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Bitter melon ... Wow that is rough !

My goodness. Bitter melon certainly remains true to its name. This vegetable is bitter beyond words. If I've eaten bitter melon before in Indian/Bangladeshi/Pakistani dishes, I certainly wasn't aware of it, or it went completely undetected.

Are there any recipes available out there that mask the bitterness a bit? TIA.

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  1. Was it bitter melon or bitter gourd? I love the latter and would be willing to extoll!!

    6 Replies
    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

      Sam: I'll bite - what's the difference between melon & gourd? The picture provided by Cheese Boy is what I've seen labeled "Indian bitter melon" in our stores. Thx for the education.

      I personally don't eat this, but my parents used to make stuffed and steamed, with or without black bean sauce. More commonly now, Mom will make a tea of it, boiling chunks of it (with or without ginger slices which will mitigate the bitter flavor for novices) and drink the tea (helps her blood sugar). Also have seen Japanese tea bags of bitter melon with black bean.

      And lastly was at a restaurant recently that diced it and mixed it in with vermicelli in a scrambled egg-type dish. It wasn't unbearably bitter like this, but I'd never seen vermicelli in eggs like that before.

      1. re: smalt

        Maybe its the same? I just never heard of it called a "melon". "Ampalaya" in the Philippines. I leaned the way I do it in Vietnam: cut in half cross-wise, remove the seeds and pulp witha table knife. Stuff with a mix of ground pork, fish sauce, chopped green onion, chiles, ginger, and garlic. Steam. Cut into smaller sections when ready andserve with a soy, lime juice, chile, fish sauce dipping sauce. Delicious!

        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

          I always used amalaya and bittermelon interchangeably. I'd never heard it called a gourd before.

            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

              It could rightly be renamed to "puckerin' pepo".

        2. re: smalt

          the super-spiky one I've seen as kerala in indian groceries, the smoother variety (but still with the deep channels on the outside, fluffy pith inside surrounding red seeds) is more the asian variety, bitter melon or "ku-gua"

      2. Did you have Chinese bitter melon? Because I thought that the Indian bitter melon was a lot more bitter.

        The bitterness can be tempered with heavier, richer dishes. And some sugar offsets the bitterness as well.

        1. The reason to eat bitter melon IS for the bitterness.

          I mean, seriously, do you complain that dark chocolate is too bitter? Or that lemons are too tart?

          But in all seriousness it is an acquired taste to some extent. I think if you eat enough of it you'll come to appreciate the bitterness.

          6 Replies
          1. re: ipsedixit

            I've eaten a lot of it, but will not go out of my way to prepare it or eat it. Unless Mom is preparing it (cut into 2-3" tubes, stuffed with a pork, rice vermicelli, pepper, etc; boiled in broth).

            It's supposed be good for one's health, possibly as an astringent to detoxify (similarly to asparagus?).

            1. re: Caralien

              i just go with the rule that if its kinda bitter, its probably good for you!

              1. re: bigjeff

                Some bitter tasting things are poisonous, while blueberries are very good for you, and not bitter unless under ripe!

                1. re: Caralien

                  ya it sorta goes against nature's intentions for fruits and berries against natural predators but think chinese herbal remedies and such! a fine line between poison and medicine sometimes.

                  1. re: bigjeff

                    things that taste good like fat and butter and cheese are bad for you while things that taste bad like medicine and bitter melon are good for you why nature whyy

                    1. re: pdpredtide

                      Fat and cheese are bad for me? I keep misplacing that memo.

          2. Ok, the bitterness is what is great in bitter melon. But it is something you will learn to love but until then here is a trick I have used to get our sons use to the taste.

            First you cut the butter melon in half and remove the seeds.Then after washing and remove everything from the center you slice the bitter melon into thin half moons. The boil some water and add some chicken bullion in the water until it has dissolved.

            Then quickly blanch the bitter melon slices and quickly remove and cool off in ice water.

            After that you can stir fry the melon, remember you have remove the bitterness but you have also remove some of the benefits of the bitter melon. But then again you have to eat to get anything form it.

            Also you can add some sugar to cover the bitterness to the recipe.

            God if my Father was still alive he would tell me he would turn over in his grave, which he may be doing now.

