WHAT IS BITTER MELON?
Bitter melon is a melon used as an ingredient in savory dishes in Asia, India and the Caribbeans. Although it has a bitter flavor, people still enjoy it for it's health benefits
HOW IS IT USED?
In Asian cooking, bitter melon is mostly used in stir fries and steamed dishes.
Traditionally as a stir fry, you will usually see it being served with a black bean sauce with some kind of protein (beef or chicken) but I have tried using a sweet and sour sauce with this as well and it tastes just as good - so the sky is the limit and I highly recommend experimenting with sauces for it! 🙂
Another interesting and very common way to serve these are stuffing it with ground pork and bean threads (clear cellophane noodle) and steaming it.
To remove some of the bitterness from the melon, you may quickly (1 minute or less) boil it before stir frying or using it but it will change the texture to be slightly softer and it will also remove some of the nutrients since it will go into the water during the boiling.
WHERE DO I FIND IT?
This will be most commonly found at an Asian grocery store as well as Indian grocery stores.
The bitter melons found in Asian grocery stores will look bumpy but smooth (like in the photo). Make sure they are free of bruises and look and feel firm when you are picking them out. I personally find, the greener bitter melons are more bitter and the lighter green ones have a less of bitter kick to them.
If you are looking for them in the Indian store, they will also be bumpy but will have more of a warty look to it - the main difference is it will be a lot wartier and slightly shorter in length. Indian bitter melon (also known as kerala) are also a deeper green color as well.
Bitter melon has a "green" flavor followed by a bitter after taste. It doesn't have a lot of flavor apart from that.
Depending on how long you cook it, the texture will vary. If you enjoy it in salads raw, then it will have a crunch to it, similar to a raw celery. If you have them in stir fries that are just slightly cooked then it will retain a bit of it's crunch but be slightly soft as well. If you boil it before you stir fry it (which some people prefer to do to remove some of the bitterness) it can potentially be very soft and mushy but it will still be able to hold it's shape.
I store these in the refrigerator loosely covered in a bag (so they don't dry out). If the bitter melon is in good shape, they will keep for up to 5-7 days.