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Bitter Melon


Bitter melon (Momordica charantia) is a tropical and subtropical vine of the family Cucurbitaceae, widely grown in Asia and Southeast Asia. It varies in shape often having prickly points all over it. It is said to have many health benefits including helping to maintain insulin in diabetics.

This recipe is popular in both Burma and Northern Thailand:

Bitter Melon

Ingredients
2 6-inch long bitter melons
1 tablespoon salt, for washing out
Large pinch turmeric
3 tablespoons oil
1 small onion
1/2 teaspoon chile powder
3 medium tomatoes
2 tablespoons shrimp powder
Fish sauce to taste

Directions
Prepare melon: scrape off skin and blisters lightly, just enough to remove raised parts. Cut in thin diagonal slices and then strips. Fruit should be tender enough not to have hard seeds and to have insides that can be used.
Wash cut slices. Now knead them hard with salt to get out excess bitterness. Wash off all this salt and juice. Wash in clear water and drain. Rub with turmeric.

Heat oil. Slice onion and fry till clear. Add chili and fry. Slice tomatoes finely and fry together. When pulp begins to soften, add melon strips and stir well. Cover and cook till fairly dry but not discolored.

Add shrimp powder. Stir well and cook 2 to 3 minutes. If salt is needed now, add fish sauce to taste and cook till it is absorbed. This is a dry dish.

I use smoked dry shrimp mixed with a little chile which I grind up to a powder.

Information on the Bitter Melon:

The melon is the fruit on a very long vine with tendrils. Each plant bears separate yellow male and female flowers. In the Northern Hemisphere, flowering occurs during June to July and fruiting during September to November.

The fruit has a distinct warty exterior and an oblong shape. It is hollow in cross-section, with a relatively thin layer of flesh surrounding a central seed cavity filled with large flat seeds and pith. The fruit is most often eaten green, or as it is beginning to turn yellow. At this stage, the fruit's flesh is crunchy and watery in texture, similar to cucumber, chayote or green bell pepper, but bitter. The skin is tender and edible. Seeds and pith appear white in unripe fruits; they are not intensely bitter and can be removed before cooking.

As the fruit ripens, the flesh becomes tougher, more bitter, and too distasteful to eat. On the other hand, the pith becomes sweet and intensely red; it can be eaten uncooked in this state, and is a popular ingredient in some southeast Asian salads.

When the fruit is fully ripe it turns orange and mushy, and splits into segments which curl back dramatically to expose seeds covered in bright red pulp.

This herbaceous, tendril-bearing vine grows to 5 meters. It bears simple, alternate leaves 412 cm across, with 37 deeply separated lobes. Each plant bears separate yellow male and female flowers. In the Northern Hemisphere, flowering occurs during June to July and fruiting during September to November.

The fruit has a distinct warty exterior and an oblong shape. It is hollow in cross-section, with a relatively thin layer of flesh surrounding a central seed cavity filled with large flat seeds and pith. The fruit is most often eaten green, or as it is beginning to turn yellow. At this stage, the fruit's flesh is crunchy and watery in texture, similar to cucumber, chayote or green bell pepper, but bitter. The skin is tender and edible. Seeds and pith appear white in unripe fruits; they are not intensely bitter and can be removed before cooking.

As the fruit ripens, the flesh becomes tougher, more bitter, and too distasteful to eat. On the other hand, the pith becomes sweet and intensely red; it can be eaten uncooked in this state, and is a popular ingredient in some southeast Asian salads.

When the fruit is fully ripe it turns orange and mushy, and splits into segments which curl back dramatically to expose seeds covered in bright red pulp.

Varieties

Bitter melon comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. The China phenotype is 2030 cm long, oblong with bluntly tapering ends and pale green in color, with a gently undulating, warty surface. The bitter melon more typical of India has a narrower shape with pointed ends, and a surface covered with jagged, triangular "teeth" and ridges. It is green to white in color. Between these two extremes are any number of intermediate forms. Some bear miniature fruit of only 610 cm in length, which may be served individually as stuffed vegetables. These miniature fruit are popular in India and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
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Content copyright © 2014 by Mary-Anne Durkee. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Mary-Anne Durkee. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Mary-Anne Durkee for details.

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