Remember how when you were a kid, you would turn your nose up at anything that was weird looking or nasty tasting? Well, my nemesis was bittermelon (bittergourd). My mom would cook bittermelon every so often either in a stirfry or in soups and insist we eat it because "it’s good for you!" (How many times have you heard that?)
A Mature Taste
You come to realize that that phrase is a code word for "it’s not going to taste very good." I remember pinching my nose closed and chewing that bittermelon as fast as I could or drinking up the soup in one gulp to get it over with (all the while, my mom would be watching to make sure we weren’t wasting any).
Well, my tastebuds must have matured because I find the taste of bittermelons quite pleasing now. And I will willingly eat it every so often! I still can’t imagine making them into soups (bittermelon soup was the most nasty of all) but in a stir fry with other flavors, bittermelon actually tastes good–a nice salty, savory flavor with a lingering bitterness at the end.
Pick the Right One
My mom tells me that you have to know how to choose your bittermelons/bittergourds. If you choose the wrong ones, they will be very bitter. She tells me that you have to look for ones with fewer ridges, look more smooth and are a lighter green. Another trick I learned is after you’ve sliced it, you want to salt it to make it less bitter. Don’t forget to wash the salt off before cooking!
Of course, we are talking about the Chinese bittermelons that you find in the Asian grocery stores. If you walk into any Indian grocery stores, their bittermelons are very different and I don’t know how to choose those. They are smaller and have tons of ridges and I’ve heard that they are really, really bitter in flavor. I cannot say as I’ve never had them myself personally. If you have eaten these varieties, would you tell me about them?
This recipe is my "simply hantam" recipe ie. I just looked in my fridge and decided to throw whatever I had together. Normally, my mom cooks bittermelon with eggs and shrimp. But I had some black bean sauce and decided that it would work just as well. And it did! The saltiness of the black bean contrasted very nicely with the bitterness of the bittermelon and the sweetness of the shrimp.
Bittermelon and Shrimp in Black Bean Sauce
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
10-12 shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 bittermelons, halved lengthwise, seeds scraped off and sliced thin on a diagonal
pinch of salt
1 1/2 Tbsp black bean garlic sauce (we use Lee Kum Kee brand)
1 tsp sugar (or to taste)
dash of fish sauce
a little water (about 1/4 cup or less)
1. Heat up saute pan or wok and add the oil. Once the oil is shimmering, throw in garlic and saute on medium heat quickly for 30 seconds or until lightly browned (it will start to smell yummy).
2. Throw in the shrimp and a pinch of salt and saute till just losing its translucent color on both sides.
3. Add bittermelon and saute for a minute on medium-high heat.
4. Add the black bean garlic sauce and the water and stir to mix. Add sugar and fish sauce to taste and cook till the bittermelon is tender, about another 2-4 minutes.
Serve over rice. Enjoy!
20 thoughts on “Bittermelon and Shrimp in Black Bean Sauce”
>Oh man!!! Have you any idea how much food nostalgia this means to me? I was practically raised on bittermelon (and hated every minute of it) but when I grew up and left the nest, bittermelon was suddenly THEE thing to eat to really remind me of the islands. I tried growing some here in Italy but…no luck. I’m definitely marking this as a ‘must-cook’ the next time I’m back home. GREAT post!
>I used to hate this but love it now. Never thought of cooking it with shrimps! I always cook it with chicken or pork ribs.
>Wow, that is one strange-looking veggie – not to mention slightly intimidating! Still, the fact that, sliced up, it looks like a green pepper, works in its favour. Very cool! Thanks for opening my eyes!
>EEEK! Foo gwa! I will not turn to the foo side!
Captain Underpants asked me search for “cookies” in your blog. He was quite excited to see the almond cookie picture from 2007, but was sorely disappointed when it did not include a recipe. =)
>I’m western and just got into bittermelons. I can see why a kid wouldn’t like them, but I love them!
I’ve usually had the Chinese kind – I actually like chopping them and having them raw in a savory type of salad (like with soy sauce and chicken), or just juicing them.
I don’t know that the Indian ones are more bitter, but they don’t have that bell pepper taste that the Chinese ones do. I think the Chinese ones taste fresher and brighter, and the Indian ones more savory and saltier. They’re also less juicy. My two cents.
>I love this stuff. My grandmother used to make it by slicing the melon into 1-inch rings and then stuffing them with seasoned ground pork, and topping of with some black bean sauce.
>Near our house in Boston, there was a large community garden, used mostly by Chinese families. One of my neighbors grew huge bitter melons, suspended from a tall cage she had built with chicken wire over her garden plot. You could walk inside, and the bitter melons were hanging down like icicles in a cavern! She told me I wouldn’t like the taste, and she was right.
>My mom used to make this all the time too! But I always just ate the protein cooked with it (usually pork I think or tofu) instead of the bittermelon. She made it just like you, with black beans! So your photo totally brought back memories for me too. I have yet to try bittermelon as an adult, so maybe one day I should try your recipe just to see if I like bittermelon as an adult.
>I didn’t like bittermelon as a kid and haven’t tried it since. I wonder if I like it now.
>If you add few drops of “Hua Tiew” wine, it would taste even better.
>You know, I’ll eat almost anything once, but bittermelon is one ingredient I have never had a fondness for. Growing up, my parents and brothers loved the stuff. Me? Hated it with a passion. The only time I have ever mildly enjoyed eating it was once at Ming’s in Palo Alto, where it was cooked with scrambled eggs. The owner told me the reason I liked their version is that they soak the bittermelon in cold water, making it less bitter. I have not tried that trick, myself. Well, mostly because I still don’t like the veggie quite enough to cook with it.
>@all – thanks for your comments!
@Rowena – I guess you can’t find bittermelon there in Italy, huh?
@pigpigscorner – pork ribs is a new one for me. Could you give a recipe?
@Wandering Coyote – you’re welcome! Hope you get to try it someday.
@J – Would Captain Underpants like to come over and help make some?
@Anonymous – thanks for the insight into Indian bittermelon!
@Anonymous – that’s they way my dad used to do it…and I hated it! Should try to make it now.
@Lydia – I’d love to see that garden!
@Chef Ben – ha ha, I used to do the exact same thing – just eat the ground pork.
@gaga – only one way to find out 😉
@Emile – thanks!
>’My mom would cook bittermelon every so often either in a stirfry or in soups and insist we eat it because “it’s good for you!”‘ Haha.. I hear that all the time!! Will try out your recipe sometime. Looks delicious! And thanks for sharing the tips on picking out bittergourds!
>I only know this as bitter groud and after reading this post, I only came to know about bitter melon…sure is an informative blog
>Yum — I just posted about bitter melon. I’ve recently come to love it, especially with eggs!
>Bittermelon is something which i love, & unlike a lot of other kids, used to love this even as a child:-)
This recipe is very different from what we do in india, but as enticing!
This was a winner! Although I think I overdid the black beans. Will try adding a little tofu next time.
Thanks! Glad you liked it. Tofu would be a great addition – just make sure you use firm tofu.
a thousand thank yous for this recipe.
you’re very welcome! Glad you enjoyed it.