Grilled Bitter Melon, Mango, and Tomato Salad

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Lasang Pinoy, for those of you not in the know, is a group of Filipino food bloggers who get together every now and again to blog about Filipino food.  Each Lasang Pinoy event revolves around a certain theme to promote different aspects of Filipino food.  Think of it as an underground fight club–except no one gets punched in the face, it’s not so underground, and everyone shares recipes (Ok, so maybe an underground fight club wasn’t the best analogy. My comparative analysis is unforgiveably nonsensical!).

Ahem, uh, moving on.

Like I was saying, each Lasang Pinoy event revolves around a certain theme.  The theme for the Lasang Pinoy event that I took part in was “vegetables”, or more specifically “Oh My Gulay!”

Gulay

“Gulay” literally translates to “vegetable”.  The term, “Oh my gulay!” is (according to Toni at Wifely Steps) a Pinoy expression commonly used to present a feeling of shock, frustration, excitement, or surprise.  Funny, that.  I don’t think there has ever been a Filipino who met a play on words that he didn’t like (remember my Grandpa’s legendary coconut joke?).

With my first foray into a Lasang Pinoy event coinciding with the Memorial Day weekend here in the U.S., I knew I had to get a little creative.  I was initially going to make my most favorite Pinoy dish, Pinakbet, but I thought that would be too pedestrian a dish for this event.  The guidelines for this Lasang Pinoy event state that entries need not be a typical Filipino recipe, but it had to have Pinoy flavor.  So I attempted to incorporate that Pinoy flavor (flava in ya mouf!) into one of the biggest grilling weekends of the year.

My grill was calling out to me. Oh my gulay!

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I decided that I was going to grill a couple of Pinakbet ingredients (bitter melon and tomato) and make some sort of grilled salad.  My wife, who is not Filipino, doesn’t particularly like bitter melon because it is, well, bitter.  Bitter melon, or ampalaya, is an acquired taste for sure, but I thought maybe grilling the ampalya would soften its bite a bit.

I halved the bitter melon lengthwise and scooped out its center mass of seeds and pulp with a spoon. I then placed the two canoes of bitter melon on a hot grill.  To balance out the bitterness of the bitter melon, I also grilled a mango,
a tomato, and half of a lemon.  This may seem like a strange melange of
flavors, but I thought they worked well in unison as the smokiness
from the grill tied all the flavors together.

After getting good grill marks on the mango, tomato, and lemon, I removed them from the grill and let them cool a bit.  After getting good grill marks on the bitter melon, I placed the bitter melon halves in a foil pouch and poured in a bit of soy and squeezed in the juice from the grilled lemon half.  I let the pouch heat up a bit more on the grill so that the bitter melon would steam and braise and become softer.

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I gave the mango and tomato a rough chop, tossed them together with some red onion, and then spooned them into the bitter melon halves.  The concave of the bitter melon made for a good serving vessel for the mango and tomato.

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Yes. I served this grilled salad with a burger and beer (It’s Memorial Day Weekend, of course I grilled burgers).

While I thought the finished product was a delicious melding of bitter, sweet, salty, and tangy, my wife still didn’t take to the flavor of the bitter melon (damn her caucasian taste buds!). If you don’t like bitter melon, or have never tried it, you can still grill the tomato and mango, chop and toss with red onion, and use that as a tasty relish for the top of your burger. Flava!

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Grilled Bitter Melon, Mango, and Tomato Salad

Makes 2 servings

1 small bitter melon (6-inches), halved lengthwise with pulp and seeds removed.  Bitter melon, also known as ampalaya, can be found at Asian markets.

1 ripe (but not too soft) mango, flesh removed from pit to yield two lobes of mango

1 large tomato, halved

Half of one lemon

Canola oil, for brushing

Salt and pepper to taste

2 Tbsp. soy sauce

Half of one small red onion, diced

Brush the cut sides of the bitter melon, mango, tomato, and lemon with the canola oil and season with salt and pepper.  Place the bitter melon, mango, tomato, and lemon, cut side down, on a very hot grill.  Continue to grill until grill marks form, about 5 minutes.

Remove the mango, tomato, and lemon from the grill and allow to sit until cool enough to handle. Remove the bitter melon from the grill and place on a sheet of aluminum foil. Pour the soy sauce over the bitter melon and squeeze the grilled lemon to extract all of its juice over the bitter melon. Fold the foil over the bitter melon to form a tight packet and replace onto the grill.  Allow to cook for 3-5 minutes more, or until the bitter melon is fork-tender but not mushy, and remove from the grill. Reserve the liquid from the foil packet.

After the mango and tomato have cooled enough to handle, scoop the mango flesh from its skin using a spoon; peel the skin from the tomato using your fingers (the tomato skin should come off rather easily).  Roughly chop the the mango and tomato and then toss with the diced red onion in a small bowl.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon the mango and tomato mixture evenly into the bitter melon halves. Drizzle with reserved liquid from the foil packet.

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  • Wandering Chopsticks May 28, 2007, 10:31 pm

    Ah, call me whitie for the day then, b/c I’m with your wife, I can’t eat bittermelon. I’ve tried it in soup cut into rings and stuffed with meat, scrambled with eggs. And it’s still too bitter. My grandma once used a lot of lemon juice and fish sauce and made it like a salad. Maybe it was the citric acid, that toned down the bitterness.

    Reply
  • Katrina May 28, 2007, 11:05 pm

    Hey, I was born and raised in the Phils. but I can’t stand ampalaya! I’ve tried several times, in different preparations, but even when someone says it was perfectly prepared with no trace of bitterness, I still can’t abide it. The grilled mango is a great idea, though. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten mango that way. It would have to be a little underripe to hold up on the grill, wouldn’t it?

