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How to Cook and Serve Bitter Melon

Bitter melon slicedBitter melon can be eaten raw when thinly sliced raw but it’s commonly cooked. Bitter melon can be stir-fried, parboiled, or stuffed.

The bitter melon picked at maturity will be bitter. The younger, thinner, shorter and bright green bitter melon will be less bitter tasting.

The bitter melon harvest season runs from mid-spring through late summer.

How to Choose Bitter Melon

  • Select bitter melons that are small, bright green, firm, and without blemish or mold.
  • Bright dark green specimens will be less bitter tasting.

How to Store Bitter Melon

  • Keep the bitter melon wrapped in a paper towel in a perforated plastic bag in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days.
  • Bitter melons do not freeze well.
Bitter melon sliced lengthwise
Slice bitter melon lengthwise to remove the seeds

How to Prepare Bitter Melon

  • Bitter melon does not need to be peeled if sliced thinly. But you can trim and peel smoothly the bitter melon.
  • Seeds can be removed or not; they may bring an additional bitterness to a serving especially as the gourd matures. To remove the seeds, cut the gourd into slices and pop out both seeds and pith with your finger, leaving a green ring, or halve the gourd lengthwise and scoop out the seed.
  • Bitter melon can be sliced crosswise into 1-inch or thinner rounds before cooking.
  • To stuff bitter melon, halve crosswise and ream out the core of seeds and pith.
  • To draw the bitterness from the bitter melon, slice and liberally salt it and set aside for 30 minutes. You can then press or squeeze the slices, and press again, and pat dry before using. If the bitter melon is still too bitter blanch the slices in boiling water–1 teaspoon of baking to two quarts of water–until the melon turns a bright emerald color then plunge it in cold water, and drain before cooking.

Bitter Melon Cooking Suggestions

  • Bitter melon is not served raw.
  • Deep-fry, stir-fry, sauté, braise, steam, and bake bitter melon.
  • Serve diced in curries, stir-fries or pickles, or stuffed with meat, shrimp, spices, and onions.
  • Steam and serve with pork, onions, ginger, and black bean sauce, or in soups. Season with cumin and turmeric.
  • Parboil like zucchini and serve as a vegetable.
  • Season bitter melon slices with salt, turmeric, and a little chili and then deep fry or remove the central pith and stuff this gourd with seasoned minced pork, shrimp and chopped onion, or fish paste before baking.
  • Young shoots and leaves can be cooked like spinach.
Bitter melon and eggs
Stir-fried bitter melon and eggs

How to Stir Fry Bitter Melon

  1. Cut the bitter melon in half lengthwise.
  2. Remove the seeds with a metal spoon.
  3. Cut the halves into thin slices crosswise.
  4. Blanch the slices for 2 to 3 minutes in boiling water or sprinkle salt over the slices then place them in a colander to drain for 15 minutes. This will remove some of the bitter taste.
  5. Prepare seasonings such as chili pepper flakes,  minced garlic, chopped onions or bell pepper.
  6. Heat a wok over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of peanut oil.
  7. When the oil is hot, add the minced garlic and chili mixture.
  8. Stir-fry briefly until aromatic about 30 seconds.
  9. Add the bitter melon slices and stir-fry for about 2 minutes.
  10. Splash with the balsamic vinegar and soy sauce.
  11. Stir in a 1/2 teaspoon sugar.
  12. Cook until the bitter melon softens and starts to brown, about 1 to 2 minutes.
  13. Stir in a few drops soy sauce or sesame oil if desired.

To stir fry with eggs whisk two eggs with soy sauce, pour the eggs over the bitter melon in Step 9 above about 1 minute after adding the bitter melon to the wok.

