Going through the Asian vegetables at the local market, I spied a gourd that I haven't eaten in over 20 years - Bitter Melon (Karela in Indian cookery). I remember the melon having a strong flavor that was an "acquired" taste. In other words, the melon had a strong bitter (for lack of a better word) taste where I could not understand who figured out this was an edible vegetable.
The way I remember preparing the melon was with salted, fermented black beans and garlic. To mask the bitterness? Well... after 20 years, I was feeling nostalgic and decided to give it a go. Also, I had a craving for black beans and garlic.
The bitter melon is a ridged melon with bumps. Inside you see the seed and the pith which is different from what I remembered. I recall the pith and seeds coats being bright red, like pimentos. Maybe this is a different variety or an unripe melon.
The seeds and pith are scraped out with a spoon and cut into strips, using a diagonal cutting technique. Also, you can cut into large triangular pieces too.
To reduce the bitterness, you can par-boil for a minute or two. Also, I've read that you can salt the sliced pieces and rinse after 15 minutes.
For today, I opted to cook as is. Bring on the full flavor!
Bitter Melon with Black Beans and Beef
1 lb Bitter Melon, seeded can cut.
1 T Black Beans, soaked in warm water (5 to 10 minutes) and rinsed
1 t Garlic, minced
1 T Oyster Sauce
1 t Soy Sauce
1 C Broth
1 to 2 T Vegetable Oil
Beef (or pork or chicken)... to your taste.
1/4 C Water
1 t Corn Starch
1/2 t Oyster Sauce
1/2 t Soy Sauce
1/4 t Toasted Sesame Oil
The black beans (after a soak and rinsing) and the minced garlic.
Using the end of a cleaver, the two are mashed together.
Heat the oil in a pan on medium-high heat. When hot, stir the black bean/garlic mixture to flavor the oil (about 1 minute). Typically, you would add the meat next, but I used some precooked ground beef leftover from the piroshky bake... (Shhh! Don't tell anyone I used leftovers! lol)
Add the sliced bitter melon and saute for about 3 to 5 minutes.
The cooked ground beef was mixed in along with the oyster sauce and soy sauce.
The broth (or water) went in next.
The heat was reduced to medium and the pan covered.... Allowing the melon to cook for about 7 to 10 minutes.
Optional... After 7 minutes, the melon was done so the corn starch slurry was added. The corn starch will thicken the remaining liquids to give the dish a little sheen, but more importantly allow the flavors to "stick" to the melon.
Onto the serving platter.
A closer view... ready to be served.
Served with brown rice (my personal preference).
I was expecting a strong mouth puckering flavor. However, I was surprised how unbitter the bitter melon was. There was only a faintest hint of the bitter flavor I remember from 20 years ago. Maybe I burned out my taste buds from all the hot sauce I eat or this variety just isn't that bitter.
Overall, still a good dish. My craving for black beans and garlic was satiated, and the bitter melon wasn't that bitter as I initially feared.