What Is Bitter Melon?
Bitter melon is a tropical, vining vegetable that is popular in Asian cooking. It is not a melon at all but actually an edible gourd, a member of the squash family, that imparts a unique bitterness to foods.
Oddly, the pith of the melon will become red and sweet when it is fully ripe and can be eaten this way, although the flesh becomes very tough. It is, however, most often used green and in it’s unripe bitter state in cooking.
The flesh is watery and crunchy, rather like a cucumber or a green pepper. The bitterness comes from a large amount of quinine which occurs naturally in the bitter melon. It has been used in the countries in which it grows as a cure for Malaria long before quinine was officially found to be an antidote for the symptoms of Malaria.
Cooking With Bitter Melon
This vegetable is rarely mixed with other vegetables because of the overpowering bitterness. It is typically used with meats as part of a stir fry or soup. The bitterness of it is an acquired taste, but one that many people around the world are beginning to love to the point of addiction.
Bitter melon can be parboiled before using to reduce the bitterness. Parboiling will change the texture, however, so try it without parboiling as well to see which way you like it. It need not be peeled, but just washed and added to various recipes as directed.
Stuffed Bitter Melon Recipe
- 1/2 lb pork, ground or minced
- 2 cans water chestnuts
- 1 ts minced fresh ginger root
- 2 tbs minced scallion
- 2 tbs dry sherry
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1 tbs soy sauce
- 1 Egg, lightly beaten
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- 2 bitter melons, about 1 lb
- 2 tbs peanut oil
- 2 tsp minced garlic
- 1 1/2 tbs fermented black beans
- 1 tbs dry sherry
- 3/4 c chicken broth
- salt to taste
- 1/2 tsp cornstarch mixed with 1 -teaspoon cold chicken broth
- 1 tbs sesame oil
Combine the stuffing ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly.
Cut the bitter melon into 1-inch slices.Discard the end pieces.
With a knife, cut out the flesh. Lift the pieces out, leaving a thick wall. Stuff the cavity of each slice with a generous spoonful of stuffing.
Arrange the stuffed pieces of vegetable on a plate and set the plate on a trivet in a wok over enough hot water to come within 1 inch of the plate but not touch it.
Cover the wok and steam 20 minutes. Remove.
In a separate wok or pan, prepare the sauce.
Heat 2 tablespoons peanut oil.
Add the garlic and fermented black beans, stir for a minute, then add the sherry, chicken stock and salt.
Add the liquid that results from the steaming of the melon. Bring the mixture to a boil. Thicken with the dissolved cornstarch and flavor with sesame oil.
Pour the sauce over the bitter melons and serve.
Chicken and Bitter Melon Soup
- 1 lb chopped chicken breast (raw)
- 1 bitter melon, chopped
- 2 leaved pickled cabbage
- 1 can water chestnuts
- 6 cups chicken stock
- 2 tsp soy sauce
- 2 eggs, beaten
Simmer chicken and melon in broth for 15 minutes, until cooked. Add cabbage, water chestnuts, and soy sauce. Bring to just under a boil and stir in the beaten egg just until it cooks. Remove from heat and serve.
People with hypoglycemia should avoid bitter melon as the combination of the drugs used for that condition and bitter melon could reduce the blood sugar to dangerously low levels.
Intake of large amounts of bitter melon can result in stomach cramps and diarrhea.
Despite those cautions, bitter melon is a vegetable that can be safely eaten and that more and more people are trying and enjoying.