Bittermelon with black bean sauce

Bittermelon with pork anchovies and blackbean sauce

Bitter melon is one of those things that I used to detest as a kid and to this day, I can’t say I’m a huge fan. It’s a curious looking vegetable (technically a fruit), that looks a bit like a cucumber with blisters all over it. If you hang out at Asian groceries you’ve probably seen them and wondered what they were.

True to its name, it is intensely bitter, almost to the point where you wonder if it’s safe to eat. These things make endives taste sweet in comparison. So why would anyone want to eat it? In eastern medicine bitter melon is considered to help with digestion and prevent diseases ranging from malaria to type II diabetes. While I’m always skeptical about such claims, they are rooted in centuries of history, so you have to wonder if there’s some truth to them.

Seeded and sliced bitter melon

On this particular occasion, one of L’s co-workers gave her one and I found it laying in the veggie drawer just begging to be cooked. Not being one to waste food, I thought back to my childhood when I’d tried it at my grandparents home. Though I can’t say I’ve had it more than a handful of times, I do remember it being cooked with a lot of oil, salt, sugar and umami to cover up some of the bitterness.

This preparation I came up with sits somewhere between Japanese and Chinese food. It’s richly fatty from the pork, which along with the dried anchovies and black bean sauce imparts some serious umami. The miso, mirin and sugar serve to mellow it all out making for a well rounded (though still bitter) side dish.

So was it as bad as my childhood memories? After the first few bites, my tongue adaped to the bitterness and by the time I finished it off I was craving some more. It pairs well with beer and made a nice accompaniment to a steaming bowl of rice.

1 small bitter melon
1/2 lbs ground pork
1 clove of garlic minced
small handful of dried anchovies
2 Tbs black bean sauce
1 Tsp miso
1 Tsp sugar
1 Tbs mirin

Cut the ends off the bitter melon then slice it in half lengthwise. Use a spoon to scoop out all the seeds and pith then slice them into 1/8″ crescents.

Heat a pan then add the pork. If there’s a reasonable amount of fat in it, you shouldn’t have to add oil. Break up the meat and fry until some of the fat has rendered out then add the garlic and dried anchovies. Continue frying until the meat is completely cooked and the garlic is fragrant.

In a small bowl combine the black bean sauce, miso, sugar and mirin.

Add the bitter melon to the pan and stir-fry until the melon is translucent and almost tender. Finish by adding the sauce and stir-frying until the pork and melon are well coated and the sauce has caramelized.

  • http://www.noblepig.com/ noble pig

    I have never tried this and now I’m seeing it around the blogs, I’m fascinated by it now.

  • http://www.noblepig.com/ noble pig

    I have never tried this and now I’m seeing it around the blogs, I’m fascinated by it now.

  • http://manggy.blogspot.com/ Manggy

    Here the bitter melon is salted before using to cut the bitterness. But I’m all talk, since I really can’t handle it. I try it once a year to see if I can, but I still find it too bitter. It does make for pretty dishes though, as yours testifies! :)

  • http://manggy.blogspot.com Manggy

    Here the bitter melon is salted before using to cut the bitterness. But I’m all talk, since I really can’t handle it. I try it once a year to see if I can, but I still find it too bitter. It does make for pretty dishes though, as yours testifies! :)

  • http://TheRecipeGirl.blogspot.com/ RecipeGirl

    I’m totally fascinated… never, ever heard of it! They look like a bunch of fake Halloweeen teeth! I’m definitely going to be checking this one out sometime.

  • http://TheRecipeGirl.blogspot.com RecipeGirl

    I’m totally fascinated… never, ever heard of it! They look like a bunch of fake Halloweeen teeth! I’m definitely going to be checking this one out sometime.

  • http://www.practicallydone.com/ helen

    Bitter melon and cilantro – two things that made me cringe as a child. But I do love them now.

  • http://www.practicallydone.com helen

    Bitter melon and cilantro – two things that made me cringe as a child. But I do love them now.

  • http://www.weareneverfull.com/ We Are Never Full

    same w/ noble pig, i’m intrigued too since i’ve been seeing bitter melon all over the blogs. i love that you use dried anchovies in this dish.

  • http://www.weareneverfull.com We Are Never Full

    same w/ noble pig, i’m intrigued too since i’ve been seeing bitter melon all over the blogs. i love that you use dried anchovies in this dish.

  • http://www.souvlakiforthesoul.com/ Peter G

    I recently had these stuffed with a pork mince…Vietnamese style. It was absolutely delicious. Are these the same as “bitter gourd”?