            3 Replies
            1. re: yimster

              This may be a dumb question: it's peeled, right?

              1. re: suse

                No dumb questions ever. No it is not peeled. I have never seem it served peeled. Not sure why but that is how it is done. That is for the Chinese ones not sure of the other ones.

              2. I've included an image with this reply that *perfectly* resembles the vegetable I'm referring to, right down to the multiple pronounced raised nubs. These melons weren't the smoother kind. If those are Asian, these were likely Indian.

                As with many urban Bangladeshi and Pakistani stores, there are no signs (or prices) on most of the produce they sell. I saw these (see image below), liked them very much, and opted to buy them at a ridiculously high $2.50/lb. They were awesome looking, -- so fresh -- so vibrant -- so green !! And yes, so bitter !! Before cooking them, we salted them b/c that was supposed to remove *some* of the bitterness. I don't think that worked too well. I think the chicken bouillon might be something better to experiment with. Does anyone have any comment(s) they can share after seeing the image here? Thank you for all the replies so far. To be honest, this vegetable makes an excellent side dish.

                11 Replies
                1. re: Cheese Boy

                  Ahah! Bitter gourd. Love the stuff. Cut in half cross-wise; remove seeds and pulp with a dinner knife; stuff with your favorite ground pork & beef + other stuff + egg mix; steam! Cut in half inch "coins". Serve with dipping sauce. Learned this by eating in a wooden, dirt floor place in Canh Tho Province in Vietnam.

                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    Yes, I like it this way, or poach the stuffed rounds in a good chicken or beef stock and eat as a soup. I like lots of white or black pepper, and some fish sauce in the stuffing.

                    Also like it stir-fried with fermented black beans, garlic, oyster sauce, pork or beef. Blanch first to cut the bitter. The strong taste fits well with the bitter.

                    1. re: torty

                      Yes, I use pork, beef, egg, fish sauce, chilies, ginger, green and red onion, maybe a touch of oyster sauce, toasted and ground uncooked rice, cilantro, and mint. Kind of like laap steamed in the bitter gourd halves.

                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                        Sam, I like using a fish paste (made by finely mince fish and shrimp to form a paste) and have a nice piece of white fish fillet on the bottom of the bitter melon top with the fish and shrimp paste.

                        I use a little fish sauce, some stock made from shaved dried dashi, salt, white pepper, white part of the green onion or shallots and some Chinese parsley for color. Top off by some black bean garlic sauce.

                        The bitterness is really off set by the "blandness" of the fish.

                        In fact I use a meat stuffing at the same time. Cooked a longer since the cooking times are not same.

                        Then I do a vegetable stir fry.

                        So that the presentation is four pieces of stuffed bitter melon (two of each) forming a circle with the vegetable stir in the center. A one dish meal.

                        Next time I made this I will try to remember to take a picture and hopefully I can post it.

                        1. re: yimster

                          yimster, GAACK!!...that sounds so good!! I understand the ingredients but don't quite understand the process. I have all the ingredients you mention and will try it unaided tomorrow unless you provide a few more detaills.

                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                            Ok, Sam I will try to answer you questions. But I did not learn to cook by recipe rather by look, smell, feel and taste.

                            What it that fish and seafood cooks quicker than red meat. So the cooking time is differ for meat vs fish.

                            So for the bitter melon which has the fish I blanch the bitter in chicken bullion stock prior to adding the fish combination. That the melon will be cooked while the fish is not over done.

                            After the half melon is cooled a little you lay a strip of white fish on the bottom of the melon and top off the melon with the fish paste mixture. Then you steam it until the fish paste mixture is done.

                            The meat filled melon you already know how.

                            The stir fry vegetables are cooked while you are steaming the melons.

                            Place the stir fry vegetables in the center of the platter and place the four boats in a circle around the vegetables.

                            My favorite vegetables to use in this dish is blanch in Chicken broth Chinese mustard greens top with a shitake mustards with oyster sauce.

                            A bean bean garlic sauce over the bitter melon boats is nice. Petty simple and the look and presentation is great.

                            For those on the Bay Area board, I do eat vegetables ok.
                            I will cook this dish soon and for once I will try to write down a recipe and take a picture.

                            Sam I will check this trend tomorrow morning to see if you have any questions.

