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Good gourd: Bitter melon with pork spare ribs and black beans

Don't be fooled by the name - bitter melon has a complex flavour, adding a distinct kick to Asian dishes

 

Text Susan Jung / Photography Jonathan Wong / Styling Nellie Ming Lee

 

Bitter melon, also called bitter gourd or bitter squash, is one of my favourite vegetables. Although people may think it has only one note, its flavour can change according to how old the vegetable is (the bitterness intensifies with age), where it's grown, how long it's cooked, and the varietal.

 

Bitter melon with pork spare ribs and black beans (pictured)
600 grams bitter melon
400 grams pork spare ribs, cut through the bone into 1.5cm pieces
15ml soy sauce
15ml rice wine
1⁄8 tsp fine sea salt
A pinch of finely ground white pepper
¼ tsp granulated sugar
1 heaped tsp cornstarch
10ml cooking oil, plus extra for stir-frying
15 grams fermented black beans
2 garlic cloves
25 grams shallots

 

Put the ribs in a bowl and add the soy sauce, rice wine, salt, pepper, sugar, cornstarch and 10ml of cooking oil. Mix thoroughly and leave to marinate at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Put the black beans in a small bowl, add 30ml of warm water and leave for about 30 minutes. Cut the garlic cloves in half and thinly slice the shallots. Cut the bitter melon in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds and the pith. Cut it on the diagonal into 6mm-thick slices.

Heat about 20ml of cooking oil in a wok. Add the melon and stir-fry briefly, just to "set" the colour. Remove the melon from the wok. Heat about 30ml of cooking oil in the wok (no need to wash it). When the oil is very hot, add the garlic and shallot and stir-fry for about 15 seconds. Stir in the pork ribs and cook until the pieces are no longer pink.

Add the black beans and the soaking liquid. Stir briefly, then scrape the ingredients into the centre of the wok. Lower the heat, cover the wok with the lid and let it simmer, stirring occasionally, until the meat is cooked through. If the mixture gets too dry, stir in some hot water. When the meat is tender, add the bitter melon back to the wok and stir well.

Turn up the heat, adding some more water if needed, then let it simmer, stirring often, until the bitter melon is done to your liking. The sauce should lightly coat the ingredients. Correct the seasonings to taste. Transfer the mixture to a dish and serve with steamed white rice.

 

Thai omelette with bitter melon and Chinese sausage
A Thai omelette can be flat, like a pancake, or folded in half. Unlike French omelettes, which are softly set, moist and uncoloured, Thai omelettes tend to have browned, slightly crisp exteriors.

 

1 bitter melon, about 200 grams
1 laap cheong (Chinese sausage)
1 garlic clove
1 red bird's-eye chilli, or to taste
4 large eggs
20-30ml fish sauce

½ tsp granulated sugar
A pinch of finely ground white pepper
2-3 spring onions, minced, divided
Salt, as needed
About 40ml cooking oil

 

For the sauce:
45ml Vietnamese fish sauce
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 red bird's-eye chilli, cut into thin rounds
About 20ml fresh lime juice
About 5 grams granulated sugar
About 20ml cold water

 

Cut the bitter melon in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds and pith. Cut the melon on the diagonal into thin (about 3mm) pieces. Cut the laap cheong in half lengthwise then cut it on the diagonal into 5mm-thick pieces. Mince the garlic clove. Cut the chilli in half lengthwise then scrape out and discard the seeds and membranes. Roughly chop the chilli. Whisk the eggs with the fish sauce, sugar, pepper, chilli and half the spring onion.

Combine all the ingredients needed to make the sauce. Taste for seasonings and correct if necessary. Pour into a small serving bowl.

Heat about 20ml of cooking oil in a skillet placed over a high flame. Add the bitter melon and a sprinkling of salt. Add about 30ml of water to the pan, then lower the heat. Cover with the lid and simmer, stirring often, until the melon is tender and has absorbed the liquid. If needed, cook over a high flame until the water evaporates.

Remove the bitter melon from the pan. Put the laap cheong in the skillet (no need to wash it) and cook until much of the fat has rendered out and the sausage is lightly browned in spots. Remove the laap cheong from the pan and pour out the fat.

Pour 20ml of cooking oil into the pan and place it over a medium-high flame, add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds, then stir in the bitter melon and laap cheong. When the ingredients are very hot, add the egg mixture. Stir the ingredients very well and cook until the eggs are almost set.

Leave to cook undisturbed until the omelette browns on the bottom, then carefully flip it over to brown the other side (if the egg sticks, add more oil to the skillet). Transfer the omelette onto a dish. Fold the omelette in half, if you like. Sprinkle with the remaining spring onion then serve with the sauce and steamed white rice.

 

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