Find Bitter Melon Recipes From Soup, Stir Fry, Stew, Omelette and Chips 苦瓜食谱

As a child, I shun bitter gourds. As I became older, I grew to appreciate it in different bitter melon recipes. 

But What is Bitter Melon? 

Are they really bitter? How do you use bitter melon? How to cut and prepare it? 

Bitter melon, or more accurately, bitter gourd, is very easy to identify. It has a bumpy, grooved skin. Like a cucumber with bad skin. There are a few varieties, mostly affecting the size and colour. Other names include bitter cucumber and balsam pear. 

Benefits of Bitter Melon

In Chinese cooking, anything bitter is thought to be good for health. Many Asians also believe the bitter gourd has medicinal properties.

Bitter gourd is rich in vitamins A and C. It contains substances that can stimulate the sensory nerves and improve appetite. Growing up, I am told to eat it because it helps dispel the oppressive tropical heat.

I think it’s popularity is also due to its association with diabetes management. It contains a substance that resembles insulin and is therefore capable of metabolizing and reducing blood sugar.

I’m all for food that are good for me but the bitterness can be off putting. There are, fortunately, a few ways to reduce the bitterness: 

  • Blanch in salty water and then soak in cold water.
  • Rub with salt. Leave to stand for an hour. Squeeze the excess liquid, drain, rinse and dry before cooking.
  • Choose the young ones. The older they are, the more bitter they are. 

In tropical Singapore, the most common ways to cook the bitter gourd are in soup, stir-fry and braise. 

Bitter Melon Soup

The Tze Char (literally cook and fry) stalls in many coffee shops in Singapore has bitter melon soup on their menus. Almost always thinly sliced bitter melon swimming in a light broth with pork or fish, equally thinly sliced. Here's a home-styled take on it.   

Bitter Melon Pork Soup Recipe 苦瓜瘦肉汤 (ku gua shou rou tang)

This is the soup that changed my mind about bitter melon. It helped me appreciate it.

Ingredients

  • 200g bitter melon (Do not fuss over the quantity of bitter melon here. Use a medium sized melon and if it is less or more than 200g, leave it.)
  • 150g pork fillet
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tomato
  • 1 small carrot
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 500ml soup stock
  • Cooking oil
  • Salt and pepper

Marinate for the pork slices

  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame seed oil
  • 1 teaspoon light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch

Method

  1. Cut the pork fillet into thin slices across the grain
  2. Season with the marinate and leave it for about 15 - 30 minutes
  3. Slice the melon in half and remove the centre spongy part and seeds leaving the green flesh
  4. Slice it thinly, roughly the same size as the pork. You can use a mandolin or peeler to ensure thinness. 
  5. Wash the tomato and quartered it
  6. Wash the carrot and slice thinly
  7. Heat 1 tbsp cooking oil in a large saucepan and gently fry the garlic
  8. Add the 500ml stock and bring it to a boil
  9. Add the bitter melon slices, tomato wedges, and carrot to the boiling liquid and lower to a medium heat
  10. When the vegetables have soften, add the pork slices and cook till everything is done
  11. Add salt and pepper to taste
  12. Remove from heat and serve

Here’s a video demonstrating the technique. 

Stuffed Bitter Melon Soup Recipe  酿苦瓜汤 (niang ku gua tang)

Stuffing bitter melon rings is another common way to prepare it. Cut the melon into sections, remove the spongy middle portion and replace with ground pork or fish mixture. The bitter melon is quite firm and stands long cooking.

The stuffed gourd can be cooked in soup or steamed. The juices from the steaming can be the base for a glazing sauce for the melons.  

