Bitter Melon - Bitter No More

Cooking Time : 45 – 60 minutes Serves : 4 people

There are 2 types of people in this world – those who love Bitter Melon and others who don’t. I find there is no middle ground when it comes to this strange fruit.

This prickly and almost weird looking fruit is from the gourd family and tastes precisely like it’s name – ‘Bitter’ – hence the extreme reactions to it. I, for one, have never really been a fan and have hated this vegetable with a passion all of my childhood and almost all of my adult life.

As an Indian kid with a vegetarian mother, I did not have a lot of choice in choosing what vegetables I wanted to eat. Meat/Poultry or fish were rare treats, and every meal included one vegetable dish with Dal (lentil), and this fruit – that I loathed but my mother (maa)loved – made regular appearances on our table.. It did not help that the decision on what we would eat was usually made by maa, depending on her work schedule, mood or how she was generally feeling about life (funnily, this is the exact same pattern that I follow when it comes to cooking).

In India, we stuff the melon, make it into dry vegetable curries, fry it into crisp chips, make pickles and even make Chutneys with its skin and juice it for weight loss.

Bitter Melon does have incredible health benefits and is proven to reduce blood sugar levels, cholesterol and is a source of fiber and Vitamin C. However, for my unrefined palate at that time, it was something unacceptable, and I just did not enjoy it. So, I was glad that I moved away from home, started cooking for myself, and no longer could be forced to eat things I did not like.

A few months ago I was having lunch with my colleagues when one of them offered to share his meal with me. I remembered taking a small tentative bite and was immediately surprised at how delicious whatever I had eaten was. It looked like a dark sloppy mush that was surprisingly sweet with slight bitter tones. I was hooked, and as I greedily took one more bite, he mentioned ‘it’s Bitter Melon.’I almost fell off my chair!

I mean how can this ‘demonic’ vegetable of my childhood food nightmares taste so good?

In India where the melons are small and usually served stuffed – the way my mother cooked it too – the melons in Australia are much bigger, so you can’t really stuff them, and that it’s best to chop and cook them.

More questions to my colleague about his delicious Bitter Melon lunch revealed that his mother – the cook – makes it with a lot of onions, and, of course, it suddenly made sense! The sweetness of the Onions counteracts the bitterness of the melons that were previously marinated in salt, making them obligingly less bitter.

After a few reminders, my colleague got me the recipe for this dish and guess who is now a number 1 fan of Bitter Melon?

While my husband still refuses to touch it (he also had the same childhood food nightmares with Bitter Melon whilst growing up in India), I find myself indulging in them more often than I care to admit.

So here I am trying to share my new “bitter no more” indulgence with Bitter Melon with you through a simple, but hearty, healthy and delicious dish that I think will make you coming back for more, like I did.

If you do make this dish, please share it with me by tagging me on Instagram or Facebook.

Enjoy!

  • 3 Bitter Melons (They can easily be found in vegetable markets of Asian grocery stores)
  • 6 Onions finely sliced
  • 2 Tomatoes finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp Jaggery or tamarind Pulp
  • Salt to taste and marinate the Melon
  • 3 tsp Turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp Paprika or Red chili powder
  • 1 tsp Coriander powder
  • 1 tsp Cumin Seeds
  • 2 tsp Ginger Garlic paste
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable or any other unflavoured oil

Before you do anything, it is important to chop the Bitter Melon into equal slices, sprinkle lots of Salt and 1 ½ tsp of Turmeric powder, mix and marinate for at least an hour. I usually get on with other chores, and it doesn’t matter if you come back to it after a few hours.

When you are ready, put a lot of water in the bowl over the melons and drain them a few times. The marination with the salt and then passing it through fresh water a few times takes away the bitterness slightly. Drain the water and gently squeeze any excess water. Don’t throw away the seeds.

Heat oil in a pan and add the Cumin seeds and Ginger garlic paste.

Add the Onions and cook till the Onions have almost caramelized. This is a crucial step as the sweetness that this process imparts is what makes the melon palatable.

Now add the Turmeric, Paprika/Chilli powder/Coriander powder and mix for a few seconds.

Add the Bitter Melon and mix well. Now cover the pan and let the Melons cook on a low flame, occasionally stirring, so they don’t stick to the pan.

After around 15-20 minutes, you will see the Bitter Melon would have broken down and will be mushy and soft.

Add the tomatoes and mix well and cook for another 10 minutes. Add the Jaggery/Tamarind pulp and mix and then add the Salt and adjust the seasoning. I like to have a bit of taste at this stage to fix anything if I need to.

Turn off the heat when thoroughly cooked and serve hot with Rice/Quinoa and Dal of your choice. The melons stay fresh in an airtight container in the fridge for a week.

Note:*The ratio of the onions to the Bitter Melon should be 2:1. So I used 2 onions for 1 large Bitter Melon
*All the Spices/Jaggery/Tamarind above can be easily found in your local supermarket. Palm Jaggery is usually found in the Asian section. However, I use Gur or Indian Jaggery, which I buy from Indian supermarkets. I find that it is slightly less sweet than Palm Jaggery and it is a taste that I am more familiar with. However, you can use any type of Jaggery you like.