Bitter Gourd aka Bitter Melon
One of the many bitter vegetables loved in India and most Asian countries, these look like members of the marrow family except that their green skins are ridged like that of an alligator – bumpy dark to pale green. It has a slightly bitter quinine flavour that has a cooling effect in one’s mouth, and is believed to be a mild purgative. Indians consider bitter gourd good for cleansing the blood and for diabetes. In Thailand, there are several types of bitter melon, including a very small one that David Thompson of Thai Food says graphically translates as “birds droppings melon” but tastes relatively mild.
There are two main types of Bitter Melon – a light green Chinese variety and a dark green Indian variety (Karela). Both melons have the same hardiness and bitter flavour. The only real difference is the appearance. Indian bitter gourds are narrower than the Chinese type, rather like a zucchini. They have irregular ridges and triangle-shaped “teeth” all over the surface of the skin, along with slightly ragged ridges. Chinese ones can grow more more than 25cm long and they have blunt ends. Broader than Indian gourds, they have light green skins dotted liberally with wart-like bumps rather than teeth. Both types have thick skins and white seeds.
To prepare bitter gourd if you want to reduce the bitterness
Scrape off the ridges, leaving a smooth skin, and then rub with salt and set aside. Some of the bitterness flows out with the salty water. If this is too bitter still for your taste, blanch from a cold water start. It can be used in soups, stir fries, curries and may be steamed, as well as braised.
Meenakshi Ammal’s advice for Preparing Bitter Gourd for Pitlai, Koottu, Poriyal and mildly sour Kuzhambu
Meenakshi Ammal, author of the wonderful Cook and See series of books, has some advice about preparing bitter gourd for Kuzhambu and lentil dishes.
Cook the bitter gourd separately and only then add to the tamarind water. The amount of tamarind can be reduced substantially due to the flavour of bitter gourd. If you wish to reduce the sourness of the gourd, half cook in water, strain, then add to thick tamarind water that has been heated with salt and turmeric. Cook a little and add a little jaggery. Cook again until tamarind water is absorbed.
from the Indian Tips series
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