Tuesday, September 23, 2008
The Quest for Bitterless Bittermelon: A Salad and A Stir-fry
Bitter melon or Bitter gourd (a green, oblong shaped gourd that is wartly looking on the outside) is truly the most unpopular vegetable. How can it be popular when it tastes so ... so... bitter!
When I was single, I do not think I am fond of this vegetable. In fact, I remember whenever my mom would cook this, (which was not so often,) she is the only one in the family who will eat this veggie! When I got married though, we lived for a few years with my in-laws and I learned to like this bitter veggie. The taste kind of 'grows' on you. Yes, it is an acquired taste. My mother-in-law believes that the Bitter Gourd is one of the super vegetables - ranked up high with broccoli and watercress. So, we would regularly have this veggie on the menu. She was proven correct when recent studies show that the bitter gourd can help regulate blood sugar level, helps digestion process, and helps regulate body functions. In fact, it is now made into tea, and capsules for those who do not enjoy this veggie.
Now that I am a mother, I would have to think of ways to cook this healthy and nutritious vegetable so that my kids would learn to like it. I have tried cooking the gourd in soup, like my friend recommended, and true enough, the bitterness was gone! But I also have to experiment and think of other ways to minimize the bitterness, so I can use this gourd in other dishes as well. So, let's start with the quest!
When we buy bitter melons, we have to choose young ones. I think it gets more bitter as it ripens. How will you know when you get more mature ones? It is not the size that matters. I have seen some baby bitter gourd and they taste even more bitter than the regular ones. See the picture above? I have already halved the gourd lengthwise in that picture and there are yellow orange spots around the seeds. That means this gourd is quite mature. If it is all white, then the gourd is still young. But the mature gourd is still very much edible.
For this quest, I purposefully bought 2 large pieces of bitter gourd, placed them in my refrigerator for 2 days, to allow them to mature. So that I can experiment on how to remove the "bitterness" of the gourd!
After halving the gourd, I removed the pith and the seeds. This is how it would look like:
Remove as much white stuff as you can with a spoon. It is not hard to do so, because all these whites are soft. Then slice each half as thinly as you can. In my case, as thinly as my "dull" knife would let me... :)
For one bitter melon, I tried the "usual" way, that is, it is how I was taught, how everybody is doing it. We put the sliced bitter melon in a bowl. Mix it with 2 tablespoon of salt and let it sit for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, you will see some juices have oozed out, drain the juice, squeeze the bitter melon slices some more to extract more juice. Wash them well with clean water, squeeze out excess water, then it is ready to cook.
Or in this case, ready to be made into Bitter melon Salad (Ampalaya Salad). This is an easy salad to do. It will make a great side-dish to a grilled or fried meat or fish!
Chop up some onions and tomatoes. Mix together with the prepared bitter melon slices. You can also add some chopped bird's eye chillies (siling labuyo, chili padi) if you prefer more zing! Add some good quality rice vinegar, sugar, fish sauce (patis). Mix everything up together. Add the sauces, spices, salt and pepper according to taste. It should be sourish salty with a little hint of sweet... :)
For the second bitter melon, I simply put the slices of the gourd in a bowl, and added clean water until all the slices are covered. I changed the water every hour, and did this 3 times. My theory? Osmosis! (Or is it reverse osmosis?) I figured that the bitterness of the gourd (more concentration) will "transfer" to the water (less concentrated).
After three hours, I cooked the bittermelon in a stir fry. Recipe here. Only, I did not use crabmeat, but simple fish paste (bagoong).
Result of my experiment? The second version - immersing in water proved to be more efficient in removing the bitterness! Which was quite a surprise, actually! It was the easiest, cleanest and less messy way and yet more effective! The cooked dish had no hint and trace of bitterness at all. Hubby said it was the best ampalaya (Bitter melon) he had ever tasted!
I would recommend this immersing method. Not only does it effectively remove the bitterness, but I was afraid the first method, of extracting the bitterness through salt, would extract the vitamins and the other healthy benefits as well.
Sharing these two dishes with the featured Bitter melon to the Weekend Herb Blogging community. This foodie event was launched by Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen to feature herbs and unique plant ingredients around the world and the dishes we prepare using these ingredients. This week's host is Haalo of Cook (almost) Anything At Least Once. I like her food philosophy! To see last week's featured plants and dishes, please see Zorra's simple and elegant round-up at Kochtop.