  • http://www.souvlakiforthesoul.com Peter G

    I recently had these stuffed with a pork mince…Vietnamese style. It was absolutely delicious. Are these the same as “bitter gourd”?

  • http://www.hungryandfrozen.blogspot.com/ Laura @ Hungry and Frozen

    Sounds like quite the acquired taste…just reading about how bitter it is makes my mouth go all funny! I’ve never seen one before but I’m definitely curious now :)

  • http://www.hungryandfrozen.blogspot.com Laura @ Hungry and Frozen

    Sounds like quite the acquired taste…just reading about how bitter it is makes my mouth go all funny! I’ve never seen one before but I’m definitely curious now :)

  • http://feedingmaybelle.blogspot.com/ maybelles mom (feeding maybell

    Oh, i adore bitter melon. We fry them and then curry them. Seeing this makes me want to run out and get some.

  • http://feedingmaybelle.blogspot.com maybelles mom (feeding maybelle)

    Oh, i adore bitter melon. We fry them and then curry them. Seeing this makes me want to run out and get some.

  • http://voodoolily.blogspot.com/ Heather

    I’ve always been a bit afraid of bitter melon. I’ve tasted our local wild cucumber relative, and it is BITTER! But with pork, rice and beer, I bet I could take it. :)

  • http://voodoolily.blogspot.com Heather

    I’ve always been a bit afraid of bitter melon. I’ve tasted our local wild cucumber relative, and it is BITTER! But with pork, rice and beer, I bet I could take it. :)

  • http://www.sugarbar.org/ diva

    this is actually my favourite Chinese dish! everytime i have the chance to eat at a chinese zhichar place, i always look for the bittermelon dish…somehow i think it’s turned into an addiction for this crazy-tasting not very popular melon.

  • http://www.sugarbar.org diva

    this is actually my favourite Chinese dish! everytime i have the chance to eat at a chinese zhichar place, i always look for the bittermelon dish…somehow i think it’s turned into an addiction for this crazy-tasting not very popular melon.

  • http://www.tartelette.blogspot.com/ Tartelette

    I’ll admit I have only tried bitter melon once and did not really like, but it was nowhere near close to being prepared like this. Sounds delicious!

  • http://www.tartelette.blogspot.com Tartelette

    I’ll admit I have only tried bitter melon once and did not really like, but it was nowhere near close to being prepared like this. Sounds delicious!

  • Amy

    Bitter is not favored by Chinese kids just like Americans kids do not like broccoli.

  • Amy

    Bitter is not favored by Chinese kids just like Americans kids do not like broccoli.

  • Ron

    Bitter Melon is certainly an acquired taste, I have many Asian friends who don’t like it. One of these friend gave me this cooking tip . . . blanch the melon prices before cooking to remove some of the bitterness. I think that you can actually feel the medical benefits of this vegetable as you eat it. mmmmmmm ggod

  • Ron

    Bitter Melon is certainly an acquired taste, I have many Asian friends who don’t like it. One of these friend gave me this cooking tip . . . blanch the melon prices before cooking to remove some of the bitterness. I think that you can actually feel the medical benefits of this vegetable as you eat it. mmmmmmm ggod

  • Alex

    I love bitter melon very much.
    If you don’t like very bitter pick ripe ones, with light green color.
    You can boil it for three minutes to get rid of the excessive bitterness, if you like.
    But I like bitter, the more the better
    Better not to use mirin here, black beans and oyster sauce will do the trick. And not minced meet, but thin slices of beef

  • Alex

    I love bitter melon very much.
    If you don’t like very bitter pick ripe ones, with light green color.
    You can boil it for three minutes to get rid of the excessive bitterness, if you like.
    But I like bitter, the more the better
    Better not to use mirin here, black beans and oyster sauce will do the trick. And not minced meet, but thin slices of beef

  • http://gladyskockhomeculinary.blogspot.com/ GladysKock

    Glad to know that bitter gourd can be prepared in this fashion. I always have my bitter melon to go with soup or stir-fry with salted egg.

  • http://gladyskockhomeculinary.blogspot.com/ GladysKock

    Glad to know that bitter gourd can be prepared in this fashion. I always have my bitter melon to go with soup or stir-fry with salted egg.

  • Clarissa

    Growing up, I used to hate eating bitter melon. But now that I don’t live close to home, I find myself craving for this veggie every now and then. Thanks for sharing this recipe.

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