Sunday, June 19, 2011

Bitter Melon + Pork + Fermented Black Beans

Bitter melon (bitter gourd) isn't one of those ethnic foods I see crossing over into the American mainstream. It's not only bitter, it's also ugly. The green surface is described as "undulating and warty." We're more likely to see bitter melon featured as a television cook-off challenge than a serious component of a meal.

bitter melon

But I grew up eating the stuff. My parents would hail the medicinal qualities of the melon and insist that we eat at least five pieces before leaving the dinner table. From reading the Wikipedia article, you would think that it was a drug and not something to be enjoyed. I did hate it as a kid, but over time the aromatic combination of the pork and fermented black beans began to feel natural, almost heightened, with the bitterness of the bitter melon. One extreme brought out another.

fermented black beans, minced ginger, minced garlic

Even so, the bitterness needs to be alleviated somewhat. The typical method is to salt the melon slices to draw out the water and some of the bitterness. Adding sugar to the salt will help as well. When I first began to prepare bitter melon on my own, I would add a lot of sugar, but I've found myself adding less and less with each preparation. Chinese fermented black beans (actually soy beans that have been salted and fermented), minced ginger and minced garlic provide the stage for the meat and melon.

bitter melon with pork in fermented black bean sauce
Every time I see bitter melon at the Dekalb Farmer's Market, I want to buy some, but it takes a special craving to legitimize the purchase without the risk of forgetting them in the fridge. That craving happens maybe once a year, haha.

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