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February 2007




Bittermelon or Momordica charantia is a tropical vine of the gourd family Cucurbitaceae and a relative of the squash, watermelon and cucumber. It is an acquired taste because, as its name suggests, it is bitter. But rich in iron, it is a favorite in many Asian cuisines and helps with digestion. You can even find bittermelon tea which is said to help in the control of blood sugar. However, it isn’t easy to find this Photo by Lori Shikumaunique vegetable on the continent and your best bet will be the Chinese or Vietnamese markets. But if you google bittermelon on the internet, you’ll find at least 30,700 entries, one of which is the National Bittermelon Council in Massachussetts, (www.bittermelon.org) which helps to celebrate this “underappreciated” vegetable and has the motto “Better Living Through Bittermelon.”

Bittermelon grows easily and year-around in Hawai`i and if you don’t watch out, it can take over your garden. One overlooked green gourd that easily hides among the leaves will over-ripen into yellow before bursting open, spreading its scary blood- red seeds around the garden, which will then take root and grow into more melon-bearing vines, providing an endless supply. Which is a good thing if you like bittermelon, not so good if you’re not a fan. But there are big fans of this bumpy vegetable in Hilo , and one of them is my mother’s generous and industrious neighbor Elaine Shikuma, who has come up with many recipes for her abundant supply of bittermelon. Below are a few of them. ~RdC


Bittermelon with Black Beans with Ground Pork

Slice 2-3 bittermelon lengthwise and remove seeds. Slice at an angle into ½” pieces. Blanch for 30 seconds in hot water with 1 heaping teaspoon Hawaiian salt, then run under cold water.

Marinate 1 lb. ground pork in a mixture of oyster sauce, shoyu and sugar for 30 minutes or longer. Then fry ground pork and remove from pan.

In same pan, fry 2 teaspoons black bean sauce (Lee Kum Kee brand) with a clove of garlic, chopped fine. Add blanched bittermelon and cook for 1 minute. Then add pork and thick sauce with cornstarch and water.

Photo by Lori Shikuma

Bittermelon Namasu

1 cup sugar
½ cup Japanese vinegar

Slice bittermelon thinly and add seasoned salt. Let stand. Julilenne one daikon and a couple of carrots. Thinly slice one Maui or another mild round onion. Soak fueru wakame (dried seaweed found in Asian foodstores) in water for a few minutes, then squeeze out the water. Drain the liquid from the bittermelon. Combine all ingredients and toss with vinegar mixture. Refrigerate overnight.

Optional: add grated ginger if you like and thinly chopped ebi (dried shrimp.)


Miso and Bittermelon

In frying pan, stir fry thinly sliced bittermelon and sweet peppers or bell peppers. Add iriko and miso – according to your liking. Can also add a little sugar or 1 pkg Splenda. `Ono on hot rice!


Champuru – Okinawan Bittermelon Dish  

string beans, julienne
bittermelon – sliced thin
round onion – sliced thin
Pork – bite-size pieces
Spam – bite-size pieces
Eggs – 2-3
Packet of hondashi

Stir fry in this order: onion, until soft; pork and Spam until brown; string beans and bittermelon – don’t overcook.

Break eggs into a bowl, add hondashi, scramble and pour over entire mixture. Cook until egg is not runny.


Stuffed Bittermelon with Pork Hash

4 medium sized bittermelons
½ lb. ground pork
2 Tbs dried shrimp or 4 fresh shrimp, chopped fine
1 small piece chung choi (dried turnip - washed and chopped fine)
3 water chestnuts (chopped fine)
½ tsp salt
1 tsp shoyu
2 t. cornstarch
½ t. sugar
1/8 t. pepper

Gravy: 1 Tbs dau see (salted black beans, washed and mashed)
½ c. water or stock
1 t. hau yau (oyster sauce) salt to taste.

Cut bittermelon lengthwise, remove pith and seeds, and cut into 1 ½ inch lengths. Parboil for 2 minutes and drain. Mix remaining ingredients together and stuff bittermelon sections with this mixture. Place in pan, add gravy and simmer for 30 minutes or until tender. Thicken gravy with cornstarch before serving.

-From Hawaii Authentic-Original Chinese Recipes by Gail Wong, 1953.

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