Bitter melon (苦瓜) with peppers and pork

Bitter melon (苦瓜, kǔguā) is a wonderful vegetable. I’ve never seen it in a Western grocery store, but it’s very common in Chinese shops and in Chinese cooking. It has a certain bitterness, of course, and that makes it something of an acquired taste. But don’t be frightened; it’s tasty and worth getting used to.

Bitter melon (苦瓜) with peppers and pork

Bitter melon (苦瓜) with peppers and pork

This particular recipe is ideal for newcomers to bitter melon, because there are a number of contrasting flavors so nothing is overpowering. The green bell peppers contribute a certain sweetness, while the chili peppers and the sesame oil add heat and depth.

Bitter melon, also called bitter gourd, looks like a lumpy cucumber when raw.

From lest to right: one green bell pepper and two bitter melons

From lest to right: one green bell pepper and two bitter melons

When you cut it open, you see some reddish seeds surrounded by soft, white pith.

Bitter melon, sliced lengthwise

Bitter melon, sliced lengthwise

The seeds and the pith are easily removed with a spoon, at which point the bitter melon looks like a tube. This is the tasty and edible part.

Bitter melon, sliced and seeded

Bitter melon, sliced and seeded

This recipe is good for newcomers to bitter melon, because the bitterness is mellowed somewhat by the green peppers. The recipe below will feed 2-4 people as part of a meal with several other dishes.

INGREDIENTS and PREP:

  1. 1/2 cup ground pork
  2. 1 clove garlic, minced; 1-3 red Thai chiles, to taste
  3. 1 bitter melon (cut lengthwise, with the seeds and pith scooped out with a spoon; then cut crosswise into crescents about 1/4 inches thick; tossed with 1 Tbsp salt and rested for a half hour; then rinsed well with water); an equal amount of green bell pepper cut in a similar fashion (but not salted)
  4. 2 tsp sesame oil

DIRECTIONS:

  • Heat your wok until barely smoking. Then add 1 Tbsp peanut oil and swirl it around. Add the ground pork (#1) and stir-fry on high heat until just beginning to brown.
  • Then down the heat to medium and add the garlic and Thai chiles (#2). Stir-fry for about 30 seconds, until the chiles and garlic become fragrant. Don’t let the garlic darken beyond golden.
  • Add the bitter melon and the green pepper (#3) and stir-fry for about 3 minutes, until the vegetables turn bright green and are just beginning to soften.
  • Drizzle in the sesame oil (#4), toss to coat, and serve alongside rice and contrasting dishes.

VARIATIONS: One variation would be to omit the green peppers and make this a melon-only stir-fry. Also, if this will be served alongside other savory dishes, you should consider omitting the pork. Many other choices are possible: omit the Thai chiles, or else add more (to taste). Omit the sesame oil, or substitute chili oil. Consider adding 1 tsp chopped douchi (豆豉, dòuchǐ) or Tianjin preserved vegetable to #3 above.

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