Bitter Melon

by Daisy on 07/29/2011

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When I saw a plant labelled “bitter melon” (at Lowe’s, of all places), of course I had to get it.  Who could resist?

It’s grown very slowly so far, but it does have one fine “melon” to show for it:

In researching momordica charantia, I’ve been overwhelmed by all the great nutritional benefits listed for this, this . . .  thing.  Seriously overloaded with information about how it’s good against diabetes, viruses, malaria, cancer and more, and how it boosts immunity and promotes heart health. Why have I never heard of this before?

Everyone in China, India, and parts east has.  It’s very well-known across Asia where it’s blanched, boiled, fried, stuffed, and sauteed in dishes I’ve never heard of and can’t pronounce properly.  I wanted to cook it up in a traditional dish and couldn’t find anything without more hard-to-find ingredients I’d also never heard of.  I finally found a familiar name:  Gado-Gado, an Indonesian specialty I’ve cooked for years and love, with peanut sauce and blanched vegetables over rice.

I’ll be cooking this soon and posting about it once I know how bitter melon tastes.  Apparently . . .  it’s bitter.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your experiences with this plant and your favorite ways to prepare it.

 

 



{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Laurie in Arkansas July 29, 2011 at 12:54 am

My only experience with bitter melon was at a farmers market. The Asian man who was selling them didn’t speak much english but he spoke enough to basically dare me to try some. I took the slice of it that he offered and he laughed hysterically at my facial expression…it’s VERY bitter! LOL

Looking forward to hearing about your results!

Anita July 29, 2011 at 3:00 am

How do you know when it’s ready to pick? Does it change color like a tomato? Does it get to a certain size like a cucumber? Does the stem get dry like a cantalope?

Dee July 29, 2011 at 3:15 am

I live in Hawaii. It’s frequently found growing wild on the edges of fields, mostly as far as I can tell brought in from Southeast Asia. It definitely grows wild in my yard and I have to keep ripping it up. I first saw it as a weedy pest in the edge of pineapple fields. I understand it is a main ingredient in a vegetable stew called Pinakbet, also pretty common here in Hawaii, a favorite of folks from the Philippines. I’ve been told you need to pick it and use it while it’s still green. If it’s turned orange, it’s too old to use.

Cathy July 29, 2011 at 6:09 am

My mom fries finely chopped garlic, onions, ginger, tomatoes and a larger dice of the bitter melon. Add lemon juice, salt, ground cumin and corriander* (optinal if you can’t find it). No one makes it as well as Mom!!! It is really bitter. You could add other veggies, like zucchinin, to take the edge off. Salt also tempers the bitterness but try not to use too much (lol).

Caroline Vidican July 29, 2011 at 6:33 am

In Kerala, India, it’s called bitter gourd. I was given a dietary sheet by a doctor there and told to drink bitter gourd juice first thing in the morning. I’ve never done it because I couldn’t find bitter gourd! But I’m quite glad, because it appears it’s UN-drinkable!

Catastropher July 29, 2011 at 7:31 am

I like to use it to make bitter melon soup. It is sort of pork meatballs stuffed into rings of bitter melon. (http://www.theravenouscouple.com/2010/10/canh-kho-qua-bitter-melon-soup.html)

Adica July 29, 2011 at 9:31 am

Perhaps if you sprinkled salt over slices and let them sit for an hour and then rinsed well before cooking, it would help counteract some of the bitterness? My mom and I do that to take the bitterness out of some vegetables. Though if it’s as bitter as advertised, it might not work completely on this one. Either that or it would intensify because of the loss of liquid from the salt, lol.

alisha July 29, 2011 at 10:11 am

I never heard of it either. Be sure to let us know what you and your family thinks of it. Maybe we will try it next year.

Bela Lubkin July 29, 2011 at 10:32 am

Hi, my wife asked me to come comment on this posting because I love bitter melon and she hates it…

I’ll just start with ripeness because I’m about to be dragged off to the beach. It turns orange when ripe, and you don’t want it that way. I’ve read that it actually becomes poisonous but I’ve never tested the theory 🙂

The one in the picture looks perfectly ready to eat.

Bitter melon in stores is often moldy along the ridges, and goes bad quickly in the fridge: I think you should pick it immediately before use.

My parents and I generally use it in stir fries. They like to cut it up *with* the seeds (thus retaining both the seeds and the foamy seed retaining framework). I use a spoon to scoop that stuff out and discard it. The foam is actually fine, I just don’t like the crunchy texture of the seeds contrasted with the vegetable texture of the flesh.

Ripening goes: all green; green outside with the seed foam turning red; seed foam all red and slimy; outside starting to turn orange; all orange. I’ve eaten it in the red-and-slimy stage (being especially careful to remove the seeds & slime because it was just gross).

Back later with some recipe stuff.

