Whilst travelling last year I kept a little notepad of all the dishes I'd eaten and wanted to try and recreate when I got home. This has sat in the drawer unread for months but I got it out a couple of nights back and this dish caught my eye. From it's place in the book I can't figure out whether it's from China or Vietnam, sitting slap bang in the middle of the two, but the black pepper suggests to me it was probably Vietnam. Either way where it comes from isn't important, it's how it tastes that matters.
The bitter melon can be a bit of an acquired taste for the Western palate. It's a gourd, rather than a melon, and so texturally quite like marrow but it carries a bitter flavour that some don't like. When preparing a salting helps reduce the bitterness a bit though and in this recipe sugar in the sauce helps to balance it out. I've learnt to love the bitter element of it and if you like radicchio or endive though then it should be right up your street.
Bitter Melon with Tofu
Serves 2 as main meal, 3-4 if part of a spread
350gr bitter melon (1/2 a large one)
110gr fried tofu (this was half a pack), the puffs cut in half
1 red chilli, sliced
1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced 3mm thick on the diagonal
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and thickly sliced
200ml chicken stock (use vegetarian stock to make the dish veggie)
1 TB rice wine
1 ts light soy
1/2 ts black peppercorns, crushed
1/2 ts sugar
1 TB of cornflour in 2 TB of water
A few drops of sesame oil
To prepare the bitter melon cut in half lengthways then scoop out the seeds and white pith. Slice into cm or so crescents. Sprinkle liberally with salt and leave for 15 minutes, this will reduce the bitterness. Rinse the salt off.
Heat some peanut oil in a wok until nearly smoking then add the garlic and chili and fry briefly, like 15 seconds.
Add the carrot and bitter melon and fry for 2 minutes more.
Add the stock, rice wine, soy sauce, black pepper and sugar, bring to the boil then chuck in the tofu and mix to combine.
Cook for 30 seconds till the tofu is heated through then add the cornflour mixture, bringing back to the boil to thicken.
Splash on the sesame oil and serve.