After that manic cooking episode involving tofu, I wanted to do another round of let’s-make-something-fun-in-the-kitchen-that-would-potentially-taste-awful-but-what-the-hell-life-is-short. The victim this time: ampalaya.
Cheesy background story: There was this guy I liked a few years ago who hated ampalaya. He wasn’t crazy about the bitter flavor. I told him it’s an acquired taste but there are ways of cooking it that would neutralize the bitterness. I thought it’d be great if I could get him to like it. And yes, I was trying to be cute in probably the most ridiculous way possible. But then he went off to the other side of the world before I could charm his socks off with an ampalaya dish sans the bitter taste. Boohoo. Cue that Katy Perry song.
Yeah, I nearly did a Martha Stewart move (the crappy, clumsy version) for a guy. (He’s a bookish but still sort of outdoorsy nerd who likes Kurt Vonnegut and McSweeney’s. And he said he’d build me a library someday. How could a girl not fall for that?) Now wipe that smirk off your face and stop laughing before you choke on your drool.
Anyway, Ampalaya Hater is now history but I was still interested in what exactly would come out of my little kitchen of horrors if I were to try to make this decidedly unpleasant vegetable a little more appetizing. Here’s what I came up with.
1. Drown the whole thing in tomato sauce.
Fry bite-sized slices of pork liempo until golden brown. Add garlic, onion and ampalaya. Dump half of a small pack of tomato paste and add a little water. Season with salt and pepper.
This came about because I had leftover tomato paste that had to be used before it goes bad. You can still taste the bitterness of the ampalaya but it’s toned down a little by the tomato sauce.
2. Go Hawaiian.
For some reason, people put pineapples on pizza and burgers and call them Hawaiian. So why not do it with ampalaya? Sauté garlic, onion, button mushrooms and ampalaya. Add pineapple chunks and a little pineapple juice. Season with patis (fish sauce) and pepper.
I was so sure this was going to be a disaster. Ampalaya and pineapple seemed like a weird combination and I obviously had no idea what I was doing. Well, what do you know, it actually worked. The sweetness of the pineapple lessened the bitter flavor of the ampalaya and it tasted pretty good. I had a huge grin on my face and felt like a kickass kitchen master after cooking this.
3. Father knows best.
This dish was how I really came to like ampalaya. It’s a simple salad that my dad often makes and it has been one of my favorites since. The best part is there’s no cooking involved. Just slice a raw ampalaya thinly, add tomatoes and season with salt. That’s it. The bitter taste disappears and it has a light, clean and refreshing flavor. It’s best eaten cold so pop it in the fridge for a while before serving. Trust Papa, who also happens to cook the best laing on the planet, to come up with something fuss-free and yet it works. (Now you know where I got my awesome genes.)
And these, ladies and gentlemen, are what Ampalaya Hater missed out on. I’ll ditch modesty this time and say it was totally his loss. Heehee. So lighten up, Katy Perry. The one who got away probably did so for good reason and life is still just as incredible, insane and amazing in so many ways. Lesson learned: pineapple works wonders and all it takes to get rid of bitterness is a whisk of salt.