The Sweet is a Faintness and the Bitter is a Medicine
I often hear the old Thai saying หวานเป็นลม ขมเป็นยา: kwan pen lom kom pen yah. This culinary wisdom literally says “the sweet is a faintness and the bitter is a medicine.” Growing up in a village in Thailand with my grandma and her friends, I acquired a taste for the bitter and exotic vegetables from their gardens and the wilderness around us.
Bitter melon or Bitter Gourd is called มะระ—Mara—in Thai. Its scientific name is Momordica charantia and it is native to Asia and Africa. It is a climbing annual plant that one can grow anytime, anywhere in Southeast Asia and South Asia regardless of the season.
In most Thai or Asian villages, where there is a fence or an arbor there will be a climbing plant next to it. There just needs to be a space large enough for seeds to grow.
Bitter melon is best eaten when it is green and young. When the fruit grows older, the taste gets more bitter. It is not common to eat the older fruit when it turns yellow-orange and the seeds become red; at this later stage the plant is mainly used for growing the seeds for future new plants.
Bitter melon is widely cooked in many ways in Southeast Asia. In Thailand, I often enjoy it in stir-fried dishes with soy sauce and with or without egg. It is also popular with mara yad sai—stuffed with pork in a soup. Fresh green or boiled bitter melon can be served in a Thai crudites platter with Thai chili dip, or it can accompany pickled cabbage in a pork-bone soup or stewed bitter melon and pork-bone soup. It can also be cooked in a curry dish as well. In Myanmar and Bangladeshi, bitter melon is often stir-fried with garlic and turmeric powder.
All parts of the fruit are edible after you remove the seeds and stem. For stir-fries, thin-slice the melon as shown above. Then I often take steps to reduce some of the bitterness. There are two ways to do this: put the sliced melon in boiling water for a few minutes and then strain out the melon and discard the water. Or sprinkle some salt on the melon, mix it in well and let it sit for a few minutes before rinsing them in water. You may squeeze to dry. I personally like to use this latter method before making my stir-fries as some of the bitter flavor is left behind.
Why should you eat bitter melon? For much the same reason that you eat broccoli or spinach: for their health benefits. Bitter melon is an aid to diabetes control. It lowers blood sugar and promotes healthy insulin levels; besides that it also has Vitamin C, B1 and B2. While more studies need to be done, it is time to learn about new vegetables like bitter melon or get back to eating them routinely and celebrating the sweet truth about bitter melon. Cheers to a bitter melon!
Stir-fried Bitter Melon with Egg
Phad Mara Kub Khai
Cooking Time: 4 minutes
When one has acquired a taste for bitter melon, stir-fried bitter melon with egg is a delightful dish. Personally, it makes me happy like after eating bitter-sweet chocolate. A bite of sliced bitter melon contrasts with the sweet, cooked egg and the hint of salty-soy flavor, making this three-flavor combination very memorable and it lingers on my palate. When trying this dish for the first time, don’t be afraid of the bitter that you will taste at first. Wait a little while and you will taste the sweet from the egg, then the salty from the soy sauce. Serve the stir-fried bitter melon as a side with a curry dish and warm steamed jasmine rice.
Serves: 23 to 5 tablespoons canola oil 3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped 2 eggs 1½ cups sliced bitter melon, about 1 large bitter melon 2 tablespoons soy sauce 1 teaspoon sugar ½ cup water or chicken broth Heat a wok on high heat until it is hot. Pour in 3 tablespoons canola oil and stir in garlic. When garlic is golden, stir in one egg and stir a few times. When the egg is cooked, stir in bitter melon. Stir for 1 minute, then add another egg and stir a few times before adding soy sauce and sugar. Add water or chicken broth and let it cook 1 minute. Depending on one’s liking, the melon should be not too soft or to firm; it should still have some crunch. Serve warm with steamed jasmine rice. © 2011 Pranee Khruasanit Halvorsen I Love Thai cooking Pranee teaches Thai Cooking classes in the Seattle area. Her website is: I Love Thai cooking.com .
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