Ampalaya, or bitter melon, is very popular in the Philippines, India, and other Asian countries. Although I didn’t have any on my recent trip to the PI, I did think about this vegetable while I was there. Which made me think of my mom.
My mother used to prepare it very simply, usually just sautéed with garlic and onions, serving it to us as a side dish. And before serving it to us, she’d usually say something about how healthy it was to eat, how rich in iron and vitamin C, and other vitamins, and about how even though it’s very bitter, it’s so good for us, and so we should enjoy eating it, because we are doing something very good for ourselves. And I’ve always wondered if she did this because she was an RN, or if all Filipino moms did this?
I never missed eating it when I left home. Like a lot of things that you never appreciate as children, it is only when you are an adult do you start to appreciate stuff. And while I still don’t generally enjoy bitter melon, I enjoy it for the memories it brings up. And for the nutrition. And that Mama served bitter melon to us because she wanted us to be healthy.
Because of its bitterness, I decided to pair it really delicious stuff! Not to hide the bitterness, but rather things that I thought would complement it. And since Filipinos pair often pair it with pork and egg, I thought I’d pair it with Soy chorizo and quail eggs!
Soy chorizo sausage is actually like regular pork or beef chorizo but less greasy and also vegan! My Mexican husband prefers soy chorizo sausage from Trader Joes over traditional chorizo sausage from the carniceria, so that’s good enough to convince me to use it! Quail eggs, which can be found in most Asian grocery stores alongside regular eggs, are interesting and quite comparable to regular eggs. You do have to saw the shells open with a small knife instead of cracking them open like chicken eggs.
For the pastry part, I decided to go with store bought puff pastry. Just simply because, while you can make it, it takes a long time, and the results are similar to store-bought.
If you don’t think you will like bitter melon, or can’t find it anywhere, you can probably use chopped frozen spinach as a substitute. Just make sure to thaw and drain all the water form it, but I’m sure it would be good because the soy chorizo, quail eggs, and puff pastry are all really good together. The mozzarella cheese is optional. I added it mainly to keep the bottom of the tart from getting soggy, and to act as a cushion for the raw quail eggs, but it almost seems unnecessary, which is why I’m saying it’s optional. I could be wrong. If you can’t find quail eggs, you can just use regular eggs, but you’ll probably only need four of them. I hope you enjoy!
Ampalaya Chorizo Quail Egg Tart
1 sheet of frozen puff pasty, roughly 9″x9″ square, (about 9 ounces) thawed
2-3 ounces part skim mozzarella cheese, grated, optional
4 ounces soy chorizo, casing removed and crumbled
1 small to medium bitter melon, washed, seeds and pulp removed, cut in half and sliced
9-18 quail eggs (can substitute regular 4 medium eggs)
1 egg, whisked, used as egg wash for edges before baking
fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Heat oven to 425 degrees F.
Thaw one sheet of puff pastry and unfold onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Go over it lightly with a rolling pin to flatten it out to about a 9-inch by 9-inch square.
With a small paring knife, create a light frame by cutting only halfway into it, parallel along each side, about an inch in from each side. This creates a crust area.
Brush the frame with egg wash. Prick the center of pastry with a fork a few times.
Add the grated mozzarella in the center, up to the frame. Add half the chorizo, reserving the other half for baking with the eggs. (If the puff pastry feels too hot, place in refrigerator for 10 minutes. You want it to be cold to the touch.)
Bake for 10 minutes until edges are lightly golden. If too puffy when taking out of oven, push down gently using a spoon.
Slice the bitter melon in half lengthwise and remove the white center with seeds with a spoon or use your hands. Slice in 1/4 inch slices.
(Optional: To take some of the bitterness as well as to preserve the color, blanch the bitter melon slices in boiling water that has 2 Tablespoons of baking soda dissolved in it for one minute, or until bright green in color. Remove from water, dry and place on a paper towel plate or tray lined with a paper towel until ready to use.)
Arrange bitter melon slices throughout center of tart. Anticipate where you want to put your raw eggs, because you can arrange the bitter melon slices to act as borders to keep the egg whites from spreading too much.
Crack (by using a small knife to cut and discard shell) quail eggs around the tart area, however many you want to use. Since I anticipated slicing the tart into 9 pieces, I used 9 quail eggs, but you can actually double the number of quail eggs, if desired.
Crumble the rest of the soy chorizo around eggs.
Because the chorizo is quite salty, I only used ground black pepper, a couple of pinches, over the eggs and around.
Return to oven and bake until egg whites are no longer translucent and are set, but yolk is still soft, about 7-8 minutes. If you want eggs completely cooked, add a few more minutes. Cool on baking sheet on wire rack. Slice into 9 even squares, or however desired.