                            Sorry I not great a writing recipes.

                            1. re: yimster

                              Thank you, yimster! I don't cook with recipes either. I learned my stuffed bitter gourd by eating it in a no-name Vietnamese place in the Delta! What you just posted is very clear to me. If you post phiotos, I hope I won't be too surprised. Thank you again.

                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                Great, I hope you will post the photo, since I will be at least a few weeks until I cook this. I have not seen bitter melons that are good enough to spend the time to do so now.

                                Besides I have to wait until my throwdown with Oakjoan at our local chow picnic.

                                I just cooking away to keep sharp.

                          2. re: yimster

                            om goodness. You make this sound so delicious, I don't have any bitter melons, but I've plenty of larger zucchini and other squash that look different ( bumpy like) and I bet they'd be good treated this way too.

                            1. re: chef chicklet

                              Other squashes will work but I love the balance of bitter and the sweetness of fish.

                              Well bitter melon is something I only recently learn to like. In the past I used a Chinese squash called "hairy" melon. Do not know the English name. I normally make "boats" but you can do rings. I wish it cool off so I can cook again.

                              1. re: yimster

                                Yimster - I use the hairy melon ("dit gwa") in soups, but yes, have had it steamed/stuffed also.

                  2. I cook bitter gourd (karela) a couple times a month. I make a few different recipes, such as stuffed with its own peelings, stuffed with seasoned ground lamb, cooked in sour tamarind sauce, or cooked in a dry masala with potatoes (I cut this into beautiful coin thin circles, it is really nice). Choose ones which are very green and not yellowish on the outside. You must first add salt and turmeric to some water and soak the cut up bitter gourd inside the water. You first clean it if it has an seeds in it, and cut it into whatever shape will be suitable for the dish. Soak for 20-30 minutes. Then you just use it in whatever recipe. It remains bitter, but it is an aquired taste I suppose and I happen to love it. It is known to be good for diabetes according to Indo-Pak food-health associations.

                    If you are interested in a desi recipe I will post one.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: luckyfatima

                      Yes, please post a recipe - or more than one! I've only had it once, and sort of liked it enough to think I might develop a taste for it, so I planted some in the garden and will have plenty of it soon - it seems to be thriving.

                      1. re: Bat Guano

                        Here is karela aloo or bitter gourds with potato:

                        3 bitter gourds, slice into centimetre thin circles, poke out any hard yellow seeds from the circles, no need to remove the soft yellow seeds because they will soften, add 1 tsp turmeric and 1 tsp salt to a bowl of water, soak for 30 minutes, then drain and set aside
                        3 small quick cooking (not for baking) potatoes, slice into medium thin circles
                        1 heaping tsp garlic paste
                        1 tsp ginger paste
                        1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
                        2-3 whole dried red Indian chilies (omit if you don't like heat)
                        1 stick cinnamon
                        1 bay leaf
                        1 inch chunk of tamarind pulp, seeds are okay---pick them out if you like or just pick them out when you eat your serving along with the bay lead and cinnamon, break it up with your fingers into bits, do not soak, you will use it whole
                        1/2 tsp turmeric
                        1/2 to 1 tsp Indian red chilie powder or cayanne
                        1 heaping tsp cumin powder
                        1/2 tsp coriander powder
                        (if all of these powdered spices are too much trouble in terms of availability, you can just use 2 tbs of your preferred "curry powder" instead)
                        salt to taste (about 1 tsp)
                        2 tbs chopped cilantro
                        2 fresh green chilies cut into thin 1 inch strips, deseed if you want
                        2-3 tbs oil

                        You need a deep nonstick pot or wok with a lid for this.

                        Heat oil in wok or deep non-stick pot, when hot toss in cumin seeds, garlic, ginger, dried red chilies, cinnamon, bay leaf, and the bits of tamarind pulp. Stir around for a few moments to allow to sizzle, then stir in the turmeric and red chili powder. Quickly add in your potato and bitter gourd circles. Stir and coat with the spices, stir continously and add in the cumin and coriander powder. Lower heat and cover for about 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally until potatoes are tender and bitter gourd are cooked. Turn up the heat and toss for a few moments more at the end. The veggies should be lightly golden and crisp, not soggy. The spice paste should lightly cling to the veg. Do not add water during the cooking, or you will get a soggy result. Garnish with cilantro and green chilies. Serve with whole wheat flat bread and plain Greek style yoghurt on the side.

