My latest Japan Times Japanese Kitchen column is about bitter gourd or bitter melon , which is a major part of Okinawan cuisine along with tofu, pork, and other things. As I explain in the article, while the most common Japanese name for this rather ugly vegetable is nigauri (苦瓜), since it's so closely associated with Okinawan cooking it's often called by goya or go-ya- too, its Okinawan name.
Bitter gourd is really, well, bitter, making it almost inedible, especially if you're new to it. However, it is really good for you, and like other acquired tastes, once you get used to the bitterness you almost start to crave it. But in the meantime, if you want to try using bitter gourd in various recipes (it goes particularly well in stir-fries and curries and such) try one of the two methods described in the article: blanching, or massaging with salt and soaking for a while in a bowl of water. I use the blanching method, although the salt and soaking method works for me too, since The Guy has not yet conquered his bitterness resistance (although it's getting there).
Here's a whole bitter gourd or melon. Doesn't it look like a Child of Godzilla? No...? Maybe it's just me. ^_^;
Cut the gourd open in the middle. Scoop out all the pithy parts and the seeds, completely. This is important since the pith is extremely bitter. A teaspoon is the best tool for this task.
Slice up the gourd, Put into a pan, and cover with water. Add a little salt, and bring to a boil.
Boil for a minute (you just want to blanch it really) and drain. The slices will turn a beautiful bright green.
Now you can use it in whatever dish you like, such as this classic Okinawan staple, goya chanpuru (or champuru).
This is really classical Okinawan home cooking, so there are probably as many variations as there are households in Okinawa. This is a very simple version. I think the sesame oil is the key here.
Prep time: 15 min :: Cook time: 10 min :: Total time: 25 min
Yield: 2 to 4 servings 2 to 4 servings
Using Spam instead of the pork belly is very popular, but I...just can't become fond of Spam. What is good though is using bacon instead of the pork belly. After all, what is bacon but cured pork belly? Just stir fry it until it's just about crispy, and proceed. There's no need to season the bacon of course.
Adding some miso dissolved in a bit of water at the end is nice too. Try about 3 tablespoons of miso of your choice with a teaspoon of sugar, loosened up with about a tablespoon of water. For a spicy variation, use gochujang instead or mixed with miso.
Please be aware that the bitter gourd will still be bitter after all the pre-treatment and the stir frying, but...after a while, it really does become addictive!
By Makiko Itoh
Published: July 26, 2013
Type: japanese, okinawan, pork, tofu, summer