Bitter melon (苦瓜) with sweet yellow peppers

This is another quick and easy dish, one that combines very well with meat, tofu, or other vegetables like long beans (长豆角, zhǎng dòujiǎo) or mushrooms. Sometimes chefs will add some sugar to bitter melon to offset it’s native bitterness. This recipe gets some sweetness from yellow peppers so no additional sugar is needed.

Bitter melon with sweet yellow peppers

Bitter melon with sweet yellow peppers

Bitter melon (苦瓜, kǔguā) is a wonderful vegetable. In my last bitter melon recipe, which you can find here, I mentioned that I’d never seen it in a Western grocery before. Well, the world is shrinking, and I think that’s a good thing. I found bitter melon today at a local Western grocery chain in Chicago. Unfortunately, the cashier didn’t recognize the vegetable and so she couldn’t give me a price. We searched her catalog under bitter melon, Chinese bitter melon, Chinese melon, and a few other permutations. It turns out it was listed in her book as “Indian bitter gourd,” also known as karela, which like bitter melon is also Mormordica charantia, but is a different cultivar than what one finds in China. Karela (“Indian bitter gourd”) is shorter and has a darker green color and a wrinklier texture, while Chinese bitter melon (苦瓜, kǔguā) is lighter in color, smoother, and can be up to a foot long. Both are presumably tasty. This recipe calls for the Chinese variety.

Bitter melon, of course, is bitter, so be ready for that if this is your first time trying it. The bitterness is actually very pleasant and goes really well with contrasting tastes. The taste can be cut by parboiling the slices for a minute or two, or by adding sugar or something sweet to the dish – in this case, the yellow peppers.

Slice the bitter melon in half and scoop out the pith and the seeds. Then cut into bite-sized pieces. Put the bitter melon in a colander and salt the slices generously, tossing them around a bit so that they’re fully coated. The salt will draw out moisture, rendering the pieces crispier. After about 20 minutes, rinse the pieces well and pat them dry with a clean cloth. Cut the the yellow peppers into slices that match the size and shape of the melon. (The pepper doesn’t need to be salted.)

Bitter melon, left, and yellow peppers, right

Bitter melon, left, and yellow peppers, right

Stir fry for a few minutes, long enough for the vegetables to get hot but not long enough for them to get soft.

The vegetables in the wok

The vegetables in the wok

And that’s about it. This is another TastyAsia signature “simple” recipe, meaning it will be finished in the time it takes to cook rice. I had it tonight with red-braised pork belly and a soy sauce egg, and everything went really well together.

INGREDIENTS and PREP:

  1. One bitter melon, seeds and pith removed, cut into 1/4″ thick slices, salted and drained for 20 minutes in a colander (see above), then rinsed and patted dry
  2. An equal quantity of sweet yellow peppers, cut into similarly sized pieces

DIRECTIONS:

  • Heat your wok on medium heat until hot but not smoking. Then add 2 Tbsp peanut oil and swirl it around. Add the vegetables (#1, #2) and stir-fry for about 4 minutes, until heated through and gently cooked, but not softened.
  • Serve with rice and contrasting dishes.

VARIATIONS: The pepper is in this recipe to add sweetness. If you like, you can omit the pepper and instead add 1 tsp sugar to the wok as the bitter melon is cooking. You can also add other vegetables for fun and variety, such as 1/2 cup parboiled carrot slices, a cup of parboiled cauliflower, or just about anything else. Salting the bitter melon is optional; if you want to skip that step, add 1/2 tsp salt or 1 Tbsp soy sauce to the wok.

The essential Chinese pantry is here.

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