Bitter melon drew the short end of the stick when it came to looks in the gourd family. Visually, this veggie doesn’t have much appetite appeal. Wart-like bumps cover the oblong veggie’s outer green surface, which doesn’t look like much of a delight for the taste buds. If its jarring physique doesn’t deter the curious eater, bitter melon’s taste most certainly will turn them away. The veggie’s rough exterior is on par with its intensely pungent bitterness, which some may find difficult to swallow.
So why, you ask, would anyone want to eat such a gnarly looking and tasting vegetable as bitter melon? To be honest, I don’t have a compelling enough reason to give you to tempt you to try it. Looks and taste aside, it doesn’t even have any psychedelic nor aphrodisiac aftereffects. In a futile effort to coax me to eat it, my mom would tell me how good it was for me. Eventually, I grew to appreciate the veggie’s bitterness and have come to even really like it, even with its ugly warts and all.
In spite of all of its unsavory qualities, I invite you to broaden your palate’s repertoire and give it a try. My mom might have been on to something when she said that bitter melon is good for me. Scientific research has shown that bitter melon does indeed have healing powers. Its packed with vitamins and has demonstrated antidiabetic activity by reducing blood glucose as well as insulin levels. Other reported benefits include anti-inflammation, enhancing anticancer effects of chemotherapeutic agents, and curbing body fat, among many others.
If you’re a fearless eater and would like to test your palate’s threshold for bitterness, then this recipe would be a good place to start. I have only cooked and eaten the variety from Southeast Asia, which, from what I gather, has a smoother surface than the spiky-looking variety from India. Typically, we look for bitter melons that are unripe, pale green, firm and about the size of largish zucchinis. I haven’t quite figured out what characteristics to look for when seeking one that is not too bitter. I’ve heard that larger bitter melons or ones that have ripened (those that have started to turn orange) have a more enhanced bitter flavor, but I have yet to test this. Cooking the bitter melon with scrambled eggs as well as the salt and fish sauce cuts some of the bitterness of the melon. But, that’s for you to judge!
Bonne dégustation & thanks for reading!
Khổ Qua Xào Trứng | Sautéed Bitter Melon & Scrambled Eggs
- 2 bitter melons
- 1 onion, sliced
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 tsp fish sauce (nước mắm)
- salt and pepper to taste
- chopped cilantro
- 1-2 finely sliced green scallions
- After washing and patting the bitter melon dry, trim the ends. Cut them in half across the middle, then halve each half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and white pith core with a spoon. Then, slice each of the halves into half moons no thicker than 1 cm.
- In a small bowl, beat the eggs with a dash of ground black pepper and fish sauce. Set aside.
- Heat cooking oil over high heat in a sauté pan. Sweat the onion slices and once fragrant, add the sliced bitter melon. Season with a couple pinches of salt, but not too much because the eggs seasoned with fish sauce will add to the dish's saltiness. Continue stirring until the bitter melon is cooked. The color of the bitter melon is a good indicator of whether it is adequately cooked. It becomes a brighter, slightly translucent green color once it’s ready.
- Push the bitter melon to the side to make room for the eggs. Pour the eggs in, stir so as to scramble them, and fold in the bitter melon as the eggs begin to cook. Add the sliced scallions. Once the eggs have cooked, garnish with the chopped cilantro and a sprinkling of ground black pepper.