                        You will get a nice bitter, slightly sour from the tamarind, salty and spicy dish.

                    2. This is the "goya" melon, identified as one of the variables that attempt to explain the longevity of the Okinawans ( along with some cool fermented tofu and fatty pork and sweet taters).

                      Google for this cut and paste: Okinawa bitter melon
                      and lots of recipes will appear.

                      An awesome garden producer in zone 7, and below. A beautiful trellising plant, if you choose.

                          1. re: bulldog

                            that website has a monitor showing "live traffic feed" (scroll down and look on the left side, under google logo). neat!!!!! you can see that you are logged on via chowhound -- and also see the location of other recent blog viewers, e.g., melbourne, hyderabad, sri lanka, london, etc. fun feature. me -- i'm the arlington, virginia viewer. you'll be there, too! try it.

                              1. re: bulldog

                                that's a cool site. thanks. it also has in "options" a map feature. http://feedjit.com/stats/creativepooj... and if you click on the individual flags, you can see the city name.
                                (i think a lot of hounds are lurking here and linking there!!


                                btw, bulldog, i'm happy you are posting on indian food. we love indian food! and mr. alka is from sri lanka, but i was cooking indian food from julie sahni's book way before mr. alka, when i had a boyfriend from lucknow. meera nam alkapal heh.

                                1. re: alkapal

                                  I am afraid I do not know much about food and since I am retired I kill time browsing on the net.

                                  1. re: bulldog

                                    well, you keep it up, 'cause you are doing a tremendously good thing guiding us hounds with your tons of great website/resource links!!! thank you!

                          2. I love bitter melon thinly sliced cooked into scrambled eggs. I also make it in a Filipino stew, Pinakbet. With eggplant, long beans, tomatoes, pork and shrimp paste. My friends swear by boiling the bitter melon separately first to reduce the bitterness, then add to whatever your cooking. I didn't think it took more of the bitterness away and just made it mushy. I don't mind the bitter. It's a growing love over the years.

                            1. I loooovvvveeee bitter melon. I eat it raw sometimes to get all its bitter glory.

                              My favorite way to cook it is sauteed with fermented black beans with thin slices of beef.

                              Also, it is great sauteed with pickled mustard greens (the sour kind) and pork intestines.

                              You can also put it in soup (broth from pork bones comes to mind) and it looses some of its bitterness.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: mielimato

                                last time I saw it at an indian grocery, one of the workers was just chomping away; dude looked incredibly old and incredibly healthy and he says he just eats them throughout the day.

                                the easiest dish I always do is just the half-moon shape, and garlic and fermented black beans. don't overcook it since it totally loses the bitterness and just becomes limp veg.

                                1. re: bigjeff

                                  Piece of Culinary trivia> Bitter melong stuffed with Chopped fish, ginger and (presumably) other spices was remortedly Mao Tse-Tsung's favorite dish.
                                  On a side note once youve scopped them out are the seeds edible too? I know if its really green you can just leave then there but if its beginng to go soft on the outside and the stuff around the seeds is beginning to turn bright red (a sign that the fruit is ripening, I understand) so that the seeds themselves are getting a little shelly can they when removed be, i dont know parched and eathen like pumpkin seeds?

                              2. Here is some info about Bitter melon that I picked out from wikipedia:

                                Bitter melon is often used in Chinese cooking for its bitter flavor, typically in stir-fries (often with pork and douchi), soups, and also as tea.Bitter melons stuffed with ground pork are served as a popular summer soup in the South.

                                Like most bitter-tasting foods, bitter melon stimulates digestion. Bitter melon is traditionally regarded by Asians, as well as Panamanians and Colombians, as useful for preventing and treating malaria.
                                Laboratory tests suggest that compounds in bitter melon might be effective for treating HIV infection and diabetes

                                my mom made some this past weekend

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: pdpredtide

                                  I love bitter gourd (see above), but have never found it here in Colombia.

                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                    When you get back to the states can you buy seeds to plant them in Colombia? You can buy them in SF.

