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Bitter Melon – Tried it, Stir-fried it . . .

Bitter Melon – Tried it, Stir-fried it . . .
Posted by Georgiaberry Mobley at 8/18/2007 4:44 PM and is filed under uncategorized

The votes are in.  Four votes were counted: one in favor, one against, two abstained and had grilled cheese.  So it’s a draw.  But this is not in doubt, the bitter melon is one strange and interesting vegetable.  It is as weird inside as it is on the outside.  I was prepared for its innards because I read about “crimson seeds”, but the sight was still shocking.  The plump lipstick red slick seeds are in a cavity filled with white moist fuzz-like fibers.  The fibers and seed coating are very sweet.  I dutifully scraped it all out, sliced the melon into thin slices, and went on to the bitterness reducing measures recommended on various websites, such as wikipedia and the National Bitter Melon Council <a href=””></a>  I salted the melon slices and let them drain in a colander for a couple of hours.  Then I rinsed the salt off, and parboiled the slices in several cups of water, and drained that off.  I was left with a pile of green stuff that was quite tender, but had lost its beautiful lime green brightness.  And it was very bitter.

So making this stir fry was an all day affair.  I set the pork to marinating early in the day.  Kandan had cut up a large boneless pork roast into thin slices, and I cut the slices into ribbons (which was a pleasure to do since he sharpened my favorite knife – thanks, dear) and put it in the fridge with soy sauce and a little sherry.  Since I was so pleased with my pork ribbons, I decided to cut everything up into these thin strips.  Throughout the day, when I felt like working on it, I cut up a huge pile of red bell pepper, eggplant, onion, mushrooms, and a lot of fresh ginger (about 3 T finely chopped) and garlic.  And one whole spicy pepper.  I wished for broccoli, but had none.  I don’t know how I would have make that into a ribbon anyway.  I had a hard enough time with the mushrooms!  Since many of the recipes I read had egg as an ingredient, I decided to try this.  I scrambled one egg and cooked it without stirring until almost firm, then flipped it and finished the cooking.  Then I cut that into strips, like everything else.  It added a nice golden color.

I made the sauce and had to taste the sherry to make sure it was still good and ended up tasting way too much of that.  I admit to being a little woozy as I made the sauce, but here it is:

I mixed it up in a measuring cup, starting with

-almost 1/2 cup soy sauce, then add
-enough sherry to make it measure 1/2 cup
-1 t sugar, heaping
-3 t rice wine vinegar
-2 T toasted sesame oil
-1 t red pepper flakes
-3 T cornstarch mixed with 2T water

The sauce is added at the end.

The quantity of pork was 1 pound, and the quantity of vegetables was enough to fill a large dinner plate to heaping.

Of course home stir frying is never as effective as it would be in a restaurant, our stoves just cant match the BTU’s needed.  I do my best by cranking my gas burner up to high, and heating my biggest cast iron skillet to smoking.  Use plenty of oil, and fry in small batches.  Set the cooked food aside on a platter, just keep piling the batches up on top of each other.  I think a good pair of tongs are indispensable in the kitchen, and I use these to stir the food and transfer the cooked food to the platter.

So, anyway, I cooked the pork strips in two batches, and the cut was perfect.  It cooked so fast, and was so thin that it evenly distributed the meat throughout the dish.  The ribbon may be my standard cut of stir fry meat from now on.

I did the veggies in three batches.  Err on the side of rawness, because they will get warmed again with the sauce, and you want them crispy and fresh. Then dump everything back in the pan, and pour the sauce over.  You have to stir consistently at this point, because the sauce needs to coat everything and not clump.  As soon as it is thickened and glossy, turn off the heat and serve.  We ate ours with brown rice, but any rice you like is fine.  Don’t eat the hot pepper!

Since there was violent opposition to the bitter melon from my dinner companion, I kept it to the side, and as I was plating my meal, I put the cooked melon on the rice before I spooned on the stir fry.  I found that it had a distinctive, but not unpleasing, bitter taste that didn’t overwhelm the other flavors when used in small amounts.   I wouldn’t want to have to live on bitter melon alone, but if I were transported to a culture whose cuisine had a lot of this bitter flavor, I think I would come to like it very much.

I do not intend to repeat the ribboning theme with my stir fry vegetables.  I prefer the look of the different shapes, each suiting the nature of the individual vegetable.    But with the meat it was a great discovery.

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So, what do you think?

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