I’m currently in a local book discussion group, where monthly for four or five months, we are meeting to discuss the book by Dan Buettner, The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People.
The Blue Zones are regions of the world with the longest-lived people, and it appears to be a combination of diet and lifestyle that gain these people that title. These are places where the foods are not over-processed, and meat is treated as a condiment, and a sense of community and spiritual connectivity is deemed important. Life in many regards is simpler than our current Western nine-to-five stresses and not knowing one’s own neighbors. It’s not just a matter of what one eats — it’s a variety of other factors leading to life-satisfaction that helps build a healthy longevity.
Sometimes it is easiest to talk about the food component. At any rate, while we were discussing all the components, it came up in an early conversation at this book discussion the question: “Bitter melon? Has anyone here ever tried it? Has anyone here ever seen it??”
I noted I’d seen it at the Korean supermarket, H-Mart (Hartsdale, NY). One thing led to another and I volunteered, next time I was in the region, to pick some up and try to cook it, and bring tastes in to share. I did know from the get-go that this vegetable lives up to its name of BITTER!
Hence, this blog post.
Apparently, there are two varieties – a really spiny one, which was labelled “Indian bitter melon” and another, labeled “bitter melon”. So I bought 3 of each. Two to cook for the next meeting, and one to bring in as a whole sample to show. Just to note, most of the Asian, even south east Asian, recipes I’ve investigated do seem to depict the looks of the spiny one.
Bitter melon is eaten in Okinawa, as well as India, China, the Indochinese subcontinent and in Indonesia. Depending, it may be served up in a salad, as a stew, stuffed, stir-fried, and cooked with fish oil, or plated with pork. I even saw a recipe where it was made with Spam… not wanting to go there!
For this recipe I incorporated ideas from several recipes online (none of my cookbooks seem to cover this item, for some reason…) Most notably, The Spruce‘s take on a bitter melon stir fry. I opted to make this example vegetarian (there’s honey in here, sub in maple syrup or whatever vegan sugar source you like, if you prefer).
Bitter Melon Stir Fry
- 1 pound bitter melon.
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1.5 tablespoons of a cooking oil such as avocado oil
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 1/4 teaspoon shaved fresh ginger
- 1.5 teaspoon low sodium gluten free tamari (or coconut aminos)
- 2 teaspoons fruit infused balsamic (I used peach)
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon honey *
- 2 teaspoons rice vinegar *
- 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
Cut the bitter melon into 1/4 inch discs, and you can halve those, too. Remove seeds and pulp. I understand that the pulp is Extremely Bitter! Place in a bowl and add the salt, and mix by hand. Allow to sit 15-20 minutes. Apparently, this removes some of the bitter.
Then drain and rinse the excess salt off.
Pan fry the garlic and ginger in the oil for about 30 seconds, medium heat, until things get aromatic, then add the bitter melon.
Pan fry another five, add the tamari or coconut aminos, the balsamic, turmeric, ground pepper.
Sauté another ten minutes. I found that I needed the honey and the rice vinegar listed above with the asterisk, and so added them and pan fried yet another five minutes… but see below!
A few seconds before plating into a bowl to take to our book club meeting, I added the sesame oil.
It was well-received. I only provided small sample cups so I am not quite clear as to how many people this might serve as a side. One suggestion was that I blend the remainder and serve over rice… So, I tried that.
Leftovers: * I’d recommend using less honey for this prep, but then again I am a noted non-sweetie…, And you might need less of the rice vinegar, let your taste buds guide you!: Use an immersion blender, and LIGHTLY blend, still retaining some chuckiness. Serve over sushi rice. It was YUM. And you can certainly create this as your original prep. Apologies that I didn’t get any photos for this…
I look forward to our final two meetings… people are volunteering to bring food to each of these.
Anyhow, here’s H-mart: (A few more photos from this supermarket will appear down the road when I post recipes relevant to that location):
This store is fantastic, and absolutely clean. For the most part, prices are competitive.
I really wish there were a branch of this supermarket closer to my new home than the three hours away this thing now is! There may be one towards Boston, but I am not a fan of Boston traffic mayhem.
I found something called Chinese Okra here, and it is not remotely related to western/African okra as we know it (not a nightshade, and no inherent slime)… expect that recipe this coming Friday!