Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Bitter Melon

Beauty with a bite. However, as I understand it "Bitter Melons" have an incredible health profile. According to "Adventures in Thai Cooking & Travel", it is "Rich in iron, bitter melon has twice the beta carotene of broccoli, twice the calcium of spinach, twice the potassium of bananas, and contains vitamins C and B 1 to 3, phosphorus and good dietary fiber. It is believed to be good for the liver and has been proven by western scientists to contain insulin, act as an anti-tumor agent, and inhibit HIV-1 infection." It's bitter taste comes from quinine, an antimalarial agent to boot! The National Bitter Melon Council also has a wealth of information and some additional details on how bitter melon is used in various cultures and some lengthy notes on scientific research. In fact it summarizes a very interesting connection as follows: "Biter Melon has also been linked to effects of increasing the number of beta cells in the pancreas as well, and as a result improving the body’s capability to produce insulin."

But you can't underestimate that bite. And you may have guessed already that this post is made for , hosted by Vani from Batasari.

Actually Midori, my host mother from Hiroshima brought me into her kitchen to teach me how to make this dish a couple years ago, when I last visited. Although I may have gotten a little fuzzy, I'm confident this is pretty close to her instructions. What I'm a little fuzzy about is if she had coached me on pre-prepping the bitter melon to take away some of the bitterness or not. However, a web search revealed two popular methods, salting for a few minutes then rinsing, or parboiling. I decided to salt. Another thing I learned from Midori is that this vegetable came to the mainland from Okinawa, where it is a popular vegetable. Wouldn't you know those healthy, long-lived Okinawans would have discovered this!

Hodo Soy Beanery

Another ingredient in the recipe I'm going to share is the tofu. And since I didn't plan to purchase the bitter melon at the Farmer's Market, I hadn't soaked beans the night before in order to make the tofu from scratch. Lucky for me, the Sunday San Rafael Farmer's Market had a table of tofu products. Hodo Soy Beanery had some very fresh and delicious tofu in fact. The company representative also gave me some advice on making yuba -- use very thick soy milk. However, he had sold out of yuba, so I couldn't make up for my lack in the same way.

Bitter Melon & Tofu Stir Fry

Oh, and I did alter the recipe with another ingredient I picked up at the Farmer's Market, by adding some fresh tomato for color and added flavor.

So here is the recipe for Tofu and Bitter Melon Stir Fry:

1 cake medium to firm tofu, cubed
2 eggs
1/2 bitter melon, seeded and sliced into half-rounds
1/2 large tomato
1 teaspoon tamari sauce
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sesame oil

1. Salt (using the 1 teaspoon salt) or parboil the bitter melons slices to remove some of the bitterness.
2. Heat the sesame oil in a fry-pan and stir fry the bitter melon until nearly tender.
3. Add the cubes of tofu and stir fry gently to heat through.
4. Add tamari sauce to the contents and toss gently.
5. Add 2 beaten eggs and stir fry, mixing the ingredients.
6. Just before finishing, add cubes of fresh tomatoes and fry until slightly warmed.

Put your stir fry onto a serving plate, and serve. Serves 2-4 depending on whether you have it as a main or side dish.

Bitter Melon & Tofu Stir Fry 2


cookiecrumb said...

Umm. Did you like it?

Kalyn said...

I haven't tasted this, but I have read about it on a few other blogs. I've seen mixed reviews about the degree of bitterness. So how did you like it?

Anna Haight said...

Well, my mother's was better. It is REALLY bitter. I think I needed to either 1) use a more mature bitter melon; 2) use more salt and leave it on longer before rinsing, or 3) parboil, or maybe a combination of these to take a bit more bitter taste out. It is always an acquired taste, but perhaps building up slowly...

A scientist in the kitchen said...

We cook a lot of this here in the Philippines. It is bitter but there are ways to make them less bitter. But the taste just grows on you I kinda like it a lot.