Filipino salad

Ensaladang Ampalaya (Bitter Gourd Salad)

Monday, January 13, 2014Enz F

Ensalada or salad is usually a healthy mixture of several ingredients together - particularly greens, vegetables and fruits. The more common ingredients for salad that you might usually think of are veggies that your tongue already get used to the texture and taste such as lettuce, radish, carrots and turnips, or maybe the ones that are more palate-friendly like citrus and fruit slices – all mixed and tossed with the dressings of your choice. Having to indulge yourself in a salad with ampalaya as the main recipe will, otherwise, make you think twice or take other choice if there is any.

Ensalada is usually a healthy mixture of several ingredients together - particularly greens, vegetables and fruits.
Ampalaya or bitter gourd (Photo source:
Ampalaya (Momordica charantia often called bitter melon, bitter gourd or bitter squash) is a tropical plant largely found in Asia, South America, East Africa and the Caribbean. Its fruit is used in both food preparation and alternative medicines. The juice, seeds and oil extract of the unripened fruit are thought to hold medicinal qualities due to the high concentration of vitamins, minerals and alkaloids. Supplementing the diet with the fruit, juice or extract is said to prevent or treat a number of diseases, disorders and infections. Due to its blood sugar-lowering properties, bitter melon is most commonly used in the treatment of diabetes. It has also shown promise in treating leukemia, breast cancer and HIV/AIDS, according to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. The extract has been used to reduce fevers, relieve menstruation symptoms and treat viral infections as well. (Source:

Here are some quick nutrition and health facts about ampalaya (Source: 
  1. The vegetable is very low in calories, providing just 17 calories per 100g. Nevertheless, its pods are rich in phyto-nutrients like dietary fiber, minerals, vitamins and anti-oxidants. 
  2. Bitter melon notably contains phyto-nutrient, polypeptide-P; a plant insulin known to lower blood sugar levels. In addition, it composes hypoglycemic agent called charantin. Charantin increases glucose uptake and glycogen synthesis in the cells of liver, muscle and adipose tissue. Together, these compounds are thought to be responsible for reduction of blood sugar levels in the treatment of type-2 diabetes. 
  3. Fresh pods are an excellent source of folates; contain about 72 µg/100g (Provides 18% of RDA). Folate helps reduce the incidence of neural tube defects in the newborns when taken by mothers during early pregnancy. 
  4. Fresh bitter melon is an excellent source of vitamin-C (100 g of raw pod provides 84 mg or about 140% of RDI). Vitamin-C, one of the powerful natural antioxidants, helps the body scavenge deleterious free radicals one of the reasons for cancer development. 
  5. It is an excellent source of health benefiting flavonoids such as ß-carotene, α-carotene, lutein, and zea-xanthin. It also contains a good amount of vitamin A. Together; these compounds help act as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a role in aging, cancers and various disease processes. 
  6. Bitter melon stimulates easy digestion and peristalsis of food through the bowel until it is excreted from the body. Thus, helps in relieving indigestion and constipation problems. 
  7. In addition, the vegetable is also a good source of niacin (vitamin B-3), pantothenic acid (vitamin B-5), pyridoxine (vitamin B-6) and minerals such as iron, zinc, potassium, manganese and magnesium. 
  8. Bitter gourd may contain alkaloid substances like quinine and morodicine, resins and saponic glycosides, which may be intolerable by some people. The bitterness and toxicity may be reduced somewhat by parboiling or soaking in salt water for up to 10 minutes. Toxicity symptoms may include excessive salivation, facial redness, dimness of vision, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscular weakness.
Despite the healing properties and nutritional value, this vegetable is not a very popular side salad dish in the menu because of its bitter flavor that leaves an eternal after taste even if you have already gargled with mouthwash several times (I am actually referring to my own "traumatic" experience). Admittedly speaking, I was not really a lover of ampalaya though I am not a hater either. In fact, I eat ampalaya if it is ginisa sa itlog (stir-fried with egg, a very common Filipino way) or probably if it is added in the chicken sotanghon (chicken and vermicelli noodle soup). Until one day, my good friend Joey introduced me this healthy dish, Ensaladang Ampalaya or Bitter Gourd Salad. We had just come from a get together with other friends the night before and were so overwhelmed by the food we ate from the party which were loaded with almost everything but healthy. As we wanted to get a gnaw of something that would help us start up our intention to detoxify ourselves, we planned to prepare some refreshing bowl - some good salad to give our tummies a little rest after engulfing too much red meat and sweets. He then suggested that we could eat raw ampalaya. I was like, as expected, hesitant at first. No way would I ever try munching this raw bitter thing in my life as my appetite would surely go on strike. Eager as he seemed to be, he initiated to prepare and mix the ingredients, and I just let him do the magic. I tried a few spoonfuls and yes, the bitter taste of the ampalaya still remained but it blended well with the sweetness of mangoes and even overpowered by the intense savor of the salted eggs, of course, with a little kick of the tangy thinly sliced tomatoes (I was so finicky and feeling like a judge for a cooking show that day). It was exploding with flavors and texture. A little side dish of happiness, indeed. I did not even notice that I had already finished off a couple of servings as I was begging for some more. I had almost forgotten that it was basically a salad made of raw ampalaya. There was no better way to enjoy the freshness of bitter goodness than ever. I could not simply resist it. 

This ensaladang ampalaya goes perfectly with any kind of fried fish.
I came to think of reinventing my new found loved ensalada by adding a tablespoon of honey and some lemon juice to put a bit of citrus flavor. So here it is. I am sharing with you the salad recipe that changed the way I treat this poor wrinkled elongated bitter melon – one of the unlucky vegetables that had lost a lot of advertising opportunity for not being mentioned in the famous Filipino vegetable folk song, “Bahay Kubo”.
Ensaladang Ampalaya (Bitter Gourd Salad)
Number of servings: 6 to 8 

  • 1 pc. 10 – 12 inch ampalaya, deseeded and thinly sliced 
  • 3 pcs. itlog na pula (salt-processed eggs), shelled and sliced 
  • 2 pcs. fresh ripe mangoes, skin removed and sliced 
  • 3 pcs. small red tomatoes, deseeded and sliced 
  • 3 tbsps. honey 
  • 4 tbsps. lemon juice 
  • 2 tbsps. salt, for rubbing 
  • 2 – 3 cups water, for soaking 

  1. Soak the sliced ampalaya in the mixture of salt and water for 5 minutes. Gently rub each slice with your thumb and forefinger. Quickly rinse and drain well. Place in a mixing salad bowl. 
  2. Add salted eggs, mangoes, tomatoes, lemon juice and honey. Mix thoroughly until well blended. 
  3. Arrange in a serving container. Perfect as an appetizer or a side salad dish, or eaten as a dish itself. Enjoy! 

  1. Soaking and rubbing in salt and water mixture will let the ampalaya release its bitter flavor but do not overdo to maintain its crispiness and to avoid it from softening due to over handling. Too much soaking and washing may also rinse off its natural nutrient and vitamin content. 
  2. Consume the salad while fresh. Left over should be refrigerated and placed in a sealed container to slow down oxidation process and to preserve its nutritive value. 
  3. It is an appetizing Filipino side salad that goes perfectly with fried fish such as tilapia, galunggong or tinapa.

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