How to Steam Bitter Melon

  1. Prepare halves and then slice crosswise.
  2. Place the bitter melon in a steamer basket in a large saucepan, cover and let steam over gently boiling water until fork-tender, about 10 to 20 minutes depending on the size of the pieces.
Bitter melon boiled and stuffed
Bitter melon boiled and stuffed with minced pork and glass noodles soup

How to Boil Bitter Melon

  1. Halve the bitter melon, remove the seeds, and then slice it crosswise or boil the halves.
  2. Place the bitter melon in a large pot and just cover with water.
  3. Cook over medium heat until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Bitter Melon Flavor Partners

  • Balance the bitterness with intense flavors such as chili, garlic, tamarind, ginger, sweet soy, miso, fermented black beans, fish sauce, dried shrimp, and curry paste.
  • Match the bitter melon against sweet vegetables such as winter squash, sweet potatoes, and corn.

Bitter Melon Nutrition

  • Bitter melon is a good source of iron and ascorbic acid and vitamin C.
Bitter melons
Bitter melons ready for harvest

Get to Know Bitter Melon

  • Bitter melon is also called bitter gourd, bitter cucumber, or balsam pear. This fruit-vegetable is related to gourd, melon, and cucumber. Growing bitter melon requires all the same conditions required for growing cucumbers and melons.
  • Bitter melons grow from 3 to 12 inches (7-30 cm) long on vines with tendrils that grow between 22 and 32 feet (6.7-9.7 m) long.
  • The bitter melon is shaped like a cucumber with a deeply and unevenly furrowed and warty skin. It is pale yellow early on, becomes greener as it matures, and ripens finally to a yellow-orange-red color becoming more bitter and acrid as it matures.
  • The bitter melon has a thick, dry, pearly-colored flesh with numerous white seeds. The melon’s high quinine content gives it a bitter taste although some compare the taste of the bitter melon to the citrus pith and consider the flavor cool and cleansing.
  • Bitter melons produce their first fruits about 2 months after sowing. The fruit follows a vanilla-scented flower. The first melons can be picked when they are as small as1-inch long. If left on the vine until fully ripe, the pulp will become blood-red and the fruit will split into three sections at the flower end.
  • Bitter melons are native to tropical India and Africa and have been in cultivation for thousands of years. The bitter melon is most popular in the cookery of India, Indonesia, Southeast Asia, and China.
  • Bitter melon is most popular in Asian cookery. There is a long-standing belief in Asia that anything bitter tasting is good for you and may even have healing power. In the Western cookery, bitter melon is a bit of an acquired taste.

The botanical name of bitter melon is Momordica charantia.

 

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9 Comments

  1. Hi Joseph: Bitter melon–also called bitter gourd–can be planted much like a vining cucumber. Commonly bitter melon seeds are germinated in small pots. In very warm regions, you can sow them directly in the garden. Once the seedlings are up, keep the pots well spaced out so that the young trailing stems don’t get entangled. You can pot the young seedlings up to the next largest pot if the outdoor temperatures have not reached about 80F (27C). Plant bitter melons into the garden in their permanent homes in early summer. Set the plants at the foot of supports–a pole or trellis–at about 2 feet (60cm) apart. If you are planting bitter melon in rows on wires, set plants 1 foot (30cm) apart and space the rows 3 feet (90cm) apart. The first harvest should come 8 to 9 weeks after planting. Pick bitter melons at any length but before they ripen–while still firm to the touch and before traces of orange appear on the fruit. Pick them regularly like you would a cucumber.

  2. Thanks for your research. I just started eating them today. Sliced them and cooked with tofu, two eggs, salt and pepper. Going to add some to a garden salad tomorrow and see how it works.

  3. Greetings everyone! Does anyone know if the bitter melon will continue to mature even after being pick off of the vine as the cerasee does? I ask this question because I buy the vegetable all the time and would like to grow my own from seeds.

    • If you are purchasing bitter melon to save the seed for planting later, purchase the ripest melon available. Place the melon in a paper bag and it will continue to ripen. When the melon begins to turn to red-orange, the seeds can be harvested, dried, and saved for planting later.

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