Ampalaya Guisado

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I have always liked my ampalaya (bitter melon) chunky and crispy, sauteed with tomatoes and served sizzling with thick sauce, Chinese-style. But mama, my friend T‘s mom, cooks it differently. Notice the thin ringlets sans tomato color, they’re light green that you may say they’re overcooked but I couldn’t say it ain’t yummy because the truth is… I love it! Mama didnt go into the trouble of trying to de-bitter the vegetable and lose the vital nutrients but it’s really surprising the dish wasn’t bitter at all. Hmm… is it NZ bitter melon or I just have high tolerance for bitter flavor?

Ampalaya, sliced into thin ringlets, seeds scooped out and discarded
Ground pork (or beef)
Minced garlic
Sliced onions
Salt and pepper

Fry ground pork using as little oil as possible for about 5 minutes over low to medium heat or until brownish. Push them to one side of the pan and then fry garlic until aromatic. Throw in onions and saute for a minute. Add in the ampalaya ringlets and saute for a minute. Pour in a small cup of water and bring to boil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover with lid and simmer for another 2 minutes or until cooked.

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I am not a professional cook. My only claim to having a culinary background is a short stint as my dad’s teen ‘sous chef’ in his carinderia ages ago. Dad ran small eateries since I was a young kid - serving standard ‘turo-turo’ food ranging from the likes of menudo, adobo, pritong isda, dinuguan, binagoongan, bopis, munggo, pinakbet and giniling to merienda fares like goto, ginataan, pancit bihon, halu-halo and saging con yelo.

My father, a farmer in his hometown before working his way to becoming an accountant, definitely influenced my cooking in a lot of ways than I thought. My siblings and I were raised in a backyard full of fruit trees and vegetable garden. We spent weekends and the summer breaks running around with ducks, chickens, goats and pigs. I had wonderful memories of gathering eggs, butchering chickens, selling vegetables and the sweet aroma of preserved fruits. But my love for art led me to a degree in Architecture. Just few months after getting my license, I went abroad and lived independently at age 23. Definitely no maid, no cook, and a totally different food culture. Along the way I met lots of friends and spent what seemed a lifetime learning new tricks and recipes.

Now living in Auckland, I am a work-from-home mum who juggles time between work, fun and family - in pursuit of work-life balance. No matter how busy I am, I love the idea of cooking for my family. My blog chronicles home cooking greatly influenced by life outside my home country from Southeast Asia to Beijing and Auckland. And most of the time, being busy also means easy (sometimes quick), affordable meals.

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