I decided to do something a little different — something that doesn’t involve baking or steaming dough — and made braised stuffed bitter melon with black bean sauce for dinner Sunday.
I wasn’t always a fan of bitter melon. As a kid I hated the stuff but as I’ve grown older I’ve sort of acquired a taste for it. I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite vegetable but I enjoy eating it once in awhile, and I certainly won’t turn my nose up at it anymore.
Bitter melon is a popular ingredient in Chinese and Asian cuisine. It supposedly has lots of healing and medicinal qualities, and is believed to have a cooling effect on the body.
The texture of bitter melon is similar to chayote but it’s extremely bitter. There are two main varieties of bitter melon: a dark green type with an extremely bumpy, warty surface and a lighter green type with smoother warts. In Chinese cooking and in Chinese markets, you’ll usually see the lighter green variety. I’ve actually never tried the darker green variety, which you can find in Indian markets and South/Southeast Asian cuisine, but I’ve heard it’s a lot more bitter.
Also, the black beans used in this recipe are not black turtle beans that you can find in burritos or Latin American cuisine. Those black beans are black naturally. The black beans found in Chinese cooking are actually fermented soybeans which become black in the fermentation process and are incredibly salty. You’ll find this ingredient as a flavoring agent in many dim sum and stir-fry dishes.
In order to make this bitter melon and black bean sauce dish I used the recipe here and I have to say it came out pretty good. I left out the mushrooms (I didn’t have any in the pantry) and the sesame oil in the marinade (I’m sensitive to the taste of sesame oil) but I did use a little sesame oil in the final sauce (5 drops). I doubled the amount of black beans though because personally I love the taste of black beans, but I left them whole because some people don’t care for them and they’re easier to pick out when they’re not all minced up. I added a sliced chili pepper because I was in the mood for something hot but I should’ve removed some of the seeds. It came out quite spicy!