice, salt, sugar, ground pepper. The amount and ratio of course depends on one’s taste, but the Filipino palate goes for the sweet-sour balance, with the salt added to tame the sharp flavours.
- Mix together the vegetables and liquid mixture. Leave to sit for a few minutes (you can also place it in the refrigerator).
(For pickling any vegetable, I usually bring the vinegar to a boil–ie, turning the stove off once the liquid reaches boiling point. Then I wait until it reaches room temperature. But for salads–I don’t bother!)