My new favorite vegetable has got to be the bitter melon. It’s a rather knobby looking green cylinder which is aptly named. It is utterly and truly bitter. I’ve had it in soups but prefer it best when paired with the sweetness of eggs in a simple stir-fry/omelet.
The bitter melon is common in Asian cooking and is grown in Southeast Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. I think I’ve seen it in nearly every Asian market I’ve ever entered. Although there is scientific debate, bitter melon is believed to contain medicinal properties that can treat malaria, digestive issues, and diabetes. While I’m not eating it for any of these issues, there’s just something about the bitter flavor that lures me in (and, it’s always good to know that I’m combating malaria at the same time, just in case).
Bitterness is not a flavor that we often attribute with something we *want* to eat. Personally, bitter flavors always remind me of when I couldn’t swallow as aspirin as a child and it would begin to melt on my tongue. Yuck. I shudder just thinking about it. Given my aversion, it’s so surprising to me that I’ve really grown to love this vegetable.
Joe’s mom has made bitter melon for me a few times since arriving in Vancouver and she was surprised to find a Caucasian who liked it so much. I decided to try making it myself last week. I’ve now made it twice already. Fortunately, bitter melons are easily found in Asian markets and are reasonably priced so it makes for an affordable dish.
To make this dish, I cut off the ends of the melon, then sliced lengthwise down the center. The inside is a spongy pith with large dark seeds. Use a spoon to scoop this out and discard. Slice the melon crosswise into thin slices (1/8″).
Heat a pan with 2 tablespoons oil and add bitter melon. Saute for 3-5 minutes or until the vegetable just begins to soften. Pour 2-4 beaten eggs (depending on how egg-y you’d like it — in my photos I only used 2 eggs and prefer it with 4). You can sprinkle with a couple teaspoons of soy sauce if you like. Allow the egg to get firm on the bottom before trying to flip the omelet. It doesn’t need to remain in one piece (and likely won’t), so don’t get upset as it crumbles apart.
My photo does not do this justice. You see, I messed around with the egg mixture and shouldn’t have. I thinned it out with some broth thinking it would be nice and fluffy … instead, the eggs didn’t hold their shape and it became a bit sloppy looking. It still tasted ok but I don’t recommend it. I’ve made it again since this attempt and didn’t mess with the eggs, and it turned out much better.
I served this as a side dish along with rice and sticky spare ribs (coming later this week). The melon’s bitterness matches nice with the sweet egg. You get a bitter/sweet flavor in every bite which I really really like.
If you decide to try it, you’ll need to have an open mind :-) I can imagine many wrinkled noses around the dinner table if you aren’t fully prepared to accept the bitterness (i.e. don’t waste your time trying to convince your kids). But, it’s worth a try nonetheless!
Here are others who are eating Bitter Melon:
Bittermelon and Shrimp in Black Bean Sauce @ House of Annie
Mama’s Ampalaya @ [eatingclub] Vancouver
Chinese Bitter Melon Stir-Fry @ Chubby Panda
Grilled Bitter Melon, Mango, and Tomato Salad @ Burnt Lumpia
Bitter Melon Soup @ HolyBasil