This Ampalaya with Beef and Black Beans is a Caviteno recipe and different from the usual Filipino vegetable dish we’re familiar with. The entree was enhanced with savory beef strips and salty black beans.
Ampalaya is abundant in the Philippines and is also known as bitter melon or bitter gourd. In America, I find it in Asian markets.
Mom called this “amargoso” (Spanish for bitter), but she taught me how to tone down the bitterness. First, purchase ampalaya which are newly-harvested and fresh. Remove the seeds and spongy white parts. Then, soak the ampalaya in salt. Later, wash the salt off and cook a quick sauté. To my delight, these were the same instructions in the Ampalaya con Carne recipe from the Republic of Taste Cookbook by Ige Ramos – which I have enjoyed cooking from. This dish had the added saltiness of canned salted black beans, a great seasoning agent used for centuries in Chinese cooking according to Mr. Ramos.
Ampalaya (say ‘am-pa-la-ya’) the bitter melon, was defined as “Momordica balsamina” by the late Professor Doreen Gamboa Fernandez, pioneer Filipino food writer, and historian of Philippine cuisine. In her book “Tikim”, Ms. Fernandez described the Filipino flavors. Along with salty, sweet, sour is the word ‘bitter’. Yes, ‘bitterness’ is an added flavor to Filipino dishes. “Bitterness, with its underlay of sweetness, is the special discovery of the Ilocano” (referring to a northern region of the Philippines) explained Doreen.
As with all vegetables, the ampalaya has a strong nutrition profile. I am not a wellness expert. But I know the reasons my mother cooked ampalaya for meals every week was for its health benefits. My father grew ampalaya in our backyard in the Philippines, and as a child, I watched him harvest them. But the best memories were how mom made the bitter turn to sweet and superb.
* If you’d like to read my book review of the cookbook Republic of Taste: Untold Stories of Cavite Cuisine by Ige Ramos, see my feature: Food Scholar Ige Ramos Serves Unsung Cavite Cuisine which published on Positively Filipino online magazine. Click here.
Ampalaya with Beef and Black Beans
- wok or large skillet
- 1 to 2 whole pieces ampalaya (bitter melon or bitter gourd) sliced, seeded, white spongy parts removed; about 2 cups
- 1/2 cup salt for soaking ampalaya
- 1 teaspoon baking soda for blanching ampalaya in water
- 3 cups water
- 4 Tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 whole onion chopped
- 2 Tablespoons tausi (canned salted black beans) drain water if canned
- 2 teaspoons oyster sauce
- 1/4 pound beef sirloin; or skirt steak sliced in 2-inch thin strips
- 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
- 1 cup vegetable broth (or water)
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1/8 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper powder
- steamed rice for serving
To prepare the ampalaya:
- Slice the ampalaya open horizontally in half. Using a sharp knife or fork, scrape off the seeds and white spongy membrane - discard these.Slice the ampalaya further into 1/2-inch sized thick ringlets.Soak the ampalaya in a bowl filled with salt. Mix and coat pieces with the salt. Keep the ampalaya soaked in salt for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
- After soaking, rinse the ampalaya in running water. Set aside.Boil 3 cups of water in a medium stock pot. Blanche the ampalaya for 30 to 40 seconds. Remove from the boiling water. Drain the ampalaya. Soak blanched ampalaya in a bowl filled with iced water for 5 minutes. This is to stop the cooking process and maintain the fresh, green appearance of the vegetable. Drain ampalaya and set aside.
To saute the ampalaya:
- In a large wok or skillet, over medium-high heat, add the vegetable oil.When oil is hot enough in 1 to 2 minutes, saute the garlic and onions.Mix in the tausi (salted black beans) and oyster sauce.Add the beef strips to the mixture. Sprinkle the brown sugar. Saute together with the rest of the ingredients for 5 minutes.
- Pour the vegetable broth, and soy sauce.Add the ampalaya. Blend with the beef. Cook for 2 minutes more.Season with sesame oil and ground black pepper.Serve warm with rice.
Notes on Nutrition: The nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and specific brands of ingredients used.
Did you like this recipe?I have more Filipino Instant Pot recipes in my newest cookbook Instant Filipino Recipes: My Mother’s Traditional Philippine Cooking in A Multicooker Pot by Elizabeth Ann Besa-Quirino. I also have more classic recipes inspired by my mother’s cooking in my popular cookbook: My Mother’s Philippine Recipes. If you’re learning how to cook Filipino food or a fan of Philippine cuisine, buy my cookbooks and books on Amazon.com sold worldwide in paperback and Kindle format.
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