Experiment: Bitter Melon Salad

In my recent ‘Foodstuffs’ post featuring Bitter Melon I did some tests of the three main methods for reducing the bitterness of the vegetable, all of which, readers will recall, produced only limited results. For my first experiment with the slices I had left over from those tests, I wanted to do something that was not only simple, but that left the melon still uncooked. The following basic salad is what I came up with…

As I am using the Chinese variety of Bitter Melon, I went with the sort of preparation that would be at home in Chinese cuisine. The supporting ingredients are pretty typical of a Chinese cold vegetable appetizer and would work especially well with cucumber.

I used about a half cup of melon slices that were prepared by the soaking method to reduce the bitterness a little. As a supporting ingredient, I cut about a quarter of a red pepper into fairly thin slivers but, before I did so, I carefully sliced away the light-colored inner, pithy membrane. This is a bit nutritionally wasteful, but I wanted to maintain a very high contrast between the bright red outer-flesh and the pretty green of the melon. Also, the pith can sometimes have a slight bitter quality of its own and I wanted to be able to make a final assessment of the bitterness of the melon itself.

The dressing ingredients are as follows:

  • 2 tbs rice wine;
  • ½ tsp sesame oil;
  • 1 tsp sugar;
  • ½ tsp Kikkoman soy sauce (a highly recommended brand); and,
  • 1 ½  tsp shredded ginger.

The Method

The basic preparation could not be simpler:

First, blend rice wine, sugar and sesame oil. Toss this with the bitter melon slices, mix in the shredded ginger and set aside. Mix the pepper slivers with just a bare sprinkling of salt and set these aside in a separate dish. You want to keep the melon and red pepper apart during the resting stage so that the pepper does not leach any red juices that might discolor the melon. For the same reason, the soy sauce should not be added until the very end. Leave everything to marinate for 1 to 2 hours then toss everything together with the soy and then plate. If you wish, you can do as I did and garnish the salad with a little sliced green onion.

The Verdict

This was actually a bit of a surprise. I have had cooked Bitter Melon dishes that I quite liked but I have found that the raw vegetable, even after soaking, salting or blanching is a little too bitter for my taste. Accordingly, I rather expected to not like this particular preparation very much. As it happened though, the rice wine and sugar really went well with the melon and seemed to reduce the astringency a little. I should also point out that I did not make this salad until the day after I had done the initial soaking of the  melon and it may be that that this resting period affected the bitterness level somewhat. That being said though, I did find that the overall taste was just a little strong for me to really enjoy this dish as a standalone salad. However, the combination of the sweet and bitter was still somewhat pleasant and I think this preparation would make a great side dish along with a hot Indian curry.

Comments, thoughts or suggestions most welcome...

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