Bitter melon is mostly associated with Chinese medicines, concoctions and supplements. This extremely bitter vegetable is popular in China both as food and medicine. The Chinese have perfected both the bitter melon’s medical and culinary preparations. Typical Chinese bitter melon recipes are simply prepared to make sure that none of the nutritional components of the vegetable are lost.
Bitter melon contains a ton of helpful vitamins and minerals that cannot be seen together in other vegetables. It is low in calories and rich in folate, zinc, carbohydrates, iron, magnesium, and protein. It also contains Vitamins A, B, C, E, and K. Furthermore, it is richer in potassium than a banana, in beta carotene than broccoli and in calcium than spinach.
It is called bitter melon, ampalaya, karela, balsam pear or, in Chinese, foo gwa.
Li Shizhen, a physician and popular 16th-century figure in Chinese medical history, described ‘foo gwa’ this way: “bitter in taste, non-toxic, expelling evil heat, relieving fatigue, and illuminating.” This is much like how modern scientists and pharmacologists would describe this warty vegetable today. It seems as though the Chinese got it a few centuries earlier. Li Shizhen’s modern counterpart, Dr. Jiming Dr Ye of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research said, “Practitioners of Chinese medicine have used it for hundreds of years to good effect.”
The Chinese love to stir-fry bitter melon. It is often cooked with pork and black beans. The Chinese also love preparing bitter melon soup and tea, using bitter melon roots and leaves. The most popular Chinese bitter melon dishes that are available online are Braised Stuffed Bitter Melon, Braised Bitter Melon Stuffed with Minced Fish, Stir-Fried Pork and Bitter Melon, and Stir-Fried Duck and Bitter Melon, to name a few. Check out these recipes and other dishes online or in popular cookbooks.
In nearby countries where bitter gourd also thrives, bitter melon is prepared in a variety of ways. Asian recipes avoid toning down the bitterness, and complement it instead. Some enjoy the bitterness and eat the melons raw.
In India, bitter gourd or karela is prepared with sweet potato or yogurt on the side. A typical Indian recipe fries karela that was stuffed with spices. Other popular Indian recipes match the karela with coconut, curry peanuts, onions and spices.
In Pakistan, the karela is cooked with onions, red chili, turmeric powder, salt, coriander powder and cumin seeds. One local recipe boils an entire bitter melon fruit stuffed with ground beef. There is a similar recipe in Thailand, in which sections of bitter melon are stuffed with ground beef and then boiled to make soup.
A famous bitter melon dish in Vietnam includes shrimps. In the Philippines, bitter melon is mixed with other vegetables such as okra, eggplant, string beans, tomatoes and lima beans with shrimp paste.
In Nepal, bitter melon is pickled to maintain its freshness. The bitter melon fruit is sliced or cut into cubes and then sautéed.
In Trinidad and Tobago, a popular recipe is bitter melon sautéed with onion, garlic and scotch bonnet pepper.
Indonesians have a variety of dishes for it but bitter melon is typically steamed, cooked with coconut oil or stir-fried as with the typical Chinese bitter melon recipes.