A common ingredient in Asian cuisine, the bitter melon is a strong-flavored fruit that can be used in sweet and savory dishes. The riper the fruit, the less bitter its flesh will be. Look for melons that are more yellow or white than green and that have redder seeds. The intense bitterness of the unripe fruit can be reduced by salting, blanching or pickling. Because the flavor is so intense, the fruit works well in dishes with other strong flavors, such as spicy or aromatic.
Things You'll Need
2 bitter melons, sliced and seeded
1/2 tsp. ginger, minced
3 oz. ground pork
1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. rice wine
1 tbsp. plus 1/2 tsp. sugar
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. turmeric
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp. fermented black beans, smashed
3 dried red chilies
2 tbsp. fish sauce
1/4 cup water
2 tsp. cornstarch
5 tbsp. oil
Reducing the Bitterness
Slice the bitter melon and drop into lightly salted boiling water. Cook for one minute, then remove the melon from the boiling water and drop into ice water.
Cut the bitter melon in half and remove the seeds and fibrous core. Salt the bitter melon and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Rinse and use in your favorite recipe.
Pickle the bitter melon by dropping sliced melon into a pickling solution and cook for two minutes. To make the pickling solution, boil 1 cup white vinegar, 2 tbsp. sugar, 1 tsp. turmeric and 2 tsp. salt.
Sitr-Fried Bitter Melon
Prepare the bitter melons by blanching, pickling or salting.
Mix ground pork with ginger, 1 tsp. rice wine, 1/2 tsp. sugar and 1/4 tsp. salt.
Combine garlic, black beans, chilies, fish sauce, 1 tbsp. rice wine, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1 tbsp. sugar.
Combine water and cornstarch.
Heat 3 tbsp. oil in a wok and cook pork mixture until pork is fully cooked. Remove from wok and set aside.
Heat remaining 2 tbsp. oil in wok and stir-fry bitter melon for five to seven minutes.
Add sauce and cook for one minute.
Remove wok from heat and add cornstarch mixture, stirring constantly.
Return wok to burner and cook over low heat for 30 seconds.
Stir in cooked pork mixture and remove from heat.
Bitter melon is often used as a palate cleanser in flavorful dishes. Pair it with garlic, chilies or fermented black beans in savory dishes. Use bitter melons in curries or coconut milk-based soups. Bitter melons can be used in drinks and desserts paired with sweet ingredients like sugar, honey and ice cream. If the sauce is too thick, add water, 1 tbsp. at a time, until desired consistency.
The seeds of the bitter melon are edible, but very hard. It is usually best to remove them unless your recipe specifically calls for them. Bitter melon is an acquired taste. Don't be surprised if not everyone appreciates its flavor.