Bitter Melon Stir Fry. Visiting the Korean Supermarket, H-Mart. Blue Zones.


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.

bitter melon, recipe, vegan, Paleo

Bitter Melon, served up for our tasting

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??”

bitter melon, recipe, blue zones, okinawa, Paleo, vegan

One variant of bitter melon.

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.

recipe, bitter melon, blue zones, okinawa, vegetarian, Paleo

This one was labeled Indian bitter melon. I didn’t notice any taste differences between the two.

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!  

recipe, bitter melon, okinawa, blue zones, vegetarian, Paleo

Another Indian bitter melon, this one’s seeds are white, not that reddish as in the last photo.

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):

recipe, vegetarian, vegan, Paleo, Whole 30, H-Mart, bitter melon, soup, stuffed

Who’da thunk? TWO types of bitter melon? So I had to buy both, of course. At the 11 o’clock position lies a bay of standard western / Indian sub-continent okra. No idea what those roots are under the Chinese bitter melon.

This store is fantastic, and absolutely clean.  For the most part, prices are competitive.

recipe, vegetarian, vegan, Paleo, Whole 30, H-Mart, bitter melon, soup, stuffed

Standard button mushrooms to the right, but a different view of the bitter melon selections. No, I don’t know what the two veggies taking up dominant space in the front of the photo are. Something to test drive another day?

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!

This recipe is linking to  Fiesta Friday, with co-host is Jenny @ Dragonfly Home Recipes.




About goatsandgreens

The foodie me: Low/no gluten, low sugars, lots of ethnic variety of foods. Seafood, offal, veggies. Farmers' markets. Cooking from scratch, and largely local. The "future" me: I've now moved to my new home in rural western Massachusetts. I am raising chickens (for meat and for eggs) and planning for guinea fowl, Shetland sheep, and probably goats and/or alpaca. Possibly feeder pigs. Raising veggies and going solar.
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6 Responses to Bitter Melon Stir Fry. Visiting the Korean Supermarket, H-Mart. Blue Zones.

  1. How interesting, I live within a few blocks of Oakland Chinatown and have seen it at the market but never tried it. Was it very bitter when cooked?

    • It was less bitter when cooked, but not by much. A good plan is to cook it with a recipe similar to the above, and serve over or with rice. By and large, bitter veggies tend to be the ones with mega health benefits… go figure. I would make this again, however.

  2. Monika says:

    Never heard of bitter melon, looks interesting!

  3. Laura says:

    Wow the book sounds so interesting – one for my reading list!

  4. I have never tried bitter melon before, but it sounds intriguing. Also, the book you mentioned sounds very interesting. I am interested in all of those components that make up a healthy life. I will have to look for that book. Thank you for sharing!!

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