    Reply
  • TeddyKim May 29, 2007, 11:00 am

    Awesome presentation using the bitter melon. I’m curious though, what kind of beer did you drink?

    Reply
  • Matt Hurst May 29, 2007, 3:43 pm

    Is “Oh my Gulay!” anything like Robert Goulet? “Gou-let!” Quick, staring contest, you and me … NOW!
    And, that beer certainly looks like a delicious Pabst Blue Ribbon to me. Ahh, PBR. The perfect way to wash down a burger. In Arkansas.
    The Coconut Banger’s Ball. It’s a rap.

    Reply
  • Steamy Kitchen May 29, 2007, 6:57 pm

    So creative with the melon “bowls”!

    Reply
  • iska May 29, 2007, 7:04 pm

    I agree, an awesome presentation of the hostile vegetable. Kinda remind me of unripe mangoes, tomatoes, onion and grilled eggplant.
    Welcome to Lasang Pinoy, Marvin!

    Reply
  • Burnt Lumpia May 29, 2007, 9:06 pm

    WC, after grilling the bejeezus out of the bitter melon, I really don’t think anything can tone down it’s bitterness. I think there might be a lot more people who dislike it rather than like it.
    Katrina, the mango definitely shouldn’t be too soft. The mango I used yielded just a bit when pressing into it with my thumb at the store, and it held up just fine on the grill.
    Teddy, I drank Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale, probably my second favorite beer behind Deschutes Black Butte Porter. The Mirror Pond is pretty much my house beer, but I like anything brewed by Deschutes.
    Hurst, no it wasn’t PBR, though I think PBR can be enjoyed everywhere and not just in Arkansas. Your misidentification of my beer belies your elitist beer sense. I love it when you call me big Poppa. Goulet!
    Steamy Kitchen, thanks! It’s not very often that I get that creative.
    iska, thanks for the warm welcome. Even if people don’t like bitter melon, I’m glad my presentation can be appreciated.

    Reply
  • joey May 31, 2007, 8:07 pm

    Ingenius move there with the grilled ampalaya! :) Great entry! I only now have learned to eat it, but I’m willing to explore more…
    We are in opposite boats — my husband loves the stuff!

    Reply
  • kaoko May 31, 2007, 10:48 pm

    It looks absolutely yummy. Plus, your shots do the food justice. Really lovely, must grab your RSS 😀

    Reply
  • kaoko May 31, 2007, 10:53 pm

    (Do you have an rss feed? I can’t find it :( )

    Reply
  • Burnt Lumpia May 31, 2007, 11:29 pm

    Thanks Joey. Exploration is one of the best things about cooking. And I guess it’s true about opposites attracting;)
    kaoka, thanks for the compliment on my pics, I’ve been trying really hard to improve on that. And since I’m still fairly new at this blogging thing, I’m yet to figure out RSS. It’s probably really easy to configure, but I’m an idiot. Hopefully I’ll have that up soon.

    Reply
  • Rach May 31, 2007, 11:57 pm

    I eat ampalaya in pinakbet and thinly sliced ampalaya with egg. But I haven’t tried grilled ampalaya before. Great photos! Looks like a very enticing side dish. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  • dhey May 31, 2007, 11:59 pm

    i think cooking it (grilling, frying, blanching) bittermelon makes it, well, bitter. it’s better cut thinly and mixed with the tomatoes, red onion and a can of tuna. 😀 ooops! that’s another recipe.

    Reply
  • ces June 1, 2007, 12:23 pm

    grabe na talaga! i never knew ampalaya can be prepared in amazing ways like this! looks good and something to try!

    Reply
  • tanya June 1, 2007, 2:52 pm

    how interesting! the first person that actually grilled ampalaya! 😀 hehehe!
    so what i learned from my mom.. if you want to lessen the bitter taste.. put it in bowl of water and some salt.. for like an hour (i think) drain.. then wash it again just to make sure it’s not that salty.
    great entry.. great photos! 😀

    Reply
  • Burnt Lumpia June 1, 2007, 7:56 pm

    Thanks Rach. I’ve never tried grilled ampalaya until now either. It was just an idea I came up with the morning I made this.
    Hi dhey, your new recipe sounds pretty good, but maybe add some mayonnaise to that and put it between two slices of bread and you have a very bitter tuna fish sandwich:)
    Ces, sometimes you have to try crazy things to get good results.
    Thanks for the tip Tanya. It’s a toss up though for me, either I’m lazy and deal with the bitterness, or take the extra steps to soak and salt the ampalaya.

    Reply
  • stef June 4, 2007, 6:40 am

    So creative! And looks so yummy too. Tamang-tama, I have ampalaya and tomatoes. But my mangoes are still greenish… Hm… maybe the increased acidity will make a good contrast din. Oi. My dh is not caucasian but I have to chop ampalaya into tiny pieces for him to eat it in pakbet and other dishes.

    Reply
  • Burnt Lumpia June 6, 2007, 8:55 pm

    Hi Stef! I’ve never had underripe mangoes, but my mother usually eats greenish mangoes with bagoong. And even though you chop up the ampalaya for you dh, at least he still eats it. My wife won’t touch the stuff.

    Reply
  • jojo calvelo June 13, 2008, 6:26 pm

    I love bittermelon this awesome recipe, I always let my co-worker
    to taste bittermelon esp.caucasian
    they love to try our foods.

    Reply
  • Lily Anderson October 16, 2010, 4:53 pm

    I like bitter melon with peanut butter spread on it. That’s how I learned to like celery too.

    Reply

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