Bitter Melon Salad (凉拌苦瓜 Liang Ban Ku Gua)
September 3, 2022  Print
As a kid, I hated bitter melon. I couldn’t understand why someone would want to eat something so bitter. Although bitter melon is rich in beneficial vitamins and nutrients and is said to have many health benefits like lowering blood sugar and reducing cholesterol, I couldn’t care less as a kid. I complained every time my parents or grandparents prepared bitter melon. But somehow as time went by, I got used to the taste and even liked it. I acquired the taste. The bitterness simply wasn’t that bad at all. It tasted pleasantly refreshing, even addictive. I’m still not quite sure how this happened.
My friend, who gave me the idea for this recipe, had a similar experience with bitter melon. She grew up in Hong Kong so bitter melon was even more present at her childhood dinner tables. But both of us couldn’t remember when we changed from disliking bitter melon to liking it. It’s like one day we woke up and we stopped minding the bitterness.
Asians living in subtropical and tropical regions tend to include bitter melon as part of their diet since bitter melon is typically grown in subtropical/tropical areas. Now that we moved to Texas where summer is especially hot and humid, I have been trying to introduce bitter melon to my family to help with the summer heat. I have not been successful.
I totally understand why my husband and boys view bitter melon with such contempt. I went through the same situation as a kid myself. There is a reason why bitter melon is not called “sweet melon.” My oldest will take a bite and immediately spit it out. That is something he has never done for other food items. So I have been trying different ways to make the bitterness less noticeable. I’ve been pretty successful getting my husband to finally enjoy daikon, so hopefully I can do the same with bitter melon.
When preparing bitter melon, salting or blanching is typically used to reduce the bitter taste. For this recipe, both methods are used to further remove the bitterness. Hot peppers and garlic are good at masking the bitterness as well. In fact, the hotter the pepper, the less noticeable the bitterness. But if you are new to bitter melon, don’t expect this recipe to miraculously change bitter melon into sweet melon. Even after the salting and blanching, you can still taste the bitterness, though it is far less detectable.
Gluten Free, Vegan, Low Carb
Preparation Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Servings: 2 to 4 people
- 1 medium sized bitter melon (~1/2 lb or 225g)
- 2 fresh chili peppers 1
- 2 to 3 garlic cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon + 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (use half the amount for table salt)
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- Thoroughly wash the bitter melon. Remove the two ends. Cut it in half and scoop out the seeds with a spoon or huller. Then cut each bitter melon half into super thin slices (the thinner the better). Add 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt (or 1/4 teaspoon of table salt) to the sliced bitter melon, and mix well. Let sit for 20 to 30 minutes to marinate. This allows more bitter water to come out.
- While waiting for the bitter melon to release liquid, prepare all the other ingredients. Peel and mince the garlic cloves. Chop the fresh chili peppers into thin strips or slices. When there are 5 minutes left for the marinating of the bitter melon, heat a pot of water in a small sauce pan.
- When the bitter melon is done marinating, there should be plenty liquid in the bowl. Use the bitter melon to form a ball using both palms, squeezing out all the liquid from marinated bitter melon. Rinse a few times afterwards. If not pressed for time, squeeze water from the bitter melon one more time after rinsing. This should further reduce bitterness.
- When the water boils, add all the sliced bitter melon and a few drops of vegetable oil. With the lid open, blanch for 1 minute. Take the bitter melon out immediately after 1 minute and rinse under cold water. Drain well.
- Add the minced garlic, sliced fresh chili, 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt (or 1/8 teaspoon of table salt), 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, and 1 tablespoon of sesame oil, and mix well. Transfer to a plate and enjoy!
- You can use any type of fresh chili peppers based on your own heat tolerance. The heat from chili peppers masks the bitterness of bitter melon. The more heat the less noticeable the bitterness.
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