I guess you could say today has been a typical Saturday. It’s just about 7 p.m. and here is what I’ve done today:
- Went to a national wildlife refuge to take pictures
- Dropped some donations off at a thrift store
- Went to the library
- Went to the farmers market
- Sliced and prepared 7 trays worth of fruits and vegetables to be dehydrated
- Cleaned the old seasoning off of two cast iron skillets
- Re-seasoned two cast iron skillets
- Pruned the bushes and pulled the creeping vines off our windows
- Peeled and prepared a brine for 2 pints of pearl onions (to be pickled in balsamic vinegar tomorrow through the next two months)
- Made hot sauce from the chiles I’ve been fermenting for the last week
- Edited photos from the wildlife refuge
- Went to a national park to take pictures
- Edited photos from the national park
- Found a recipe to play with while trying a new vegetable: bitter melon
- Wrote a blog post about bitter melon
I need a nap. Anyway, yes: bitter melon. I’ve seen it referred to in recipes, usually Indian, so I’ve long been familiar with the idea of it, but I don’t think I’ve ever purchased one. But one of the farmers at my farmers market was selling them and you know I can’t pass that by. I intended at first to use it in an Indian recipe – I even warned Mark about it (he claims he doesn’t like Indian food, although he actually does) – but I’m out of a few Indian spices and need to get to the Indian grocery, so I decided to go in a Chinese direction instead. After some googling, I decided to veganize and adapt this recipe on Serious Eats. Here’s the outcome:
Bitter Melon Stir Fry with Vegan Mince
I don’t know why I turn into a Brit or Australian when referring to the product Americans call ground beef (or ground pork, or ground whatever), but I do.
8 oz bitter melon
4 oz vegan mince (ground “meat”)
2 Tbsp grated ginger
1/4 cup shaoxing wine, divided
3 Tbsp fermented black beans (available in Asian grocery stores; either dried or in a paste/jar is okay)
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
3 Tbsp light soy sauce
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp garlic chili paste or plain chili paste
2 tsp black vinegar
So if you’ve never had it, here’s the deal with bitter melon. It looks like this:
It doesn’t look like any Western vegetable I can think of, but it’s related to cucumbers and cooks like summer squash. To prepare it, all you do is cut it in half length-wise …
… and then scoop the seeds out.
For this dish, and most others unless you are stuffing it, you’ll then slice it into half-circles and optionally chop it.
It cooks in about the same time squash does and has a similar texture. It’s not at all like a melon, but it is very, VERY bitter. Also, Mark insists it looks like squid tentacles. I tend to fall into raptures over any new vegetable I come across, but bitter melon is going to have to do some serious work to win me over. I tasted a very small bit before cooking it and quickly realized I’d better make Backup Dinner in addition to Experimental Dinner, so I chopped a red bell pepper and a head of broccoli. I used an entire 14-oz package of Tofurky mince, but used maybe a third of it with the bitter melon, which is why I called for 4 oz above. I also only used a third of the sauce in the bitter melon dish (although I did NOT adjust the measurements above for the sauce). I used the remainder of the mince and the sauce to make a broccoli/pepper/mince stir fry. I’m going to power on and give you the recipe, though, because you might like bitter melon more than I do (although I do not recommend you invite a bunch of people over and serve them a main dish of bitter melon without knowing what it tastes like).
Put the mince in a bowl and add the ginger and half the Shaoxing wine. Shaoxing wine, by the way, is Chinese rice wine. You can sub sake or dry sherry. Mix everything together, then set aside.
Fetch your fermented black beans. Now this is a staple you should keep on hand. They often come in a paste-like consistency, in a jar, but you can also buy them dried, which is what I usually do because they keep longer that way.
Measure them out and put them in a small bowl.
Add the rest of the Shaoxing wine, garlic, soy sauce, sugar, chili paste, and black vinegar.
Heat some oil in a wok or skillet over medium high heat, then add the bitter melon.
Stir fry for a minute or two, then add the mince. Stir fry until the bitter melon is soft, about 5 minutes. Add the sauce and combine well.
Serve with rice.
Here it is with the backup dinner I fortunately made. I actually ate nearly all of the bitter melon dish, so I guess I didn’t detest it, but I don’t think I’m going to rush up to bitter melons at the farmers market with the unadulterated glee with which I attack, say, romanesco. I think Mark put 1 mm of bitter melon (a.k.a. squid tentacle) on his tongue, spit it out, and that was the end of bitter melon for him. However, the sauce is good and Mark really enjoyed Backup Dinner. He informed me it had a “good taste,” which he “assumed [I] was going for.” I agreed: yes, I usually do go for “good taste” when cooking. It turns out “good taste” to Mark means “complex, with different layers of flavor.” In this meal, Mark tasted salty, sweet, spicy, and … bitter. It took him a while to come up with the word “bitter”, but I thought it was interesting because I never told him the squid tentacles were really called “bitter melon” because I knew there was no way in hell he’d eat something called “bitter melon”. Yet he was gushing about how much he loves “bitter tastes”, even though “most people don’t”. SO HE SHOULD HAVE LOVED THE BITTER MELON, NO? Anyway, in conclusion, bitter melon is very … interesting.
In other news, today was largely a day of photography, and it follows that you will be subjected to pictures. No animals today; I didn’t get any good animals shots at the wildlife refuge this morning. But Great Falls, on the Potomac, was looking mighty spectacular today. I narrowly avoided a storm, but was rewarded with great light. These look much better in high-res, so if you are so inclined, you can click on them for the full-size version.