Tag Archives: bitter gourd

Bitter Melon

Bitterness Can Be Really Good

This year is a great year for Bitter Melon (Momordica charantia).  They cover three quarters of the vegetable garden fence.  The thickness of the leaves and the bright yellow flowers spotted among them look very pleasant.  The sweet scent of the flowers is a plus, especially in the morning when it seems to be strongest.  Cutting leaves and fruits for friends and neighbors has been a pleasure as well.  One good thing about cutting the leaves more often is that the plants will sprout more side shoots which is great for stir-fry or blanching and topping with coconut milk.  More new shoots also mean more flowers and fruits, if I let the shoots grow.

Bright fragrant yellow flowers

The only down side for the Bitter Melon this year are the Stink bugs.  We have more Stink Bugs this year than any past year.   A lot of the young melons turn yellow prematurely because the bugs feed on them.   There is no other pest in this area that is destructive for Bitter Melon, as far as I know.  The deer haven’t touched them.  The chipmunks have chewed one or two of them at the base but mostly left them alone.  I guess the bitterness in every part of the plants provides a good defense.

In the tropics, it grows as a short lived vegetable that provides fruit for a year or two.  It’s grown as an annual in the Northern hemisphere.  I’ve been growing it every summer because I love the distinctive bitter taste and the fragrant flowers.  It grows pretty much the same way as beans do.  I usually start the seedlings inside near the end of March and plant them when the weather is warm enough, but the seeds can be planted directly in the soil.  Soaking the seeds for a couple of hours before planting helps soften the hard shell, making it easier for them to germinate.

It is one vegetable that has great medicinal benefits.  For those who are diabetic, it helps to regulate blood sugar since it promotes insulin production in the body.  Eat the fruit, cooked of course.  Drink the tea made from its leaves or fruit.  Or, if you’re tough, have a shot of fresh juice extracted from the fruit and leaves with a juicer.  Those who have no problem with blood sugar levels and consume too much of this melon may have a problem with their sugar level dropping too low.  I’m living proof.  I love eating it but have to remind myself to stop if I don’t want to faint.

Don’t eat the ripe one either.  It’s a beautiful bright yellow with bright red seeds and has a vicious laxative propensity.

It’s an ‘acquired taste’ as my neighbor put it.  She loves it now and grew it this year for the first time.  If not for the fruit, the fragrance alone makes it worth growing.  Well, according to the book ‘Flowers and Herbs of Early America‘ by Lawrence D. Griffith, the plant came to Europe from the tropics in the 1500’s and later to the US in the early years of the Republic.  Nothing new.

Here are some recipes.

Cover the whole fence with spotted of flowers
Female flower

Cooking Bitter Melon

Many Roads To Delicious

Bitter Melon is not an easy vegetable to eat if you don’t love bitter taste.  But it’s still consumed widely in many countries.  Some folks have figured out how to reduce the bitterness.  One trick I know is to soak it in salt water if you’re just going to blanch it and use it as a condiment with a dipping sauce.  I promise I’ll share the recipes with you when I get them.  Here, after asking, nudging and nagging, I finally got them.  But there’s one problem; there is no portion measurement. These are people who learned to cook from their grandmothers and mothers when the measurement units are a dash here, a handful there.  So, you are on your own.  Besides, you know your palate anyway.

It doesn’t matter which country they came from, stir-fry with eggs is the most common and easiest way to deal with Bitter Melon.  Here’s how it’s done:

Stir-fried Bitter Melon:

  • Bitter Melon. Halved, scoop the seeds out, then slice very thin.  How many melons?  Well, see above, you know how much you want to eat or how many people you are feeding.
  • Fresh Garlic. Smash to remove the peel, then finely chop.
  • Eggs. Here’s the trick: if you like stir-fried Bitter Melon with egg, use less eggs.  If you like omelette with Bitter Melon, use more eggs.
  • Cooking oil.  I prefer olive oil.  It’s better for your health.  But any type of cooking oil will do, even the heart clogging lard.
  • Light soy sauce.  Any salty sauce with no flavor enhancement will do, don’t add salt though.

If you already know how to stir fry, skip this part.  For those who don’t, continue reading.  Heat the oil then put chopped garlic in and cook until it turns light brown.  Add sliced melon, stir a few times then add the soy sauce.  If you are not sure of proportions, add a little bit at a time and taste it.  Once the melon is cooked, you’ll know when it gets that softer look, add eggs.  Continue cooking until it’s the consistency you like.  I like the eggs a little brown, my brother likes it lightly cooked. That’s it.

Halved and thin sliced

*Ensaladang Ampalaya (Bitter Melon Salad):

*(for you linguists, it’s Tagalog)

After begging Maria a few times, finally she gave me the recipe for Filipino style bitter melon salad .  She also brought me her homemade Ensaladang to try.  I wasn’t sure if it was her only intension or if she also wanted to make sure that I knew what the end product was supposed to look like since I have always complained that I don’t like cookbooks bereft of photographs. Here is the salad:

  • Bitter Melon. Halved, scoop the seeds out, then slice thin.
  • Salt. Sprinkle a little bit on the sliced melon.  Mix and mash to remove excess liquid.  I prefer to use my hand; it’s easier to squeeze the juice out than using a spoon.
  • Onion. White or red onion coarse chopped or thin sliced, which ever way you prefer.  Add it in with the bitter melon after removing the excess juice.
  • Tomato. (Optional) Cut to small cubes then add.
  • Vinegar. (Apple Cider vinegar preferable) Add in to taste.

Let the mixture sits for a few minutes to absorb the vinegar.  Then dig in.  I made this dish right after I got the recipe and love it.  I got a little bit adventurous and added fresh crushed black pepper… wow!  But, that’s only from the spice addict point of view.

Bitter Melon Soup:

Bitter melon soup is always good with rice.  It helps wash down the other food and clean your palate.  As far as I know you can make Bitter melon soup two ways, either stuff the melon with meat and clear noodles or just cook pieces of melon with the meat.  What you need are:

  • Bitter melon. The Chinese type.  If you like to stuff it, you just cut the melon in two inch sections, length wise, then scoop the seed out.  So it would look like a little green pipe.  If you don’t want to waste time stuffing it, you just half it, scoop the seed out and cut it into small section, around an inch long.
  • Ground meat of your choice. It’s better with turkey, chicken or pork.
  • Clear noodle. The one that’s made from mung bean, little green beans that you make bean sprouts with.  Soak it until it softens, then cut to very short sections.
  • Mushroom of your choice. I prefer Shitake or Crimini; they smell better when cooked.  Just a little bit. Chop them up.
  • Light soy sauce
  • Garlic powder
  • Black or white pepper powder.

Mix ground meat, noodle, mushroom, soy sauce, garlic powder and pepper powder together and let it marinate for a while (half hour will do).  Then stuff the mixture into the hollow melon, for those who prefer stuffed.  Make the mixture into small balls, for the ones that do not want to stuff the melon.  Then cook it.  You may need to add a little bit of soy sauce in the soup if it is not salty enough. Done.