Bela Lubkin July 29, 2011 at 10:44 am

BTW what you have there is a Chinese bitter melon (“foo gwa” or “koo gwa”). They are sweeter and more melony than the Indian “karela”. Karela has darker green, thinner, more bitter flesh.

The most basic recipe, the one my parents ordered for years at their favorite Chinese restaurant, made me taste, and I always rejected — until I eventually liked it — is beef with bitter melon. Cut lengthwise, scoop out seed mass, cut crosswise into a bunch of “smile” shapes about 1cm wide. 1cm by halfway around the melon. Heat oil, stir fry some fresh ginger & garlic, add melon, add beef at appropriate time — you have to already know how to stir fry, sorry, I’m not teaching that. Add some Chinese brown bean sauce or black beans near the end. Add a little fresh chopped green onion after taking off the heat.

“Beef” here equals a decent steak (I prefer top sirloin) cut into pieces that stir fry well, e.g. 1 by 2 inches by about 1/5″ thick. Cut while semi-frozen.

When I was learning to like this, first I noticed that I liked the sauce (which had become somewhat bitter) + beef + rice. Then I found that I could eat beef + a bit of melon + rice all in the same bite. Eventually I got to where I could eat the melon straight in this sort of presentation. I still don’t like it straight up raw.

===

Simplest possible recipe: scoop out seeds, slice into shards (think corn flakes), stir fry with a lot of garlic and maybe some chicken broth.

===

I’ve never tried to de-bitter it. I have had the results of other people doing so. In my opinion: don’t try. It tends to make the melon soggy and insipid. You will end up legitimately disliking it because (A) it’s still bitter enough to bother you, but (B) all of its other redeeming qualities have been ruined. Aim to make it the best piece of horribly bitter melon you’ve ever had. One day you’ll appreciate it. 🙂

BWT congrats on growing that fine specimen. I’ve tried a couple times and never got past the spindly-I-hope-it-will-flower stage… while at the same time the zucchini and cucumbers were going crazy a few feet away.

NOW I will go to the beach…..

Bela Lubkin July 29, 2011 at 10:45 am

Last comment. On 2nd thought that looks not quite ready. Definitely edible, but will be a bit nicer when it fills out a little and color lightens slightly. (I could be getting fooled by the colors not coming through cleanly….)

Tomato Lady July 29, 2011 at 11:06 am

Bela Lubkin–Thank you, thank you! I feel like I know how to tackle this now. It’s been a few days since the photo and it might be ready as you described now. There is also another fruit forming, so I may be able to try this more ways than one. I’m very excited to try it and report on my experience. Will take pictures of what it looks like inside so everyone can see and let me know whether I’ve picked it at the right time. Again, thanks for the recipe ideas and the inside scoop. Enjoy the beach!

JavaLady July 29, 2011 at 11:17 pm

WOW. I have never, ever heard of this plant. Thanks for new stuff !!

Kathy July 30, 2011 at 4:03 pm

It tastes like aspirin! And it is pretty ugly!

Myrnie August 1, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Bitter melon remains the only food in my 29 years that entered and left my mouth in the same movement, and I was 22. I think it was steamed, I tried it at a dim sum restaurant. I was so embarrassed, but it was SO BAD. My goodness. Glad to know there are great preparations out there!

caitlinvb August 1, 2011 at 7:31 pm

We had these growing up in Japan – we LOVED them! My mother has since moved to Vancouver, BC, and she grew some in her solarium-like kitchen as the vines are super gorgeous. I think we mostly ate them in tempura… 🙂

Linda August 4, 2011 at 12:36 am

I ate a lot of bitter melon when I lived in the Philippines for a year–and I loved it. It’s one of the vegetables I miss most here in the states. I like it best with cooked with eggs and served over rice.

One of the tricks for reducing bitterness is not to mess with the melon too much during the cooking process. Other than that, I treat it sort of like a zucchini.

Pick it at about the length of a larger zuke. Cut it lengthwise and scoop out the innards the way you would with a melon or squash. The slice it like a zucchini. Saute some garlic and onions in a frying pan with oil. Add the melon and some salt. Stir briefly. Then leave it. You can add more oil or a little water to keep it from burning or you can put a lid on the pan to steam it. But whatever you do, don’t stir it. Stirring releases the bitterness.

When the melon is pretty soft, add some beaten eggs. When the eggs start cooking well, gently mix them like you would for scrambled eggs. Serve over rice.

It’s even better if you add some chopped pork before the melon. Brown it up then continue with the rest of the recipe. Bitter melon goes really well with pork.

No matter how you cook it, it is shockingly bitter. But in a good way.

Faith May 1, 2013 at 8:44 pm

I HATE bitter melon! My mother’s side of the family is from Hong Kong and I was force fed the stuff aaall the time. To make it even worse my family nicknamed me ‘fu kwa’ (the cantonese name for bitter melon) because I used to look angry all the time–probably because I was an angsty teenager being forced to eat bitter melon! Thank goodness I’m old enough to just decline the stuff now. Bleugh.

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