Each trip to the farmer's market in South Pasadena I seek the strangest veggie I can find. A few weeks ago I happened upon these two lovelies.
"It's bitter melon," said the lady from Moua Farms. I nodded my head up and down, pretending to be more knowledgeable than I am. I casually inquired, "How do you like to cook it?" "Soups, stir-fries, you know." Truthfully, I didn't know. But I was going to find out. Here's why.
Why Bitter Melon & Why Now
High in fiber and low in calories, bitter melon is packed with Vitamin B1, B2, B3, and C. Compared to other produce, it has twice the calcium of spinach and twice the potassium of a banana. In both Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine bitter melon has been used to kill bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells while also preventing tumors, reducing blood pressure, and lowering body temperature. And the list goes on. Bitter melon reduces inflammation, fights free radicals, enhances libido, cleanses blood, detoxifies, expels worms, balances hormones, enhances immunity, and is mildly laxative. Don't ask about how it can be mildly laxative while enhancing libido. We would prefer not to go there.
But the biggest news on the medical community's radar is that the chemicals in bitter melon have been suggested to lower glucose levels, improve glucose tolerance, and increase glucose absorption. Scientific studies on use of bitter melon for treatment of Type 2 ("adult-onset") diabetes are still limited to animal studies and presently no double-blind placebo controlled studies have proven bitter melon for use in treating diabetes. Funny enough, while most articles are quick to disclaim its use as treatment for Type 2 Diabetes at the same time they warn against eating it while taking diabetic medication claiming that consumption of bitter melon could amplify the effect. When the Centers for Disease Control projects that one-third of all U.S. adults will have diabetes by 2050, one could argue eating a bitter melon, in prevention mode, in place of the apple-a-day idea might be a lifestyle change long overdue.
We understand bitter melon is good for you, health-wise. But culinarily-speaking, how is a sugar-addicted nation going to swallow nature's bitter yet better-for-you pill?
Bitter Melon Recipes - For the Rest of Us
Google "bitter melon recipe" and you will find it stuffed with fish paste or sauteed with pork belly. Not the type of recipes which sell in middle-America. Poor little bitter melon, so unappreciated and underutilized. It's time for a change. A radical change. Check out the recipe below and those which will come in the next two posts. Experiment. Imbibe the bitter and get better. Go bitter or go home America!
Bitter Melon Chips
If you've ventured into kale chips, take things a step further with bitter melon. Traditionally deep-fried in India, this recipe uses an oven-roasting method.
1. Chop one bitter melon in half and core out seeds and pulp. Slice melon into 1/2 inch pieces. Blanch it in boiling water for 10 minutes or salt pieces and let sit for 10 minutes to reduce bitter flavor.
Measure approximately 1 teaspoon of curry powder and turmeric powder, respectively.
Sprinkle powders over slices. Drizzle oil (about 1-2 tablespoons) over slices until all pieces are evenly coated.
Lay slices flat on cookie pin lined with foil. Bake until crispy in preheated oven at 375° F for about 10 minutes, another 5 minutes under broil setting to make them extra crispy.
Bake until crispy in preheated oven at 375° F for about 10 minutes, perhaps another 5 minutes under broil setting to make them extra crispy. Once crispy, pull out of oven and serve with chopped cilantro or dip of your choice.