There’s more than one way to stuff a bitter melon. The bumpy skinned melon is either long or short. The Asian market owner here in Carson City, NV says that he orders the longer variety because it is less bitter. According to wikipedia.com, bitterness comes with age. The Chinese variety is light colored and not too bumpy whereas the Indian variety is very bumpy and greener. These varieties are widely grown in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. wikipedia.com forgot to mention Hawai`i.
I used this Pork Hash recipe from the Maui Economic Cookbook green cover page 79 for stuffing bitter melons, eliminating the MSG:
1/2 lb. ground pork
1 small piece Chung Choi (salted radish) rinsed
3 fresh shrimps, shelled
3 dried mushrooms, soaked and stemmed
3 water chestnuts
1 tsp. shoyu
1 stalk green onion
1/4 tsp. monosodium glutamate
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. oyster sauce
Mix all ingredients fine and mix well. Place in a Chinese steaming bowl and steam for 20 minutes.
(That completes the original recipe.)
I brought these little guys (first photo) home from the International Marketplace on Decatur Avenue in Las Vegas. The sweet/salty pork hash goes well with their bitterness.
But I gave up stuffing each little melon. Instead, I shape the pork mixture into a large meatball and anchor it with slices of the bitter melon, (second photo).
I also cover the meatball with more bitter melon. When that’s done, place the bowl and its contents in a steamer with about 3-4” of water, and steam until done—as the recipe says. Check the water level half way through the steaming. Add more water if level goes down. BTW, the contents will make its own au jus (third photo).
We used to grow the shorter version in our backyard on Maui until the wasps stung them. The leaves are also great in chicken soup…if you like bitter.
In pinakbet, bittermelon is a main ingredient along with eggplant and Chinese long beans. You can add or substitute the beans with lima beans, wing beans or okra. Garlic, a bit of ginger, onions and tomatoes make up the basic flavors (fourth photo).
One way to decrease the bitterness out of the bitter melon is to rub it with salt then rinse. Or, as my aunt used to say, don’t stir the Pinakbet too often. You have to toss the ingredients in the covered pot in a rotation motion. Imagine the ingredients rotating like a ferris wheel while anchoring the cover with your thumbs and fingers on the handles in pot holders.
Last week, I stir-fried thin slices of bitter melon with pork chops/onions. Some light gravy would have complimented this dish. This dish needs tweaking…next time.