Crunch time is an inescapable fact of life in the IT industry. As a software developer, you're inevitably called upon to work through lunches, stay late into the night, and come in on weekends. To "make up" for the inconvenience, most companies will provide lunch and dinner during extended work hours. Since pizza is the cheapest and fastest way to feed a large number of people, you end up eating a whole lot of it. Pizza and caffeinated soft drinks practically fuel the software development business.
After the working on a big project for the better part of a week, and a number of calorie dense meals later, yours truly was feeling like an overstuffed calzone. There was pizza in my belly, pizza in my veins, and pizza coming out of my pores. Luckily, my local farmers market held the cure for my abused, bloated, and sluggish body; bitter melon.
Popular in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean, bitter melon is a used as a digestive stimulant. It's considered a purgative, and is recommended by the Chinese as an aid to cleansing the body of heavy or oily meals. Although the melon can be quite astringent, the bitterness can be made mild and refreshing when properly prepared. I eat stir-fried bitter melon as part of a detox diet whenever I've overindulged in too much fatty food.
How to Prepare Chinese Bitter Melon
1 Chinese cleaver
1 cutting board
1 wok or frying pan
1 Chinese ladle or spatula
1 large bitter melon (Greener melons are sweeter)
1/4 lbs of bacon, salt pork, or Chinese BBQ pork
3 green onion stalks
1 tsp of ginger (optional)
2 tsp of vegetable oil (preferably rice bran oil)
Sea salt to taste
Slice the pork into 1-1/2 inch strips roughly the size of your pinky. Although this dish is a light one, the richness of the small amount of pork we're using will help smooth out the sharpness of the bitter melon. While I prefer to use Chinese BBQ pork that I smoke myself, you can use store bought, bacon, or salt pork for this recipe. If you don't eat pork or are vegetarian/vegan, small dried shrimp or reconstituted dried shitake mushrooms will also work.
Split the bitter melon in half and remove the pith and seeds. While some cultures use the raw innards in salads, the seeds have been known to cause nausea. I find it best to discard them.
Slice the melon halves into crescents roughly 1/4 inch wide. Toss with 2 tbsp of salt until evenly coated and let sit for one hour. This step will help temper the intense bitterness of the melon by pulling out some of the fluid.
Thinly slice the green onions. Grate the ginger, removing any stringy fibers.
Bring four cups of water to a boil and pour over the bitter melon pieces. Drain immediately, then rinse with cold water. Drain thoroughly, then set aside.
Heat your wok over a medium flame. Add the oil and your pork together. Render the pork until crispy. Remove the pork and turn the flame up to high.
Once the wok is smoking hot, add the pork, green onions, and ginger, stirring vigorously for 10 seconds.
Add the bitter melon and toss gently for one minute until heated through. Salt to taste. Plate and serve.
Quick and easy to prepare, Chinese bitter melon is an excellent curative when you're feeling bloated or listless. My recipe for Chinese Bitter Melon Stir-fry is light and refreshing without being too bitter. It's best enjoyed at room temperature with rice or over a fresh garden salad.