So they're REALLY bitter, huh?
April 30, 2012 11:26 AM   Subscribe

I've got all these bitter melons and no recipes. Halp!

I've got this good and/or bad habit of picking up whatever random stuff the produce market gets in. This now means I've got a huge bag full of bitter melons in my fridge and no idea how to prepare them. Google's more scant on recipes than normal, and something tells me the normal olive oil/garlic roast/saute routine might not work here. Ideas?

(Because it'll come up, bitter-tasting stuff is fine with me.)
posted by dekathelon to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Goya chanpuru!
posted by homodachi at 11:31 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm sure you've found this, but Vietnamese stuffed bitter melon is the only recipe I know; my mom made it for me when I got sick. It's an... acquired taste.
posted by snickerdoodle at 11:33 AM on April 30, 2012

Bitter in the case of bitter melon = tastes like aspirin (no exaggeration). Start small -- really.
posted by Wordwoman at 11:36 AM on April 30, 2012

I'd try a sesame oil/dried pepper roast/saute routine, sliced fine. Then serve alongside of other flavorful foods, in the manner of a sauerkraut.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:40 AM on April 30, 2012

In Hindi (and probably in other languages) it's called karela, so if you're up for trying an India/South-Asian recipe, googling karela recipe should do the trick. My favorite style is stuffed and fried.
posted by sa3z at 11:43 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Chinese method of stir-frying it with a salty black bean sauce seems to offset the bitterness nicely.
posted by zadcat at 11:46 AM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

I really like it in a simple scramble/stif-fry with egg, similar but simpler than the goya chanpuru that homodachi posted. If you do find it too bitter, try blanching first and discarding the water. homodachi's link suggests treating it with salt instead -- that might work too; I've never tried.

Bitter melon juice is quite popular in Taiwan and maybe other places too. I don't have a recipe though.
posted by bread-eater at 11:50 AM on April 30, 2012

I thought this recipe showed up in the search results I linked above, but it might have been just in my personal results. So this is a specific recipe that I've had bookmarked because it looks most like the way my grandmother used to make it. It mentions the salt treatment too.
posted by sa3z at 11:54 AM on April 30, 2012

It is very simple to cook bitter melon. You can choose to keep the pits in or take them out. Cut them lengthwise in half, if the seed are red, then it is better to remove them with a spoon and scoop them out. When the seeds are white, they are nice and crunchy but easy to eat, once they are red, they have aged and will not be pleasurable to eat.

Wash, slice them (into little smiles) and from here, you can simply stir fry in the pan with a little oil and garlic, pepper and finish with a dash of soy sauce.

If you are more adventurous, you can add black bean sauce and a tablespoon of water.

If you are a meat eater, you can put in chicken or beef. I am vegetarian so I put in tofu. If you end up putting a protein, I suggest you marinate the chicken or beef in corn starch, sesame oil, dash of salt, soy sauce and pepper. Stir fry the chicken or beef separately and incorporate into the bitter melon once it is cooked. Add a small amount of water (a tablespoon or two) to create a little gravy. With tofu, there is no need for marinade, but a little water (and a little of cornstarch if you like it thickened) to have a bit of gravy.

I like it all by itself, cooked with a little olive oil, small bit of ginger and pepper . Enjoy!
posted by Yellow at 12:10 PM on April 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

You could always make a Chinese soup like this one. My mother also makes a simple salad where she tosses very thin slices of bitter melon (soaked earlier it in salt water for five minutes to reduce the bitterness) with soy sauce, sesame oil, minced garlic, and finely sliced red chili peppers. Refrigerate for a couple of hours to make it extra refreshing.
posted by peripathetic at 12:23 PM on April 30, 2012

I use Yellow's recipe more or less, but I always scoop out the seeds / pith in the center.

I don't think using Chinese black bean is that adventurous (do not get this mixed up with normal Western black beans - Chinese black beans are a form of fermented soy bean).

I always use the beef, which is cut into stir-fry sized strips, marinated in soy sauce, black pepper and Chinese cooking wine. The stir-fry is started with cooking oil and minced garlic, then the beef until it is cooked, then the black beans which are kind of chopped up a bit then mixed in, then the bitter melon, until the bitter melon is soft, then a tiny bit of corn starch to thicken it if desired. I usually eat this on fresh white rice.

Now then, your normal method of a garlic saute is not a bad way of doing it at all. Keep in mind that you'll probably need to add something salty to it to balance the bitterness. That is what the soy sauce marinated beef does in my version, but you can do something else.

It is an acquired taste. When I first had bitter melon, I politely ate it; it was difficult. But eventually I began to crave it. Once you get past the bitter bite, the food is delicious.

Have fun.
posted by jabberjaw at 12:37 PM on April 30, 2012

my mom (who is chinese) likes to stuff them with a mixture of ground pork, tree ear mushrooms, and glass noodles (with an egg and cornstarch to bind, and soy sauce, fish sauce, salt and pepper to season), and boil in water (which also cuts the bitterness), serving with the resulting broth.
posted by violetk at 12:40 PM on April 30, 2012

There was an episode of "Chopped" where the chefs had to make an appetizer using bitter melon, cream cheese, papadum and chicken thighs, which actually doesn't sound like a terrible combo to me. As mentioned by others salt is your friend with these things.
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:49 PM on April 30, 2012

You are all awesome. (And better at Googling than me.)

I wanted to make the first recipe at first but didn't have any tofu or miso, so I just stir-fried it with eggs, garlic, soy sauce, honey and a bit of chili sauce. And it was pretty good! Sort of. It went from "this is really obnoxious" to "I kind of like this, but I'd probably like anything with soy sauce and honey" to "I think I might actually genuinely like this."
posted by dekathelon at 4:34 PM on April 30, 2012

Slice chilled raw bitter melon as thinly as possible and sprinkle with pork floss. Two acquired tastes that go great together on a hot day with cold beer!
posted by Etaoin Shrdlu at 5:26 PM on April 30, 2012

Awesome! It is such an underrated veggie. You'll be happy to know it has a lot of nutritional benefits!
posted by jabberjaw at 5:31 PM on April 30, 2012

Pinakbet uses bitter melon (ampalaya) -- I eat it with a *lot* of rice :)
posted by vespertine at 9:46 PM on April 30, 2012

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