Ingredients

  • 250g bitter gourd
  • 100g ground lean pork
  • 10g goji berries
  • 10g chopped spring onion
  • 10g ground ginger
  • 10g cooking wine
  • 3g salt
  • 0.5g 5-spice powder
  • 1 egg white
  • 700g soup stock
  • 5g sesame seed oil 
  • Cornstarch

Method

  1. Wash the bitter gourd. Trim the stem and cut the bitter gourd cross-wise forming bitter gourd rings. Remove the spongy portion and seeds. 
  2. Rinse the goji berries, drain for use
  3. Marinate the ground pork with half of the cooking wine, chopped spring onion, and ground ginger and mix well
  4. Add the salt, 5-spice powder, egg white, 25ml soup stock, and sesame seed oil. Mix till slightly sticky
  5. Stuff the pork mixture into the middle of the ring of each bitter gourd. Sprinkle a little cornstarch on each side and pat gently to coat.
  6. Bring the soup stock to a boil in a deep soup pot together with the cooking wine, chopped spring onion and ginger. 
  7. Add the stuffed bitter gourd rings and cook till done (that is when they float to the surface
  8. Add the goji berries and season with salt and pepper to preferred taste

Stir Fry Bitter Melon

Bitter melon is usually stir-fried with condiments with strong flavours. For example, XO sauce, preserved black bean paste, and szechuan peppercorns. 

XO Sauce Bitter Melon Recipe

XO sauce is a spicy condiment made from dried scallop, chilli peppers, Chinese ham, dried shrimp, garlic, and oil. It has quite an intense taste. The dried seafood is not ground smooth, you can still see and taste bits of them in the sauce. 

To make a non-spicy version of this dish, use preserved black bean paste 黑豆豉 (hei dou chi). 

Ingredients

  • 200g bitter melon
  • 2 tbsp XO sauce
  • Cooking oil
  • 1 tsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar

Method

  1. Cut the melon in half and remove the seeds and spongy white stuff in the middle
  2. Slice the melon thinly
  3. Blanch the melon slices for 3-4 minutes in salty water. Remove and drain
  4. Heat up a tbsp of cooking oil and gently fry the XO sauce until fragrant
  5. Add the bitter melon and the seasonings
  6. Stir fry to mix the sauce and melon slices well 
  7. Remove from heat and serve

Salted Egg Yolk Bitter Gourd Recipe

Adding salted egg yolk sauce to dishes is hot in Singapore right now. Bitter gourd seems like a good candidate. :)  

Ingredients

  • 300g bitter gourd
  • 2 salted eggs
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
Method
  1. Steam or boil the salted eggs until it is cooked
  2. Remove the shells and egg white
  3. Place the yolks in a bowl and mash into a paste
  4. Wash the bitter melon and cut into thin slices
  5. Parboil the melon pieces in some boiling water with some sugar and cooking oil
  6. Remove and drain
  7. Melt the butter in a wok on low heat
  8. Add the mashed egg yolk and stir fry until fragrant
  9. Add the bitter melon slices and seasonings
  10. Stir to coat the bitter melon with the egg yolk
  11. Plate and serve

You can turn these into vegetarian bitter melon recipes by using vegetarian condiments like preserved black bean paste or sichuan peppercorns. Lightly frying with garlic and ginger is also a great vegetarian technique. 

Braised Bitter Melon Chicken Recipe 苦瓜鸡煲 (ku gua ji bao)

Ingredients

  • 4 chicken wings
  • 1 bitter gourd
  • 1 tbsp Chu-Hou paste 柱侯酱 (zhu hou jiang)
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce 
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp minced garlic and ginger 

Watch how this dish is done in this video 

Omelettes and Chips

Frying bitter melon with eggs is also a popular method. Eggs goes well with many things. I prefer omelettes over egg stir fry. 

Bitter Melon Omelette

Ingredients

  • 200g or 1 medium sized bitter gourd
  • 3 eggs
  • Salt and pepper to taste 

See how it is done by this clever dad using a wok. I had done it before in a flat frying pan, which I prefer. 

Bitter Melon Chips

Bitter melon chips is a popular Malay snack. Turmeric is added to the batter and gives the chips a slightly spiced flavour.

There are many more recipes using bitten melons. I hope you have found my selections useful. 

Happy Souping, Phoebe



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