There are a lot of Asian vegetables you probably don’t know much about, and one of them is bitter melon. To get to know it, here’s a typical Asian way of cooking it.
If you pass by the tropical vegetables in your supermarket, you might think twice about picking up bitter melons (or bitter gourds), because they have green, bumpy skin that somehow looks scary to eat. But let’s not judge its outer appearance — what’s inside is something very nutritious and exceptionally good for those with diabetes. Bitter melon contains three active anti-diabetic properties: charantin, which helps lower blood glucose levels; polypeptide-p, which has an insulin-like effect; and vicine.
Even when I was a kid, I was aware of how healthy bitter melons are, but I refused to eat them because, like the name suggests, they are bitter. But there is a way to eliminate most of the bitterness — by leaving them covered in salt for a time and then rinsing and squeezing the salt away. Even if you do this, expect a little bit of the bitterness to remain, but in a delicious way. Bitter melons are commonly used in Asian cuisine, and what I share here is the typical Filipino way of cooking it: stir-frying it, with or without pork, and then finishing it off with an egg.
Like most adults, my taste buds have made a complete turnaround since I was a child. I now love bitter melons cooked this way. In a nutshell, bitter melons are not friendly to children’s palates, so forget about pushing your kids to eat it. But you should try it, because aside from being one of the most nutritious vegetables that exists, bitter melons are also very bitter-good.
Stir-fried bitter melon recipe
- 1 big bitter melon (about 1 pound)
- 2 tablespoons salt plus extra for seasoning
- Olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
- 6 cherry tomatoes, halved (or 1 big tomato, coarsely chopped)
- 2 ounces pork belly, sliced into strips (optional)
- Pepper, to taste
- 1 egg
- Cut away both ends of the bitter melon, and then slice it in half vertically. Using a spoon, completely scrape away the white pith and the seeds. Next, thinly slice the bitter melon.
- To a bowl, add the sliced bitter melon, and then mix it with the 2 tablespoons of salt. Leave it for 10 minutes, as this should help to eliminate the melon’s bitterness.
- Rinse the salt away under the faucet, and then squeeze the bitter melon between your hands.
- In a saucepan with olive oil over medium heat, sauté the garlic and the onion. Toss for 1 minute.
- If using, add the pork belly, and cook it until cooked through.
- Add the tomatoes, and toss for 2 minutes.
- Add the bitter melon, and toss it with the other ingredients for 5 to 7 minutes.
- Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
- While the mixture is cooking, lightly whisk the egg in a small bowl. Add the egg to the saucepan, stir for 1 minute, and then turn off the heat.
- Serve hot. This dish goes perfectly with steamed white rice.