When it comes to food, the Chinese believe the bitterer, the better. When it comes to edible greens, I think no other vegetable can outdo the bitter gourd in epitomising this underlying food principle. Thankfully, the great thing about Chinese cooking is that even the least favoured foods, taste wise, can be transformed into a worthy, delicious meal, when paired with complimentary food ingredients, condiments, seasonings and flavourings. Just as with this ever-popular, classic Chinese-style bitter gourd dish -where bitter gourd slices are stuffed with minced pork, and steamed till bitter gourd is soft, meat is tender, moist and juicy, in a delicious, flavourful soupy broth of cooked juices. The result – a bitter-less, wonderfully tasty one dish-meal!
Now, you might be thinking, it’s not a problem for those of us who actually like eating bitter gourd, and if you’re not a fan but are intrigued enough to read on, good for you, I hope to inspire you! Trust me, I’ve been entrenched in the anti-bitter gourd camp. I used to hate this vegetable, regardless of how wonderfully my mother prepared it. I must have been somewhat of a fussy eater as a child – whining or lamenting to my parents when forced to stuff down these bitter greens, why all the stuff that’s good for our body had to taste so awfully bitter. An argument of course, that got me nowhere with my disciplinarian parents.
But, here’s the kicker, friends! Bitter gourd can be made almost bitter-less in just one or two easy steps. Once you’ve sliced and removed its seeds, rub salt into bitter gourd slices, and let the slices sit for 10 -15 minutes. Drain the bitter juices (sometimes, I grab handfuls and squeeze as much juice out of it, especially with thinly sliced bitter gourd that will be used for stir fries). Then rinse to wash away the residual salt, and use as desired.
It’s an acquired taste, but now I’m totally hooked onto bitter gourd, and almost as if I’m playing catch up, I just love cooking up bitter gourd as often as I can, and in any way – in soups and stir fries, steamed or braised. This is a vegetable that I try to eat at least once or twice a week. While it may probably be the bitterest fruit of all (yes, you read it right, my friends, it’s technically a fruit but widely regarded as a vegetable due to it’s colour and appearance), it is also one of the most nutritionally beneficial.
DID YOU KNOW?
Bitter gourd is nutritionally rich in vitamins, such as B1, B2, B3 and C; an abundant source of minerals such as magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, manganese, as well as folic acid; contributes essential dietary fibre; contains a plant-based insulin known to lower blood sugar levels, as well as health-benefiting flavanoids such as ß-carotene, α-carotene, lutein, and zea-xanthin; stimulates easy digestion and peristalsis of food through the bowel, thus relieving indigestion and constipation problems; has more beta carotene than broccoli, is more calcium-rich than spinach and more potassium-rich than banana! In traditional Chinese medicine, bitter food like bitter gourd are considered beneficial for expelling heat, eliminating dampness, stimulating appetite, and promoting lowering effects like urination and bowel movements.
This dish is quick and extremely easy to prepare, a perfect choice for healthy home-cooked meals on any day of the week. And if you love Chinese-style steamed minced pork patties (check out my all-time popular recipe post on a delicious classic, steamed minced pork with water chestnut), you’re definitely going to enjoy this dish!
- 1 bitter gourd, medium-sized
- 1 tsp salt
- 300 - 350 g minced pork
- 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 stalk spring onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tsp grated ginger
- 2 tsp garlic or shallot oil (optional)
- 1 tbsp oyster sauce
- 1/2 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/8 tsp salt (or just a pinch)
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp corn starch
- Some Chinese coriander, roughly chopped
- Some red chilli, de-seeded, sliced
Cut the bitter gourd into 1.5 cm thick slices. Using a tea spoon, scrape out the seeds. Place in a bowl, rub in salt, and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Drain bitter juices, and rinse to get rid of residual salt. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl, combine minced pork, chopped onion, chopped spring onion, minced garlic, grated ginger, and seasonings. Stir with a fork to combine well.
Stuff bitter gourd slices with minced pork filling (it's a good idea to stuff each slice till the meat bulges a little over the inner edges, as the meat will shrink away from the edges when cooked). Arrange on a heatproof plate or steaming dish. Drizzle over with 2 teaspoons of flavoured garlic or shallot oil, if available (optional).
Bring water in a steamer to rapid boil over high heat. Steam stuffed bitter gourd for 25 - 30 minutes (depending on how soft you like your bitter gourd). When done, garnish with chopped coriander and sliced red chilli (optional). Serve immediately.