On to round two of our Asian melons, and this time, the last of the three, Bitter Melon (in Spanish melón amargo or balsamina). Now, upfront, this is not one of my favorite vegetables (fruits?) to work with, or even to eat. If it’s not cooked enough, I find it too bitter to eat, and then there’s sort of a sweet spot in the cooking where it’s purported to be delicious, and then it gets mushy and sort of starts to disintegrate. The hard part is to cook it – because you have to taste it every little while as it’s cooking in order to stop at just the right point. That means you gotta get a lotta bitter on your tastebuds.
Note: I should be clear, since I’ve been flooded with suggestions of the “try it this way”, or, “you need to have it at this place” type since posting this. It’s not really the bitter itself that bothers me, I’m one of those people who drinks coffee, tea, even hot cocoa, without sugar, I eat bitter stuff all the time. But, there’s something in bitter melon itself that I react to that goes beyond the bitter that I simply don’t like. I appreciate that you like it, and I hope you like this recipe.
I thought I’d go a bit obscure and pull a recipe from Copeland Marks’ cookbook The Burmese Kitchen. He calls the recipe Kyethinga, and I’m going with that, but I’ve searched for the name and haven’t found it anywhere online. I’ve found a couple of awfully similar sounding bitter melon stir-fries, but all with different names.
Just some views of our melon, so you can see what it’s like.
Our ingredients – the melon, onion, peanut oil (or other frying oil), salt, turmeric, and chili, garlic, ginger, shrimp paste, dried shrimp, and soy sauce.
The melons have a white fluffy pith inside, and seeds, that need to be removed.
And, cut it into half rounds.
Soak the melon in salted water for about 15 minutes to help leach out some of the bitterness, then drain and let dry a little on some paper or kitchen towels. Thinly slice the onion, garlic, and ginger (the last, I cut into thin threads).
Saute the onion, garlic, ginger, and spices in the oil until the whole thing starts to turn a little golden.
Meanwhile, grind the dried shrimp into a coarse powder (or, use shrimp powder if you can find it).
Add the ground dried shrimp and the shrimp paste to the pan and cook another couple of minutes, the onions should be turning a light brown by this point.
Add the bitter melon slices and stir-fry for about three minutes until they just start to soften.
Add the soy sauce and enough water to cover the pan almost to the depth of the melon slices. Turn the heat down and simmer for 7-8 minutes. When the melon slices start to look very soft, around 5-6 minutes in, taste one (or a piece of one), and decide for yourself if it’s still too bitter or not – every melon is different, and we don’t want these to turn to mush.
Serve with white rice and enjoy? I really like the intense shrimp flavor but to be honest, I still am just not a fan of bitter melon. I’ve tried, believe me. I made stuffed and baked bitter melon rounds filled with pork and spices; I made stuffed ones with chicken and shrimp that were then simmered in broth, and I tried a different stir fry with black beans and eggs. And when it comes down to it, this was the only recipe I found that I could even bring myself to eat about a quarter of. You may be a fan, and if so, go for it.