The more bitter, the better

Ken and I are pretty adventurous eaters. A stop at the local Asian mega mart may be a journey into an alien world for some, but it’s on our tour of regular grocery-shopping stops. One of our favorite exotic veggies in stock there is the bitter melon. When we go through the check out line, we typically get that “You do know what you’re buying, right?” look. Once we assure the staff that we know exactly what we are doing, we are offered recommended preparations and old family recipes.

Some of you may already know that bitter melon requires a very acquired taste. As Ken states, those who love a really hoppy beer may enjoy it. I’ll leave it to other sources to tout its medicinal benefits. I know that I always feel healthy and refreshed (and full) after consuming it!

Our preferred way to eat it is rather simple: stir-fried with dried black beans. We use Grace Young’s recipe in The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen: Classic Family Recipes for Celebration and Healing. I have omitted the flank steak, as we typically do, for this recipe:

2 medium bitter melons (1 1/4 pounds total)

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon finely shredded ginger

1 teaspoon rice cooking wine

1 teaspoon thin soy sauce

1 teaspoon plus 5 tablespoons vegetable oil (we usually use far less and substitute with olive oil)

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

1 tablespoon Chinese dried black beans

1 clove garlic, finely minced

Cut the bitter melons in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Slice into 1/4-inch thick pieces. Place in 1 quart of boiling water and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Allow the water to return to a boil. Then, drain and rinse the bitter melon under cold water and set aside to drain thoroughly.

Rinse the black beans in several changes of cold water and drain. In a small bowl, mash the black beans and garlic with the back of a wooden spoon until it resembles a paste.

Heat a flat-bottomed wok or skillet over high heat until hot but not smoking. Add oil, bitter melon, black bean paste, corn starch, ginger, rice wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar and pepper. Stir fry for one-to-two minutes. Serve immediately. Enjoy!

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