Saturday, November 20, 2010
Bitter melon, also called bitter gourd, is the cilantro of summer squashes. You love it or you hate it, apparently, no matter where you grew up. But I can verify that these and their larger slightly less gnarly cousins, that look like this:
fan club, a National Council no less ("We claim all of humanity as part of our Bitter Melon community"), which is so kewl.
And that's weird for something that tastes like poison, right?
In texture they're much like--sorry to keep repeating this, but it's true--a soft zucchini with large tough seeds. A cross-section of the large one looks like this. You don't have to peel it but you do have to scrape out the seeds and the pith before using it:
With the little guys, on the other hand, you can optionally leave the seeds in. The two types taste very similar, that's to say bitter. The texture is nice and fresh and cool, and you're thinking, "Yeah, this isn't too bad at all, really," but then the aftertaste kicks in. I tried the large one, before MoFo, in a stir fry, and although I quite liked it at the time, I was--or imagined I was--tasting it for days afterwards. What it tastes like, and I'm not kidding, it's only slightly less bitter, is like biting into a potato sprout, only these are not poisonous and potato sprouts are, so don't try that at home, please, just because I did. But take my word for it, potato sprouts are probably the bitterest substance known to man.
So...love it or hate it...I'm still sitting on the fence until I've tried a few more ways of preparing them.
This is another tribute post, this time for the Garlicky lemon bitter gourd crisps from Jugalbandi. That post is definitely worth reading for the introduction and links especially. The recipe is over there but there isn't much to it. All you do is slice the bitter melon thinly:
...then coat it in a spice mix of salt, turmeric, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper:
...spray it with oil and bake it at 400F for about 20 minutes, flipping halfway through, until you get this:
Serve hot, sprinkled with lemon or lime juice. Yeah, it was pretty good, and certainly very interesting-looking. Strong flavours and spices offer bitter melon more of a fair fight, so if you're not sure you'll like the taste but want to try it, a good place to start is with a very spicy dish like this one.
Bon appetit, fellow experimenters!