Eating Bitter, Part Three: From India with Love

Stir-frying bitter melon with onions, garlic and ginger in preparation to add it to already cooked keema sookh.

Hey, so you knew I would have to do one more meal with bitter melon, right?

Because they are pretty perishable, I had to use up my store of them before they went to that great vegetable crisper in the sky. Or, more like, turned into compost in the vegetable crisper in the bottom of the Sub-Z in my kitchen.

So, on Saturday, I figured that I had plenty of leftovers from the Indian feastie beastie on Friday, so why not try and recreate that dish I ate all those years ago at my employer’s home that consisted of fried bitter melon with ground lamb and spices?

I mean, I had leftover keema sookh, so why the hell not fry up some bitter melon and dump the leftover, previously cooked and spiced lamb and see what happens?

What happened was pretty tasty, but not as good as what I had long ago, probably because the spices were not geared toward a bitter vegetable.

And, Zak didn’t much care for it; he said that the bitter melon tasted too much like its cousin, the cucumber which he will not, under any circumstances (other than as a Thai salad/relish thing with lots of ginger) eat and enjoy.

So, if I were to try Indian style bitter melon with lamb again, I would start it all from scratch, and use a totally different spice mixture than what I used in the recipe above.

The way I did it was I stir fried an onion, thinly sliced, until it was a medium brown in my cast iron wok. Then, I added julienned ginger, three Thai chiles sliced thinly on the diagonal, and four cloves of thinly sliced garlic. I stir fried it for about a minute more, then added two bitter melons that I had seeded and sliced into fairly thin half-moon shapes. I cooked this for about five minutes, letting the melon soften but not brown, while the onions darkened to the nice mahogany color that properly cooked onions should be for most Indian dishes.

Then, I dumped in the leftover keema sookh, prepared as per the recipe liked to above, and fried it until it all heated up and melded together.

Keema sookh with bitter melon, also known as kerala. Since I was essentially utilizing leftover keema sookh, you can see that there are green beans included here. I wouldn’t necessarily use them with the bitter melon; they were part of the original dish.

I served it all over steamed basmati rice.

In addition to using different spices (and I am still thinking on which ones I would use), I think I would also be certain to brown the bitter melon. As I recall, the melon I had with the minced lamb had been browned and this gave it a totally different characther that seemed to be lacking in this version.

All in all, I would try it again, but I think I prefer the vegetable cooked in the Cantonese way. Zak certainly likes the black bean and soy sauce seasoning better; when I cooked it that way last week, we were tussling over the last bits of bitter melon on the serving plate, whereas with this dish, he actively picked out the melon and avoided it after a time.

But, it was a worthy experiment–if nothing else, the photograph of the stir-frying looks really striking. That green is lovely reflected in the oil-slicked black iron wok.

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