Contains: Nightshades, legumes, dairy. Is: Vegetarian, gluten-free.
I snagged a bitter melon on my last venture to Connecticut, where I picked up a healthy-looking bitter melon. This vegetable really does live up to its name – very, very bitter. But it is wonderful if cooked properly. (One thing to do is to include a lot of other vegetables in your dish, to mute out the bitter!) This is supposed to be an extremely health–oriented veggie.
Bitter melon (Momordica charantia) is known as Karella in Bengalese, Ampalaya in the Philippines, and Cerasee in Jamaica.
I am not following an exact recipe, but I did search foods that the Bengali region of the Indian sub-continent for actual ingredients. And since I didn’t get to a farmer’s market for real tomatoes (and only my yellow cherry ones seem to be doing anything atm) I bought a can of peeled tomatoes. The idea here is to post a recipe to go with the Panch Phoron seasoning mix posted earlier today.
Research uncovered the details that the Bengali region of the Indian subcontinent incorporates the eastern portion of India, and a large portion of Bangladesh, and is situated at the apex of the Bengal Bay. It is inhabited by peoples largely extracted from the Bengali heritage. (At the 1947 Partition, the Hindus moved to/were incorporated into India, and the Moslems moved to/were incorporated into Bangladesh. Since this is a recipe and food blog – and I am hardly an expert on the topic to begin with – it is not my place to discuss any of the political aspects or ramifications of Partition – you can Google at will.)
This recipe is to accompany the Bengali whole-seed spice mix Panch Phoron, posted yesterday.
An interesting detail I discovered is that apparently (I’d love to see confirmation!) Bengali widows shouldn’t eat foods from the allium family. While I am not a widow, I decided to kick the planned onions from my recipe. I also considered making this recipe vegan, but discovered that there are often yogurt marinates and paneer (a type of cheese) in Bengali dishes. Hence, a yogurt marinate, and ghee as the cooking fat.
Prep Time: 20 minutes for the mise in place; 1-2 hours for marinating.
Cook time: about 45 minutes. But start the rice prior to the veggies.
Rest Time: Not essential.
Vegetarian Bengali Inspired Bitter Melon Dish (with Panch Phoron)
- 3/4 cups plain yogurt (whole or reduced fat – do NOT use the 0% fat yogurt!) Greek or regular is fine.
- 1 bitter melon, sliced into quarter inch disks and the interior seed region removed/discarded.
- 3 whole tomatoes. (I had to use canned, and since they were canned plum, I used four – but real tomatoes are going to be more authentic. If they aren’t tasteless supermarket hothouse.) Coarsely chop into quarters or eighths. If canned by necessity, add a couple goodly sized tablespoons of their sauce.
- 4-5 “new” or “baby” potatoes, preferably of a “gold” style. Slice in half, or if somewhat larger, quarter them.
- 5 ounces button or cremini mushrooms, halved or quartered, depending on size.
- 5 ounces okra, de-stemmed, split longitudinally in half, and for the long ones, cut into about an inch and a half lengths.
- 1/8 teaspoon hing/asafetida
- 1 to 1.5 tablespoons panch phoron.
- 1 teaspoon n high temperature cooking oil, or ghee.
- 1 tablespoon ginger paste or 1 inch / 2.5 cm fresh ginger, skin removed and shaved/grated.
- Salt and pepper to taste.
- 1/2 cup basmati rice.
- A scant 1/8 cup red lentils. optional but good, and traditional, to have.
Into a suitable bowl, place the yogurt, along with the bitter melon, okra, potatoes, tomato, and mushrooms. Gently mix together, and let marinate in the fridge for an hour or two.
Meanwhile, prepare the rice according to package instructions, and add in a few red lentils. Start cooking the rice about 30 minutes prior to preparing the rest of this dish. (I use a rice cooker; this sometimes makes a difference on cook timing for rice. But in such cases, rice in a rice cooker can stay on the warm cycle for a relatively long time while the rest of the meal finishes cooking.
In your mortar, add the panch phoron, and crush unevenly with its pestle. No need for a fine powder here.
In a skillet or a cooktop pot, (of suitable size for the vegetables to come) add a dash of high temperature cooking oil, turn the heat up to medium/medium high, then add that panch phoron, as well as the hing. With a spatula, keep these seeds moving, and cook until many start lightly browning – if you wait for all, too many will blacken and burn, which we don’t want! Remove from heat, and add the yogurt-marinated veggies as listed above. Mix in with the panch phoron, and return to heat. Add the ginger, and gently mix further.
Cover the pot, and allow to simmer at a medium to medium low heat level, for at least half an hour. This may take 45 minutes. The potatoes need to soften without readily falling apart. If you need more liquid – this should be in a thick stew level of texture – add either water or more tomato sauce from your canned tomatoes. If you wish it to be less liquid, remove the lid, and continue to cook, stirring often enough to keep the dish from burning. At this point, taste for seasonings and adjust – adding salt and pepper as desired. (Mine also required more ginger…)
If the rice/lentils aren’t done, reduce heat on the skillet or pot; if the veggies aren’t done, simply let your rice cooker sit on the WARM cycle until ready – and in the case of making your rice in another cooktop pot – cover tightly and keep that burner/hob at the lowest temperature which is reliably warm.
To serve: A bed of rice, or rice and lentils, topped with the vegetables.
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