                                    1. re: yimster

                                      I'm here in DC at the moment. I'll look for seeds.

                                  2. re: pdpredtide

                                    I buy bitter melons at the farmers market as often as I can. The bitter qualities they have are known to help your body handle the hottest and most humid time of the late summer. (According to Chinese dietary therapy). I don't prepare Asian type food much, so I prepare the bitter melon differently. I saute it to on one side until it's crispy and then toss. (I kind of like like how it looks a bunch of little green caterpillars curling up in the skillet.) I then toss in some garlic, and sometimes onions and also sweet corn cut off the cob. The sweet and bitter combo I enjoy.

                                  3. my mom does make a taiwanese/hakka soup (passed on from my grandma) that is chicken soup with bittermelon and preserved pineapple; I saw two recipes online that could basically be combined; preserved pineapple can be bought in a jar:


                                    weird combo but, comes out really nice; one of my favorite soups. I can try to get a better recipe from my mom but hers relies on preserved pineapple that my grandmother makes herself!

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: bigjeff

                                      one of my favorites is bitter melon stir fried with salty preserved egg. yum. a classic taiwanese dish.

                                      1. re: FattyDumplin

                                        Yes, one of my favorites. Sometime I will make a bitter melon, salted egg and oyster omelet. Now I wish I did not eat dinner already but there always tomorrow night.

                                        1. re: yimster

                                          How do you make your bittermelon/oyster omelet? I love both but have never had them combined!

                                    2. this recipe may do the opposite of what you want (mask) but, have a look:


                                      haven't tried it myself but it looks amazing.

                                      1. We eat it alot in Indian cooking and yes the bitterness is part of the charm, however it s usually offset by other tastes to make it more palatable.
                                        At home we stuff it with a dry filling made from - roasted chickpea flower thats further cooked sown with jaggery, salt, red chilli powder, ground coriander powder, ground cumin powder and turmeric. It is then dry roasted with this stuffing before being stewed in a standard indian tomato gravy that also includes that is finished off with a tarka made of mustard seeds and asofoetida. Tastes delicious!

                                        1. Its absolutely delicious as an accompaniment for rice.

                                          I like it best when its stewed down to brown, savory much with soy sauce and pork and generous amounts of garlic. It packs an umami punch and that astringency just wakes the palate up.

                                          Its a ugly dish, but so homey and comforting.

                                          1. Let me just toss this in there with the other responses... I just made a wonderful radicchio salad recipe. Can barely stop eating the stuff... and radicchio is very bitter on its own. But when tossed with oils, mustard, and a slightly sweet vinegar, it sings. Oil can help tame bitterness, and if you have other flavors that add different balancing qualities, you get a medley. In the case of the salad, the tartness and sourness of the vinegar, and a little sweetness, and the pungency of mustard. Bitter just starts tap dancing along with them.

                                            Now how you would balance a bitter melon flavor - or how they do it where they eat bitter melon - I dunno.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Cinnamon

                                              sounds great the salad; and, with milder bittermelon (not the super spiky one but more like the chinese one) I like to eat it raw myself as part of a platter of crudite or a composed salad; imagine subbing the radicchio in your salad with very thin half-moon slices of bitter melon; that's beautiful as well, the bitterness, the crunch and crispness since its cells hold plenty of water too.

                                            2. the indian type is very bitter. the chinese type are bigger and has wider ridges. if you don't like bitter, choose the chinese type. that said, you choose a more yellowish one. the greener, the more bitter.
                                              when preparing, after cutting/slicing - you add 1 tsp of salt or sugar to it. use your hands to mix well. leave the 'treated' bitter melon chunks/slices for 15-20 min, then squeeze out the liquid. this will reduce the bitterness.

                                              1. I've had some pretty good fried dumplings with pork and bitter melon, it also goes well in stews. But honestly, this may be the one food I just can't like.

                                                To me it tastes like ear wax and no matter how many times I try it, I just can't get used to it.

                                                1. Growing up (in a Pakistani household), we'd have this frequently with seasoned ground beef and onions. I never found it too bitter at all. I should note that they'd be so thoroughly cooked by the time the dish was done that it was hard to visually distinguish the thinly sliced gourd pieces from onions.