What’s that food?

As the global market expands, so do the fruit and vegetable sections in our grocery stores. We start to see more and more produce that is new and unusual to our Island.

This month’s What’s that Food? is karela or more commonly known as bitter melon. And it’s an appropriate name, as its flavour is quite tart.

A member of the cucumber family, bitter melon has a bumpy exterior and an oblong shape. It is dark green and will yellow as it ripens, but is usually eaten when green or just beginning to turn yellow.

When cut open, a thin layer of white flesh surrounding a central seed cavity filled with large, flat seeds and pith is revealed. Generally the pith and seeds are scooped out and the bitter melon cut into smaller pieces to eat. At this stage, the flesh is crunchy and watery in texture, similar to cucumber, chayote, or green bell pepper, but much more bitter. It can even have a slight grassy flavour.

Because of its bitter taste, it is valued in Chinese cuisine, typically in stir-fries. soups, dim sum, and teas. It has also been used in place of hops as the bittering ingredient in some beers in China and Okinawa, Japan.

Bitter melon is also commonly eaten throughout India. It is often served with yogurt on the side to offset the bitterness, used in curry such as sabzi, or stuffed with spices and then cooked in oil. It can be mixed with grated coconut, and other popular recipes include deep-frying with peanuts or other ground nuts, and pachi pulusu, a soup with fried onions and other spices.

In northern India and Nepal it is prepared as a fresh pickle. The vegetable is cut into cubes or slices, and sautéed with oil and a sprinkle of water. When it is softened and reduced, it is crushed in a mortar with a few cloves of garlic, salt and a red or green pepper. It is also eaten sautéed to golden-brown, stuffed, or as a curry on its own or with potatoes.

Keep bitter melon in the fridge in a vegetable drawer. When shopping, choose those that are firm and lighter in color as well as small to medium in size. Darker colored bitter melons and ones that are larger usually have a much more intense flavor, which may prove to be overpowering for first-timers.

About Cheryl Young

A “Jill of all trades” describes Cheryl to a T. From operating her own handyperson company, to selling luxury cars, to working as a film and TV crew member, her resume is diverse. But her dream as a kid was to be a journalist and she started down that path many years ago at CBC Charlottetown. Returning to her journalism roots, she’s excited to be editing Salty’s content and occasionally writing herself.

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