Many have written on the health benefits of Chinese bitter melon. I grew up enjoying them – my father prepared them at home Cantonese-style and we often ordered them in Cantonese restaurants – despite their fairly intense bitter taste. Pop always said eating bitter melon was good because they made everything after that taste sweet.
I was delighted to find them offered in my local farmers market. I bought a couple, but then had to find a recipe for them, having never cooked them myself. I had just prepared a batch of wontons and had some ground pork mixture left over, so I found a recipe for stuffed bitter melon – often offered in dim sum restaurants. I modified it a bit, to use what I had on hand.
The stuffed bitter melon were absolutely delicious! They were, appropriately, a little bitter, but what came through was a sweetness, with light saltiness and umami – everything except sour, beautifully balanced and subtle.
The pieces were quite pretty, and when cut open, showed the mushroom-shaped pork mixture, reflecting the mushrooms in the stuffing and sauce. They tasted far more delicate than those I’ve had in restaurants, perhaps because of the really fresh, locally grown bitter melons I used. Given the delicate taste of the melon, I don’t think it will take much for my friends to acquire a taste for these lovely little gems!
Stuffed Bitter Melon (adapted from Yi Reservation’s recipe)
1lb bitter melon (2 melons)
½ lb ground pork mixture (from Wonton recipe)
3 dried large Chinese mushrooms, soaked in 1 cup hot water for 1/2 hour to soften
1tsp Chinese black bean sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp sugar
1 cup mushroom soaking water
½ tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tbsp of water
salt and pepper to taste
1. Cut the bitter melon cross-wise into 1 inch thick pieces. Blanch in boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain.
2. Combine the ground pork with minced Chinese mushroom stems and 1 minced mushroom cap.
3. Use a small spoon to carve out the seeds and some soft flesh in the middle of the melon.
4. Stuff the melon with meat stuffing until it forms a small dome.
5. Over low heat, pan-fry the stuffed bitter melon in some cooking oil until the bottom part is browned – about 3 minutes. Remove to a plate.
6. In the frypan, mix the black bean sauce, garlic, stock or water, sugar, pepper. Bring the sauce to boil.
7. Add the pan-fried melon and 2 sliced shiitake mushroom caps. Braise it over low heat with lid on until translucent – about 25 minutes. Add sesame oil and cornstarch to thicken the sauce. Add salt, if needed.